By Erin Rodewald // September 11, 2018
(This article originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)
In Egypt, a law designed to open doors has served to close them instead. Dozens of Coptic Christian churches have been shut down since Law 80/2016, also known as the Church Construction Law, took effect two years ago. The reform measure, required as part of the constitution adopted following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in 2014, was intended to secure the right of worship by Copts and other religious minorities. Instead, it has become a driver of sectarian violence.
In late August, while congregants worshiped inside the Virgin Mary and St. Mohrael Coptic Orthodox church in Upper Egypt, an angry Muslim mob gathered outside to protest against the legalization of the church. According to an eyewitness, the crowd tried to break down the front door. The police arrived and dispersed the demonstrators then closed the church building, sealed it, and security forces cordoned off the village streets.
This was the eighth such incident in this particular diocese alone. Churches in other regions throughout Egypt have experienced similar attacks as well, several in the past few weeks. All had filed applications under Law 80/2016 to obtain the necessary permits for registration, renovation, or construction. And that’s when the trouble began.
The tensions associated with the current law are underscored in a report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR): “Typically, Copts in villages submit applications for the construction of a church to official bodies after meeting all the required conditions, but the applications are frozen due to objections from the security apparatus or as a result of incitement from local residents opposed to the construction of a church.” Continue reading