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ICC Note: From 2012 to 2013 Egypt was under the rule of President Mohammed Morsi who, along with his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, set out to further Islamize Egypt’s political and social life. When he was overthrown, the number of attacks against Egypt’s Christian community surged. Since the election of President Sisi the situation has grown better as Father Rafik explains in this interview.

10/21/2014 Egypt (ACN) – Since the overthrow of President Morsi Christians feel more secure but the tensions between the denominations have not disappeared. This was the view expressed by Greek-Catholic priest Rafik Greiche, responsible for public relations of the Egyptians Bishops’ Conference, when interviewed recently by Oliver Maksan of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

Q) Father Greiche, in August last year churches were burning in Egypt when Islamists took revenge for the overthrow of President Morsi. What has happened for Egypt’s Christians under the new head of state, President Sisi?

A) The mood has improved considerably. The security situation is getting better. There is greater stability. All Egyptians are enthusiastic about economic projects such as the extension of the Suez Canal. Christians feel a lot safer. They are going to church without feeling threatened as they did under President Morsi. Under the Muslim Brotherhood Molotov cocktails were hurled at churches or graffiti was sprayed on the walls. In all, a more peaceful atmosphere is being created.
Q) Does this mean that there are no more Islamist attacks against Christians?

A) Well, this has all fallen to a low level, a minimum. Sometimes there are still denominational tensions in some villages. It also still happens that jihadists abduct Christian girls. But the situation has nevertheless improved considerably. The problems that exist are only one tenth of those that we Christians experienced under Morsi. But, as I said, that does not mean that there are no incidents whatsoever. There continue to be denominational difficulties of the kind we have been familiar with over thirty or forty years.
Q) Is President Sisi receptive to the problems of Christians?

A) He received all the bishops, from the Orthodox and from the Catholic and Protestant Churches. He told them that the Christians had every right to have their churches and to pray. His government is working with the Churches to prepare a law governing the building of churches. This is one of our most urgent problems here in Egypt. To date it has been very difficult to build a new church. This draft envisages that Christian symbols such as crucifixes and bells may be mounted visibly on the exterior. Furthermore it is intended, according to the draft, that the construction is no longer subject to the approval of the security authorities. The President himself will no longer decide on permission to build a new church, but instead this will be the responsibility of the provincial governor. If the latter has no objections after a period of sixty days, the Christians will be able to start construction. But this law is at present having to wait in line. At the present time we don’t have a parliament in Egypt which can pass it. So we have to wait until after the parliamentary elections. These will be held at the turn of the year. So generally everything’s in the air at the moment.
Q) Do you think that the Islamists could again play a major role in the new parliament?

A) Yes, I’m afraid so. The problem is that the civilian parties are very weak and are not following a clear course. They also don’t have much backing. The Islamists will probably not have a majority, but they could form a substantial minority which will hold things up or delay them.

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