Egypt Confuses Religious Tourism with Religious Freedom

08/10/2020 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – On July 21st, the Egyptian government announced plans to restore Saint Catherine’s Monastery in the South Sinai Governorate. This decision was interpreted by some analysts as a reaction towards Turkey’s reconversion of Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque, a move condemned by the Egyptian government.

When announcing their plans for Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt commented that it was a project with two-fold intentions: refurbishing important Christian areas, and increasing Egypt’s religious tourism industry. There is a hope that Turkey’s Hagia Sophia decision will shift Christian religious tourism to Egypt.

This entire discourse highlights two important themes. First, it came at a time of heightened political tension between Turkey and Egypt over the Libyan Civil War. Throughout this conflict, it has become common for competing Islamic countries to accuse the other of violating the rights of Christians. However, all those countries involved rate poorly in terms of religious freedom.

Second, it shows how countries are increasingly confusing religious tourism with religious freedom. Restoring historic Christian sites is important, but doing it for the purpose of boosting religious tourism shows monetary motivations rather than a sincere appreciation for human rights. In the case of Egypt, such announcements often mask deeper religious freedom issues.

For example, Egyptian Christians face significant bureaucratic hurdles while building churches. The presence of a church is sometimes enough to incite a mob attack. When Christians are targeted with violence, the government pressures Christians to reconcile with their attackers rather than providing legal support to protect their rights.

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