Egyptian President al-Sisi’s government has continued the process of legalising church buildings, approving 168 applications in November. This follows a series of approvals of Christian places of worship in September and October, bringing the total number up to 508 for 2018 so far.
However, over 3,000 churches that have applied for approval since 2017 are still waiting. The delays have been acknowledged by the government and early in 2018 Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Isamil called for the process to be “sped up”. These legalisations are a product of a 2016 change by the Egyptian government to a law more than a century old which strictly governed church buildings.
Although Egypt’s current leadership has acted more favourably toward Christians, they often face violence at a local level and many newly registered churches have been targeted by Muslim mobs.
Even if Christian gatherings have been taking place peacefully in homes or other unregistered buildings for many years, the official opening of a government-recognised church has nevertheless often been used a pretext for violence against Christians in rural communities. In April 2018, a mob of 300 Muslims attacked a church building in al-Kumeria, forcing it to close, soon after it received its official recognition from the government.
Muslim-majority Egypt has a substantial Christian minority, which is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back to the first century, pre-dating even Islam by some 500 years.