Egypt has an estimated population of nine million Christians. Mostly Orthodox Copts, they account for about 10 per cent of Egypt’s population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim.
“Many Egyptians hoped that governments would respect and protect freedom of religion, including for Christians, after the 2011 Arab Spring uprising,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the authorities are ignoring the underlying systemic issues and sending a message that Christians can be attacked with impunity.”
The website of Al-Youm al-Sabaa newspaper published the law and explanatory memo on August 30.
The new law allows governors to deny church-building permits with no stated way to appeal, requires that churches be built “commensurate with” the number of Christians in the area, and contains security provisions that risk subjecting decisions on whether to allow church construction to the whims of violent mobs.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged to respect freedom of belief and made
important visits to Coptic Christmas masses. Authorities, however, have failed to protect Coptic Christians from violent attacks and instead enforced “reconciliation” sessions with their Muslim neighbors that deprive them of their rights and allow attackers to evade justice. In some cases, Christians were obliged to leave their homes, villages or towns.