Twenty-one churches in Egypt’s southern rural Minya governorate can rebuild and even expand their churches after receiving approval from the Minya governor, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM).
Governor Essam al-Bedeiwi approved the 21 applications over the last six months, it has emerged, and WWM said that some of the churches had been waiting for more than 20 years for permits.
Churches that have been granted permission to renovate include an evangelical church in Tama in the Sohag governorate, which received approval on November 17.
WWM noted that speculation that the permits came ahead of several high-profile visits to Cairo. Last week, leaders from evangelical churches around the world met Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in the capital, which followed a visit in early November by a delegation of Christian evangelicals from the US to meet evangelical leaders in Egypt.
Mike Pence, the US Vice President, is also scheduled to visit Cairo in late December.
A source in Egypt told WWM that el-Sisi is keen to ‘show the US that Egypt is standing with the Christians and that there is no persecution in Minya governorate’.
However, the Coptic community in Minya has seen many of its churches forcibly closed or set on fire.
In one weekend alone in October, four Coptic churches were closed by local authorities in upper Egypt after tensions between Muslim and Christian villagers. As a result, the Bishop of Minya, Anba Macarius, said: ‘It is as though worship is a crime that Copts have to be penalised for.’
As WWM reported last year, it is practically impossible for Christians to obtain a license to build a church in Egypt.
But last year, Egypt’s parliament approved a law relating to the building and renovating of churches, and in October a cabinet committee reportedly began work on the legalisation of unlicensed churches.
Nonetheless, Coptic Christians, who make up 10 per cent of Egypt’s population of nearly 95 million, say they have been persecuted for years. Many feel the state does not take their plight seriously enough.
Though Islamic State has long waged a low-level war against soldiers and police in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, it has stepped up its assault on Christian civilians in the mainland.
In an attack claimed by the group in May, gunmen ambushed a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in Minya, killing 29 and wounding 24.