Egypt’s Cabinet approved the legalisation of the status of 120 unlicensed churches and church-affiliated buildings on 10 October, taking the total of approved applications to 340 of the 3,730 submitted in 2017.
In September, Egyptian authorities had only approved 220 church building registration applications. Over 3,000 were still awaiting confirmation of official registration nearly two years after the government passed a landmark law which abolished long-standing restrictions on Christian places of worship.
Work began on the task of legalising unlicensed churches through a government committee in September 2017. Until a 2016 change in the law, it had been extremely difficult to obtain an official license to build or restore a church.
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. This can occur even when congregations have been meeting in the same building for years.
Three days of angry demonstrations protesting against the granting of the legal status of a church in the village of Sultan Basha took place in July. Local Muslims chanted, “never a church in our midst” and Christians in the village locked themselves in their homes for fear of violence. Local police did not intervene. During the protests, a local police official reassured the demonstrators that no church would be permitted in the village. In April, a 300-strong Muslim mob forced the closure of a church building in al-Kumeira, around 36 miles south of Luxor, after the church was granted official recognition by the government.
Barnabas Fund, barnabasfund.org