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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

If Muslims Can Build Churches in Egypt, Has Persecution Ended?

Image: Egypt Cabinet of Ministers Media Center
An Egyptian government infographic depicting recent progress in legalizing Christian churches.

Egyptian Christians have long struggled to build their churches.

But now, they can have Muslim help.

Last month, Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawki Allam issued a fatwa (religious ruling) allowing Muslim paid labor to contribute toward the construction of a church. Conservative scholars had argued this violated the Quranic injunction to not help “in sin and rancor.”

The ruling is timely, as the governmental Council of Ministers recently issued an infographic highlighting the 2020 land allocation for 10 new churches in eight Egyptian cities. An additional 34 are currently under construction.

Prior to this, two prominent examples stand out. In 2018, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inaugurated the Church of the Martyrs of Faith and Homeland in al-Our, a village in Upper Egypt, to honor the Copts beheaded by ISIS in Libya. And in 2019, he consecrated the massive Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ in what will become the new administrative capital of Egypt, alongside its central mosque.

This is in addition to restoration work at 16 historic Coptic sites and further development of the 2,000-mile Holy Family Trail, tracing the traditional map of Jesus’ childhood flight from King Herod.

And since the 2018 implementation of a 2016 law to retroactively license existing church buildings, a total of 1,800 have now been registered legally.

Persecution has long been a term applied to Copts in Egypt, ranked No. 16 on the Open Doors 2021 World Watch List of nations where it is hardest to be a Christian. But shortly after the mufti’s fatwa, which restated a ruling last given in 2009, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar gave a pronouncement of his own…

[But there are dissenting cases also.]

Ramy Kamel, a 33-year-old activist, was once dodging tanks near Tahrir Square, protesting for Coptic equality. Ten years later, he is in jail for “spreading false news” about Coptic discrimination, and “financing a terrorist group.”

Soad Thabet, a 74-year-old Coptic grandmother, was in the Upper Egyptian village of al-Karm, minding her own business. Ten years later, she is fighting for justice after having been stripped naked and paraded through town, with her Muslim attackers acquitted.

These examples show that the term persecution remains “appropriate,” said Kurt Werthmuller, a USCIRF policy analyst specializing in Egypt…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on February 22, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s Christian Women Treated Like Muslims in Inheritance. Until Now?

Nasrallah Kamel
Nasrallah (L) and Kamel (R), both working to address Coptic grievances, find different receptions from the state. Image: Associated Press / Jayson Casper

This article was first published at Christianity Today, on December 5.

Two stories here, so the article deck is an important follow-up to the headline:

Meanwhile, Coptic activist who insists true religious equality does not yet exist goes to prison on terrorism charges.

Here’s the intro to the first:

Coptic lawyer Huda Nasrallah may have won a great victory for Christian women in Egypt. Last week, a Cairo court ruled in her favor, dividing the family inheritance equally between her and her two brothers.

Nasrallah’s verdict followed the decision of two other courts to reject her appeal on the basis of the sharia law stipulation that a male heir receive two-thirds of the inheritance.

This past summer, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) took up her cause. In a campaign called “Christian on ID card, Muslim in Inheritance,” it claimed millions of Coptic women suffer similarly.

Coptic men are sometimes all too willing to go along with it, Nasrallah told the Associated Press. But she is “thrilled” by the verdict, and hopes it will inspire other women.

“It is not really about inheritance; my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds,” she said. “If I didn’t take it to court, who would?”

And here is the second:

But a few days earlier, Coptic activist Rami Kamel may have suffered a great setback for all Egyptian believers. He was arrested for his reporting of sectarian tension, and accused of joining a terrorist group.

A founding member of the Maspero Youth Union when Egypt’s military tanks rolled over Coptic protesters in 2011, he later documented sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians.

He is now facing charges of joining a terror group and spreading false information, his lawyer told Agence France-Presse. Additional charges include harming public peace, inciting strife between Muslims and Christians, and agitating against the state.

“There is no credible evidence to support these charges,” said Thabet, who last spoke with Kamel a few days before his arrest. Around 10 days prior, security called Kamel in for informal interrogations as a warning to stop his activity.

But Kamel continued, speaking out against the recent arrest of Khalil Rizk, a Coptic labor rights activist charged with joining a terrorist group.

Please click here to read the full article at Christianity Today.

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Egyptian Religious Groups Denounce Attack on Israeli Embassy

On September 9 three thousand Egyptians gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, cheering the destruction of a recently erected wall around the complex, after which nearly one hundred protestors stormed the embassy and threw official paperwork to the crowd below. The incident was a continuation of rising tensions between Egypt and Israel, following the accidental killing of six Egyptian officers during an Israeli cross-border raid pursuing Palestinian militants in Sinai.

Minister of Information Osama al-Heikal issued strong condemnation. “The incident was an insult to Egypt – it is not fair to link it to the January revolution (which) had been a genuine, peaceful revolt that sought to bring down and replace the old regime.”

Religious spokesmen echoed his sentiment, including Christian voices from the protest itself. Earlier in the day tens of thousands of mostly youthful and liberal protestors gathered in Tahrir Square, pressuring the government on several demands, including an immediate end to the use of military trials for civilians. Among the groups represented was the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic Christian organization supporting religious and political equality.

General Coordinator Rami Kamel stated, “The incident breaks all diplomatic protocols and will result in trouble for Egypt. It is our role to pressure the government in both domestic and foreign policy, but we reject the breaking of the wall and the storming of the embassy.”

Official Muslim representation also denounced the attack. Abdel Muti al-Bayoumi is a member of the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University, widely respected throughout the Islamic world as its most venerable institution. Speaking from sharia law he defended the sanctity of all foreign delegates. “The Israel ambassador resides legally in Egypt on the basis of a diplomatic visa, which was granted by the Egyptian government. In sharia law this represents ‘aqd al-aman, or a compact of security, which guarantees safety to the beneficiary.”

Even the conservative Salafi Muslim groups derided the attack as “not thought out”, and implicitly accepted the peace treaty with Israel, though with a wholly different perspective. The Salafi Call Organization stated the attack “will work in favor of Israel and will transform them from perpetrators to victims. The focus will shift from our demands to amend the Camp David agreement to Israel’s calls for help to protect their embassy in Egypt. Egyptians are united in their hate for Israel, thank God. We must fight cultural normalization [with Israel] and we should push for the international isolation of Israel.”

Bishop Marcos, chairman of the Coptic Orthodox Church Public Relations Committee, concurred that the Egyptian government should take a suitable response to Israeli violations on the Egyptian border, though he declined recommending specific steps as it was not the place of the church. Nevertheless, he condemned the attack on the embassy and stated all the wise men of Egypt do likewise.

“This event is not good for our relations with other countries; we must respect all nations and even our enemies.” Though he did not know who the perpetrators were, he refused to see the incident as evidence of sectarian problems or increasing Islamic identity.