Christians Forced to Pray in the Streets Following Church Attack
12/11/2018 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on Sunday, December 9, a group of Islamic extremists attacked a church in the Upper Egypt village of Kom Al-Raheb. Security forces arrived before the attack ended and closed the church, which had recently opened a new building.
A local Christian carpenter, Sobhi, told ICC, “It’s a hard time. We don’t know what we should do. How does the government permit us to open new churches and then force us to close churches? We barely open churches, and the police don’t want to keep us safe!”
“They are easily building many mosques, and when we try build a church, all of them try to harm us,” another local Christian, Madonna, told ICC. “It’s unfair, the situation has become so ridiculous!”
Peter added, “Why [are] you so shocked!! Every day we witness incidents like that [which] happen close to us. It’s the normal life, especially in Shosha and Kom Al- Ahmar; there are many extremists there.”
Approximately 2,500 Coptic Christians attend the church in Kom Al-Raheb. With the church now closed pending the outcome of a reconciliation session, these Christians no longer have access to a local church. Some Christians gathered on December 10 outside of the church to pray in the streets for its speedy reopening.
“We are so depressed,” said a local pastor. “It’s not the first time extremists [have done] this; I think it’s government policy toward the Christians. We have nothing to do, just pray… God is good.”
The Egyptian Parliament passed a law in 2016 which reformed the church legalization process. The new law included a provision which dictated that for a church to be officially recognized, it cannot be considered a security risk. Islamic hardliners use the vagueness of this provision to create incidents which lead to the indefinite closure of churches that would otherwise receive official recognition. Egypt’s constitution adds another element of uncertainty for the country’s Christians.
“In Egypt’s constitution, it is said that Egypt is a Muslim country and the country’s religion is Islam,” explained Karim, a Bible college student, to ICC. “With this item in the constitution, it gives the idea to radical Muslims that having a church is not part of the Islamic country and that Christians are not a part of the Islamic community.”
According to Isaac Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the incident is “the result of the state’s adoption of clear discriminatory policies and there is no desire to change. What happened is a single pattern… A prayer begins and then demonstration starts.”
He continued, “[Then], security services come into the church or the building of services and they prevent prayer, assembly, and then cut off facilities, there is no arrest of any of the instigators… The church building law is a trap and will not give the right to pray.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “Unfortunately, church closures are a common occurrence in Egypt. Although the 2016 law purports to streamline the process, the vagueness of certain provisions within the law allows for the continued closure of churches in order to appease hardline extremists. If Egypt is truly sincere about providing religious freedom, this problem must be addressed. We must also keep Egypt’s Christians in our prayers as we approach the Christmas season, as it is common for the public practice of their faith to become even more risky during this time.”