Last September, Egypt enacted a new law which delegated the process of approving church construction from the presidential to the governor level. Under this law, the size of a new church depends on the authorities’ evaluation of the “number and need” of local Christians. However, societal resistance to Christianity often prevents the construction of churches and restricts where and when Christians are able to gather. In the case of the village of Ezbat Al-Forn, Coptic Christians were prohibited from meeting because they did not have a license to use a private home as a place of worship.
08/28/2017 Egypt (Mission Network News) – Coptic Christians in the Egyptian village of Ezbat Al-Forn were kicked out of their church on August 20th by local police, according to local news outlets. The reason? Police say they didn’t have a license to use the private home they were meeting in for worship.
Miles Windsor of Middle East Concern shares, “It’s a village with around 400 Copts living there and they were stopped from holding Sunday mass and banned from the premises. They chanted, ‘Kyrie Eleison,’ which means, ‘Lord have mercy.’ As they were chanting, they were dispersed by force.”
However, the reason police gave for banning the church is problematic for several reasons, says Windsor. “First, the official police report says that the decision was [made] after complaints by a couple of Muslims. And in addition, Egyptian law requires no permit for religious meetings and indeed, Article 64 of Egypt’s Constitution guarantees freedom to practice religious rights and to establish places of worship, stating that freedom of belief is absolute.”
The village is in Egypt’s Minya Governorate, which has popped up frequently in the news for cases of Coptic Christian persecution. Minya has the highest concentration of Coptic believers in the country, and yet Copts have seen their homes attacked and burned, and their church trips and conferences threatened with violence. The bus massacre of Coptic Christians also took place in Minya.
“This isn’t an isolated case. This is something which we’ve seen in a number of communities, and I think at least 15 sites in Minya have been shut down, Christian worship sites. And we’re seeing that it’s a case where often it’s a result of local Muslims, local extremists putting pressure on [police] and saying they’re offended by the presence of Christians, and therefore the police take action to avoid confrontational conflict.”
These cases of church worship bans in Minya haven’t made many rumbles in news headlines, but the people of Egypt are starting to speak out.
“In quite a rare move, the Bishop-General of Minya, Anba Macarius, has gone public in his complaints about this and raised this very issue. He’s written public letters now in complaint about all this.”