06/07/2022 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – On June 1, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church commemorated the holy family’s escape from King Herod into their land. Christians commonly believe that the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph arrived in Egypt through the northeastern Egyptian city of Rafah, progressing through the country in about 25 stops and staying for three or four years. The holy family’s 25 stops, located across eight of Egypt’s modern-day provinces, are understandable of tremendous religious significance to Christians. For this reason, Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has been working since 2014 to develop and restore all 25 locations along the historic route. The ministry completed work on one of these sites last week—a location with four monasteries in Wadi Al-Natroun in the North of Egypt. At nine of the sites, which do not have antiquities or archeological evidence, the ministry plans on using virtual reality and lighting systems to give visitors windows into the past. Tourist stops are set to be complete at all 25 locations by the end of this year.
While Christians may laud the Egyptian government’s development and restoration work on these religious sites, seeing these efforts as a demonstration of the government’s commitment to religious freedom, these superficial acts mask an increasingly harsh reality facing Christians actually living in Egypt. Last month alone, at least four violent incidents and two kidnappings occurred against Egypt’s Christian community. In one incident of violence on April 7, for example, a Coptic Orthodox priest was stabbed to death. While in words, the constitution of Egypt guarantees religious freedom, indeed, the Egyptian government has not fostered an equitable and peaceful society of religious tolerance.
The U.S. State Department has commented harshly on religious freedom in Egypt, recommending in April that Egypt be placed on their religious freedom watch list and releasing a report last week documenting the persecution that confronted religious minorities in the country in 2021. The report shows that Egypt’s bureaucracy wields tremendous legal control over religious minority communities. All citizens are required to disclose their religion, Muslim converts to Christianity are compelled to submit documentation, and the construction of new churches must be approved. Speaking about the broader society, one human rights lawyer is recorded as saying, “The reality is that Egyptian society is intolerant of Christians’ public expression of faith.” Worst of all, the report documents many cases of outright violence and murder against Christians, like those that took place this year.
Christian observers must not be deceived by Egypt’s tourism projects, seeking to make a profit by inviting Christians who want to walk in the steps of the holy family. The reality of religious freedom in the country is much darker, and Christians must support their brothers and sisters facing persecution in Egypt.
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