Entrance to a Coptic Church in Egypt. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Entrance to a Coptic Church in Egypt. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Egypt legalised 156 more churches and service buildings on Tuesday, 5 March, bringing the total of approved religious venues to 783, reports Egypt Independent.   

Since 2016, more than 3,700 churches have applied for legal status under a new law that was designed to make it easier to establish and build churches in Egypt.   

A cabinet committee started to work on applications in October 2017, but progress has been slow. A report issued by the Project on Middle East Democracy in December said the approval of church building projects actually had slowed under the new law, as reported by World Watch Monitor. 

Egypt has approximately 5,000 unlicensed churches, most of them Coptic Orthodox. Some have been waiting on licensure for more than 20 years, enduring mob attacks on a regular basis, as World Watch Monitor has reported.  

After Muslim attacks in August last year forced the closure of eight Coptic churches, a human-rights activist told World Watch Monitor that opponents of a Christian presence were acting with impunity and that the “non-implementation of the law has brought us a gang of hardliners who have become above the law”. 

Meanwhile, Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar university and mosque, last month called on the nation’s Muslims to “embrace” Christians.  “They are partners in our nation”, he said during a televised ceremony in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi last month, as reported by Reuters 

David Curry, CEO of the Christian charity Open Doors USA, told Mission Network News that it was a positive development. “I think we’re seeing good things and we need to be thankful for it,” he said. However, he added, “it doesn’t mean that we can say that Egypt has changed its stripes [or] that somehow all is well and we don’t have to worry about Christians in Egypt anymore.”