In 2013, Egypt’s Christian community suffered the worst violence in perhaps a thousand years at the hands of violent extremists. Dozens of churches were razed, prompting many Coptic Christians to leave Egypt. The situation has stabilized somewhat of late but there is much work to be done to promote equality and fundamental human rights.
While the Egyptian Constitution states that freedom of belief is “absolute,” many laws continue to actively discriminate against Christians and Islam is the state religion. National identification cards invite discrimination by requiring religious identification. Christian men are prohibited by from marrying Muslim women. Egypt’s blasphemy law prevents citizens from “ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife,” which results in both state-sanctioned discrimination and vigilante justice. Recently, the law has been enforced more aggressively and most of the prison sentences have been given to Christians, Shi’a Muslims and atheists. 1 Violent attacks against Copts, particularly in Upper Egypt, have been condemned by the Egyptian government, but little has been done to protect people or places of worship. Furthermore, perpetrators of these sectarian crimes are rarely punished. Instead, local authorities conduct “customary reconciliation” sessions between Muslims and Christians. These reconciliation sessions do not result in punishment and Christians are often dissuaded from taking legal action. 2
The Egyptian government has also failed to implement other reforms to which it has publically committed. The longstanding requirement of governmental approval for building or repairing churches, which has served as a justification for sectarian-related violence targeting Christians, has still not been reformed, despite the mandate in Article 235 of the 2014 constitution. . Egyptian Christians must still receive governmental approval even to repair or rebuild churches. The parliament has also yet to implement a provision in the 2014 constitution mandating the establishment of an independent anti-discrimination commission, the jurisdiction of which would include discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.
In order to protect and preserve Christianity in Egypt, the U.S. government, at the highest levels, should continue to emphasize the importance of their presence in Egypt and in the region.
- Insist that Egypt repeal the blasphemy law that results in the regulation of speech on behalf of Islam and “other heavenly religions” and restricts minorities’ freedom of speech and expression.
- Pressure Egypt to remove the religious identification mandate on government-issued identification cards.
- Encourage the Egyptian government to swiftly reform regulations on the building of churches to better align with the nation’s constitutional protection for religious communities to build houses of worship and also encourage fulfillment of President Sisi’s promise to help rebuild the churches destroyed in 2013.