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How the Egyptian Church Secures Itself

This article was first published at TIMEP.

Cairo Abbasiya Butrusiya
St. Peter and St. Paul Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, bombed December 2016 – Creative Commons on Wikipedia

This past Palm Sunday two suicide bombers killed over 45 people at two churches in northern Egypt. One made his way all the way to the altar at St. George’s Cathedral in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, while the other was stopped at the gate outside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria, where he detonated his explosives. These attacks—along with the December 2016 bombing of St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Church at the cathedral compound in Cairo, the May massacre of 30 Copts in Minya, and ongoing violence in Arish and elsewhere—have raised questions about the Egyptian state’s ability to protect Christian citizens from the threat of terrorism. But amid the breakdowns, church leaders have developed routines and relationships with security authorities to provide a joint system of security.

On Easter Saturday evening, the chief Easter celebration in Egypt, I went to the midnight vigil at a Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo. The streets were cordoned off and a barrier channeled the throngs of worshippers through a tight security check. Police vans with heavily armed officers were everywhere. Yet as I approached behind several Egyptians getting their bags searched, a layman from the church caught my eye and motioned me forward. Nodding to the police, he allowed me to quickly pass through the metal detector and into the service.

One week later, it seemed Easter had been an aberration. The normal two to three policemen kept watch on the church from a distance. A couple church doormen glanced casually as I walked by them after passing through the metal detector. Yet in conversations with several church officials about internal security, they seemed satisfied that the apparently reduced police presence offered sufficient protection…

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Middle East Published Articles TIMEP

Egypt’s Other Churches: Smaller Denominations React to New Construction Law

This article was first published at TIMEP.

egypt-council-of-churches
Father Rafic Greiche, a Catholic priest; Father Bishoy Helmy, an Orthodox priest; and Reverend Rifaat Fikry, a Protestant pastor speak at a meeting of Egypt Council of Churches.

Egypt’s recent church building law was largely negotiated behind the scenes between the government and the three largest Christian denominations: the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches. Despite concerns over insufficient public dialogue and loopholes which may hinder implementation, many Christians celebrate a formal legal process over the ad hoc nature of security intervention and presidential permits.

And among those who hope to gain are the smaller Christian denominations of Egypt. Largely overlooked in the national discussion, they also have a right to freedom of religion and worship.

Christians are generally estimated to be 10 percent of the population, the vast majority belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church. But in 2006, the Ministry of the Interior published its most recent major clarification of Christian denominations, recognizing also the Coptic Catholic Church and the National Evangelical Church as “Egyptian” churches. Eighteen others are approved but designated as “foreign,” An additional 17 Protestant denominations are not mentioned specifically in the 2006 statement, but are recognized under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church.

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