President Al-Sisi has done much to try to improve the situation of the Christian minority in Egypt, restoring church buildings damaged by Muslim extremists, affirming them by attending Christmas worship services, and replacing the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Constitution with a civil one which gives full rights to Christians. But Christians in Egypt still face much harassment and persecution from hostile Muslims at a local level. This includes the Christian community in the village of Qaryat Al Bayda, south of Alexandria, who were attacked last month and have now, despite their protestations, been forced to agree to “reconciliation” meetings.
On Friday 17 June, Muslim extremists attacked Christian buildings and homes, citing false rumours that the believers were in the process of building the village’s first church. In response, the police arrested six Muslims and six Christians, later releasing the Muslims without charge. The Christians were held in custody and accused of “attempting to build a church without permission” and also illegally charged with “holding prayers without a permit”.
Egypt’s constitution enshrines the right to freedom of belief for all faiths and whilst the building of churches is still regulated by the “Hamayoni Decree” of 1856, and may be fiercely opposed at local level, there is no law requiring Christians to obtain a permit to pray. Egyptian constitutional law expert, Professor Mohamed Nour Farahat of Zagazig University explains: “The attack…has exposed the discriminatory bias for the authorities…Legal restrictions exist only on the building of places of worship. Christians who gather for prayer have never been required to obtain any permit.”
Meanwhile, as they feared they would have to, the Christian community in Qaryat Al Bayda has been forced to agree to “reconciliation” meetings and therefore give up their recourse to a proper legal process. With the arrest of six Christians and the threat of further violence, the Christians felt they had no option but to yield to the pressure, and so the meetings will now take place, despite the near certainty that they will not result in justice for the Christian victims of the violence.