Almost two years after the removal of the Islamist government of the Muslim Brotherhood, Coptic churches are still facing threats from radical Islamist actions.
On Friday, scores of mostly young Muslims gathered in the Minya governorate after midday prayer, demonstrating in front of a church under construction there. They chanted that there is no way the church would be built.
After a while, the crowd vanished, but later in the night a smaller number of anonymous militants attacked the church with Molotov cocktails. In the attack, seven people were injured, and one car was left burning.
In February, Copts in Minya’s Our Village called for a church to be established in the village honouring 20 Coptic Egyptian workers beheaded in Libya. They died at the hands of Islamic State militants in Libya, according to religious freedoms researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Ishak Ibrahim.
Thirteen of the beheaded Coptic workers were from the village. Ibrahim told Daily News Egypt that, during their funeral, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb said President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi agreed for the church to be built.
Coptic residents bought land and started the church’s construction, sparking protests from Muslim residents who were angered by the church. The Muslim residents were unhappy at the church’s proposed presence and its position at the entrance to the village.
After the attack on the church, Minya’s governor conducted a meeting on Saturday with Coptic and Muslim residents to solve the issue. An initial agreement was reached to change the church’s position from the village’s entrance, according to Ibrahim.
Egyptian law regulating the building of Coptic houses of worship can be traced back to the Ottoman era, and limits the approval authority for the building of new churches to the president.
New laws decreasing such restrictions have been mulled over since the 25 January Revolution, but have yet to materialise. However, Egypt’s constitution adopted in 2014 states: “Freedom of practicing religious rituals and building worship places for the Abrahamic religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism) is a right regulated by the law.”
Attacking churches and properties belonging to Christians marked the aftermath of the violent dispersal of pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in August 2013. “Crowds of men attacked at least 42 churches, burning or damaging 37, as well as dozens of other Christian religious institutions” throughout the country in protest against the support of Christians to the military’s power takeover, according to Human Rights Watch.
Months have passed and the Muslim Brotherhood has faded away, but the attacks against churches are still occurring.