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23 December 2010

Religious Liberty: Egypt

It is estimated that of Egypt's 84 million people only 11% are Coptic Christians. Accepted by a few, these Christians are openly discriminated against by others in violent attacks, which the government often does little to prevent. Christian Solidarity Worldwide has highlighted instances where converts from Islam to Christianity face grave human rights abuses including indefinite detention without official charges, physical mistreatment and intimidation by security forces. Open Doors reported converts driven into hiding after attempts to change their official religion from Muslim to Christian were rejected.

For Christians to construct a new religious building in Egypt they are required to obtain a decree from the president, a lengthy and time consuming process that is far more complicated than the permission that Muslims need to build a mosque. At the end of November 2010 in the Talibiya district of Cairo, the Egyptian authorities ordered a halt to the construction of a church because it reportedly lacked the correct permits. Those building the church insisted they had already been given permission to build the church and approximately 150 Copts gathered in protest at the nearly complete church. They were met by almost 5000 police in riot gear and the clashes turned violent leading to the death of one man and many more injured Christians.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide responded to the events by urging the Egyptian government to address the restrictive church building regulations that sparked the protest by finalising a unified law for the construction of places of worship in order to avert future tension.

In the same week further South in Egypt, Christians have been subjected to more violence. A small Christian community was firebombed and rampaged by hundreds of people following rumours of a romantic relationship between a Muslim and a Christian. At least 23 homes and many businesses all owned by Christians were damaged or destroyed when people rampaged through the community with swords and knives shooting rifles into the air.

Christians living in Egypt have further reasons to fear for their lives, as militants responsible for attacks last month in a church in Iraq and a targeted bombing campaign on Christian areas in Baghdad said that Christians in Egypt would be the next target. 'We will open upon them the doors of destruction.' These threats came in response to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt allegedly holding two Coptic women against their will who some believed to have converted to Islam. Security has been increased for churches in Egypt, some areas have doubled the number of uniformed and plain-clothes officers at churches, and parking on the same side of the road as a church can be forbidden. One Protestant woman said she expected Christians in Egypt to continue to endure persecution. 'According to the Bible, we know this is going to happen, it is not new for us. The Bible said that we will be persecuted. It is expected.'