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06/13/2020 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – Following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453, the Greek Orthodox Hagia Sophia church was converted into a mosque. The church currently functions as a museum, but Turkey’s President Erdoğan’s latest campaign to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque have been received with great controversy.

Egypt, whose strained relations with Turkey have recently been exacerbated because of the Libyan conflict, decided to chime in. Egypt’s top Islamic body, the Dar al-Ifta, made a statement this week condemning the Ottoman seizure of Istanbul as an “occupation” and accusing Erdoğan of using the Hagia Sophia conversion proposal as a political tactic. However, Egypt forgets its own Christian history and record of religious persecution which includes the strict regulation of churches. This incident shows how accusations of religious persecution are increasingly used within the context of global conflicts.

Despite Egypt’s criticism of Turkey, it is worth remembering how religious persecution under President el-Sisi has developed. His tenure corresponded with the rise of ISIS and has seen some of the bloodiest examples of Christian persecution, including the 2017 Minya bus attacks. Security has improved, but also measures are used in a way which intimidates Christians into silence. He has taken away free speech, which keeps Christians from speaking about these problems. Additionally, although he has created a pathway for legalizing old churches, the process remains highly burdensome. Church construction can still be prevented simply by complaints from neighboring Muslims.

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