Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi gave an important message of support to Egyptian Christians last week with an order that all new housing projects must contain churches.

In a speech at the opening of a new government housing project in the north east of Cairo on 15 December, the President said: “This is an order … everyone must worship as they please”.

The President asked if there were any plans to construct a church for the area. Upon being informed that there were no such plans, he turned to the government minister responsible and reminded him of the agreed conditions that all new housing development projects must contain churches.

Christians in Egypt, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, have often struggled to obtain permits to build churches in the Muslim-majority country. However, in 2016, President el-Sisi passed laws which dramatically reformed the process of church registration, resulting in thousands of applications. However, progress in the legalisation of church buildings has been slow. To date, 508 churches have been approved while 3,000 remain in bureaucratic limbo. 

Although the policy change has been welcomed by Christians, the official opening of a government-recognised church has often been used as a pretext for violence against them 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.

Date published: 11/01/2019
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