…ƒEgypt’s Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has called for the process of legalising unlicensed churches to be “speeded up” after granting a second batch of church buildings official status this week.

The government has legalised 219 churches and church-affiliated buildings this year, but 3,511 others remain on the waiting list.

The churches were built without licence as it was “next to impossible” to build or restore a church until the Law for Building and Restoring Churches was passed in September 2016. The demand for official church buildings is a response to growing congregations and the declining condition of existing churches, according to Coptic news site Watani.

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (Egypt State Information Service)…ƒ
Prime Minister Sherif Ismail (Egypt State Information Service)…ƒ

Latest figures published by the Christian website Operation World show that the number of Christians in the population is growing, especially within the Evangelical Church, which shows an annual growth of 4.6 per cent.

‘We don’t want a church in our village’

But the growth in Christians in Egypt has not been universally popular, with a number of churches that have applied for licenses being attacked by Muslim extremists.

Most recently, the Virgin Mary and Pope Kyrillos VI Church in Beni Meinin, Beni Suef Governorate, was attacked on 14 April, the same day as a visit by the Building Authority Committee who came to inspect the building in preparation for legalising its church status.

The church’s 700 Coptic members, who had used the building as a church for 10 years, had also applied for the building to be expanded.

Local sources told World Watch Monitor that Muslim:“Many Muslim young men from our village and villages nearby gathered in front of the church building and began pelting it with stones and bricks while shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [Allah is the greatest], and ‘We don’t want a church in our village’,” said Medhat Halim, a resident in the village.

“Windows and a door were smashed and some of the church’s contents destroyed. They also pelted Coptic-owned houses next to the building. Five Copts received minor injuries.”

Security forces arrived at the village an hour later and arrested 20 Muslims and 12 Christians. Some were released the next morning but 11 Muslims and nine Christians were later charged with “gathering” (illegal for more than 10 people under 2016’s demonstration laws) and the possession of unlicensed arms, and were jailed for four days, later extended to 15 days
More Coptic homes were attacked two days later (16 April), despite the presence of security forces in the village.

“Some Muslim villagers had a meeting in one of the mosques. They incited people against us. After the meeting they set fire to a wood store owned by my brother, and four other houses,” said Christian resident Magdy Nady.

Police arrested five Christians as they tried to extinguish the fires.