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HRWF (26.03.2021) – Just after Jo Biden became the new president of the United States, the Egyptian Embassy in Washington published a document entitled “Strengthening national unity: Religious freedom and diversity in Egypt”. A $65,000 monthly contract had been signed earlier between the Egypt’s Ambassador to the US, Motaz Zahran, and Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to have such a piece of propaganda drafted by a lobbying group. Coptic Solidarity has checked and published a nine-page fact-checking report.

 

We have selected one issue from this report: The situation of Christian church buildings.

 

Egypt’s statement

In 2016, while attending Christmas mass again at the same location, President El Sisi vowed to rebuild and restore all churches that had been damaged by acts of terrorism on 56 churches and other Christian properties by the operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in summer 2013.

Coptic Solidarity’s fact-check

Not until Coptic Solidarity partnered with former Rep. Dave Trott (R-MI) to introduce H.R.5974 – The Coptic Churches Accountability Act in the 114th Session of Congress which required the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Congress regarding “efforts to restore or repair Christian property in the Arab Republic of Egypt that was burned, damaged, or otherwise destroyed during the sectarian violence in August 2013,” did the Egyptian government make serious efforts to finish church repairs.

Egypt’s statement

A 2016 law on church construction was adapted to facilitate the timely construction and licensing of churches.

Coptic Solidarity’s fact-check

However deficient, the law is not even being implemented by the government, as it continues with church closures and granting conditional approvals at a snail’s pace.

Egypt’s statement

Church and synagogue restorations have been prioritized.

  • Church and synagogue restorations have been prioritized. Egypt has undertaken significant efforts to restore and license Christian churches as well as strengthen Jewish community infrastructure.
  • In August 2016, Egypt’s House of Representatives passed a law helping facilitate the timely construction and licensing of churches. The law was passed by a two-thirds majority and supported by the leaders of Egypt’s Coptic, Catholic and Anglican churches. The legislation delegates the power of issuing permits to Governors and sets up an administrative committee to license religious services facilities. The law also eliminated many of the bureaucratic and legislative obstacles that previously delayed progress. The administrative committee has licensed over 1,800 churches to-date.
  • Making good on his 2016 promise, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi oversaw the restoration and rebuilding of 55 houses of worship damaged or destroyed by acts of terrorism in the summer of 2013. The multi-phase effort, launched in 2014, is almost halfway complete; 29 more religious facilities are to be fully restored in the coming months.

Coptic Solidarity’s fact-check

  • As mentioned above, the 2016 church law is inherently discriminatory and does not treat churches on equal terms with mosques. Furthermore, Egypt boasts 140,000 mosques (all owned and/or run by the state) in addition to hundreds of thousands of prayer halls, situated in every public or private office building, factory, school or club; but only about 3,000 “licensed” churches (all denominations combined).
  • Based on information published by the government in the Official Gazette since the 2016 Church Law was passed till December 2020, a total of 1,800 churches and subsidiary buildings have received preliminary/conditional approvals. This represents 32.5% of the outstanding applications of 5,540. Final approvals are not typically reported by the government, but based on unofficial contacts with a number of concerned churches, it seems that only a small percentage has been granted final approval
  • USCIRF reported that at least 25 churches and church-related facilities were closed in 2019 for “security reasons” (often following mob riots), with only one being reopened in January 2020. According to the 2016 Church Law, these existing churches without official registration were to be permitted to operate freely until they receive final approvals.
  • USCIRF reported that few new church permits have been granted in new construction zones, but not in the existing communities that still lack houses of worship. The new Cathedral is located in the yet-to-be inhabited administrative capital and does not have regular services. It is essentially a “show church.”
  • To illustrate, Bishop Makarious of Minya stated that an estimated 150 villages and neighborhoods in his diocese are in need of a church or related structure. The new church law has donenothing to meet the immense need. There are hundreds of villages where Copts are denied a place of worship.
  • More than seven years after the worst mass attack on churches in centuries, the government has only finished half of the repair and restoration work on those churches. Compare this with the dozens of mosques, built with taxpayers’ money, inaugurated every week.

FINAL REMARKS

 

  • The Egyptian government is going to great lengths to improve its “image.” Wouldn’t it be more truthful, more productive—and less costly—to improve the reality in such a way that it becomes naturally reflected into real progress towards equal citizenship rights for all?
  • The fact is that the Copts, the indigenous population of Egypt, are subjected to institutional, systemic and systematic discrimination in their own country. It is imperative that the Egyptian government admit this reality at the highest levels of the state and enact rigorous and urgent plans to restore full citizenship rights of Copts.

 

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