Treatment of Christians in Egypt ‘much better’ now than it's been ‘for a long time’: expert

A young girl looks out over the Cairo skyline on December 16, 2016, in Cairo, Egypt.
A young girl looks out over the Cairo skyline on December 16, 2016, in Cairo, Egypt. | Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The situation for Christians in Egypt is better now than it has been “for a long time,” according to an evangelical Christian professor who recently visited the nation.

Darrell Bock, senior research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, was featured on an episode of “The Table” podcast that was posted on YouTube Tuesday.

Bock and Mark M. Yarbrough, vice president for Academic Affairs, academic dean, and professor of Bible Exposition at DTS, said he recently visited Christian leaders in Egypt.

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While there, Bock met with a group of about 60 to 70 Protestant Egyptian leaders who told him, “things are much better for us as Christians now than they have been in Egypt for a long time.”

“Even though there’s violence in some of the regions in Egypt related to the Christian Church, that’s a matter of just administrative realities in different parts of Egypt,” Bock said.

“Some areas are inherently more violent than the other because the government doesn’t have the power yet to oversee everything that’s going on across the whole of the country.”

Specifically, people Bock spoke with said that, overall, things had not been this good for Christians in the country since Anwar Sadat became president in the 1970s.

Yarbrough agreed with this assessment, noting that the improvement in conditions for the Christian minority was “huge” and “probably better than it’s ever been for that generation.”

Yarbrough also discussed how while only about 10% of the country was Christian and barely 1% were evangelical Protestant, they had made considerable social gains.

“This group that we met with are very influential leaders. They're not hidden in the background. They’re very public figures,” he explained.

“Many are serving in strategic positions of office that we met. And so, there is a growing, not just in regard to the role of the Church, but the positioning of evangelical leaders within governmental structures.”

Yarbrough found it significant “to see Christians who are in strategic positions interacting with other folks” from different religious backgrounds.

Bock and Yarbrough also discussed meeting Coptic Church leader Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, who they said was interested in ecumenical cooperation and biblical education.

“He talked about some things that they’re doing. He made reference to VBS. It was almost a discussion of something that many of us are familiar with. Something like Awana or something like that for kids. He talked about a process of that,” recalled Yarbrough.

“He showed us a curriculum that he’d had a team writing on. You could tell he lit up when it came to how do we equip the next generation of believers in Jesus to know Him better and to know His Word. It was very encouraging.”

A Muslim-majority nation, Egypt has a checkered history when it comes to tolerating its Christian minority, with recent upheavals leading to sporadic violent persecution.

According to the Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, Egypt holds the dubious distinction of being the 16th worst persecutor of Christianity.

“Many Egyptian Christians encounter substantial roadblocks to living out their faith,” noted the organization in a recent report.

 “There are violent attacks that make news headlines around the world, but there are also quieter, more subtle forms of duress that burden Egyptian believers.”

Nevertheless, the al-Sisi government has made some overtures, including the creation in January 2017 of a government body aimed at giving legal recognition to various churches.

Known as the Committee for the Legalization of Unlicensed Churches, it includes ministers of justice, parliamentary affairs, local officials, and representatives of Christian communities.

Headed by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, in May, the committee gave legal recognition to 70 churches, adding up to 1,638 since its formation.

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