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Over 3,000 Egyptian Churches Still Waiting for Licenses 2 Years After Landmark Law

Over 3,000 Egyptian Churches Still Waiting for Licenses 2 Years After Landmark Law

A military helicopter flies above the Virgin Mary church during the funeral for victims killed in the bombing of Cairo's main Coptic cathedral, in Cairo, Egypt December 12, 2016. | (Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

More than 3,000 churches and church-affiliated buildings are still awaiting legal recognition from the Egyptian government nearly two years after the passing of legislation hailed by some as positive step for religious freedom in the Muslim-majority country.

According to an October report from the Coptic-founded news outlet Watani International, only 340 out of 3,730 applications from unlicensed churches seeking legal status and building permits have been granted in the wake of a 2016 law meant to provide an avenue for Christians to legally build and renovate churches.

Although the law was said to have made it easier for Christians to renovate churches, many feared it gave too much power to local governments to deny church construction. 

After over a year, the Egyptian Cabinet has granted some churches legal status in three different waves over the course of 2018, with the latest coming on October 10 when the cabinet approved the applications of 120 churches.

In April, 166 churches and church-affiliated buildings were granted legal status. In September, 220 more were approved.

Human rights activists have criticized the new Egyptian law because of the fact that it "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."

The international Christian aid agency Barnabas Fund also reported on the over 3,700 churches that still await legal recognition and notes that before the 2016 law, it was extremely hard for churches to be given an official license or approval to build or renovate a church property.

"These latest approvals are a third batch, indicating modest progress is being made. But churches which have been given official status, or those with applications awaiting approval, still face sometimes violent local opposition," a Barnabas Fund report states. "This can occur even when congregations have been meeting in the same building for years."

In July, there were three days of public protesting from locals opposing the legal status of two churches in the town of Sultan Basha in Upper Egypt with many Coptic villagers having to lock themselves in their homes for safety.

According to Watani International, there wasn't any police intervention in the three days of the protest. Protestors are said to have chanted "Never a church in our midst."

Barnabus Fund reports that over 300 Muslims in the town of al-Kumeira forced the closure of a church after it was granted legal status from the government in April.

Egypt ranks as the 17th-worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List.

Last Friday, yet another attack was launched against Egypt's Coptic Christian community when seven were killed and at least 19 were injured by gunmen who attacked buses coming from a nearby desert monastery after a baby's Baptism. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Islamic State.

The attack nearly mirrors an attack that occurred last May on a bus near the same monastery in which just under 30 Coptic Christians were killed. That attack was also claimed by IS.

Copts have also been targeted in multiple church bombings in the last two years, including the Palm Sunday church bombings in April 2017 and the Cairo church bombing in December 2016.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmithFollow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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