Church burnings in Egypt highlight discrimination against Copts

The frequent fires in a number of Coptic Orthodox churches in Egypt are resurfacing in the struggle of the Christian community to have the same rights as the Muslim majority.

The series of church fires that erupted across Egypt in the space of eight days underscored restrictions on Christians to have the same rights as the Muslim majority and build new places of worship flexibly.

On August 14, a shocking incident occurred when a major fire broke out at the Egyptian Coptic Abi Sefien Church in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba in Giza, west of the capital Cairo, killing 41 people. , including the priest and 15 children. .

The church is a residential-style building that had no fire exits or security measures. At the time of the incident, around 500 worshipers were inside, making it difficult for first responders to rescue victims and the government came under heavy criticism for this in the days following the incident.

The same scenario unfortunately unfolded in other churches soon after.

Police close a street as they investigate after a fire engulfed a Coptic Christian church on August 14 in the Imbaba district of Giza [Getty]

Even though the official account identified the causes of the fire as short circuits and other unintentional reasons, The new Arabic spoke to a high-level source at the state security officer level who confirmed otherwise.

Bishop Ermiaa member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, also did not rule out foul play, contrary to the official story of the authorities.

“[The fires at churches] always happened… it is an alarm for the state. We must join forces to overcome this crisis. I am not talking about the economic crisis and rising prices. We all suffer in this world,” he said during a sermon.

“But when the country loses its lovers and those who supported it [the Copts], it is a dangerous beginning of other dangerous problems. This must be stopped. This should be studied.

“What worries me…is the timing of these incidents,” the Bishop added.

The percentage of Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt has never been officially released. But they are thought to make up around 10-15% of the 103 million population; most of them are Coptic Orthodox and are among the oldest Christian communities in the world.

The law under fire

Building a church or even renovating a bathroom indoors has always faced many obstacles.

A long-awaited church building law no. 80 for 2016 was approved by parliament on August 30, 2016 and ratified by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi on September 28 of the same year.

The law was greeted by local media, loyal to the regime, with the aim of implying that the Copts have finally obtained a considerable part of their rights.

However, the legislation has been criticized by a high percentage of Christians and rights groups.

The legislation overturned an earlier requirement that the president must approve the construction of all new churches, making it the responsibility of governors instead.

“But the law allows the governors of each province to refuse building permits for churches without the possibility of appeal. It further demands that churches be built in proportion to the number of Christians in the area,” said a Coptic activist. The new Arabic on condition of anonymity.

“This led many Christians to build churches without a license or build a multi-storey church to accommodate the number of worshipers without safety measures, which was the main cause of death and injury in the incident. ‘Imbaba,” the activist added.

Moreover, Egyptian Christians went through an endless dilemma regarding inheritance. Islamic inheritance laws are imposed on Christians against their belief. Women fought endlessly for their right to equal inheritance shares with men, but to no avail.

“My parental aunt was very ill for years and my sister and I were the ones who took care of her. When she passed away, our cousin, her parental nephew, inherited all her property according to Islamic Sharia, even though he wouldn’t care to watch over her while she was alive. Is that right?” wondered a Christian lady.

“Copts are threatened by many factors including discrimination in many aspects, lack of safety and security and Sharia imposed on them in many situations in addition to racism and violence,” the researcher explained. Coptic.

Egyptian mourners carry the coffin of Mariam Tamer Wageh (left), a girl killed in a Coptic church fire in Cairo [Getty]

Sectarian violence continues

Even though Sisi has pledged to respect freedom of belief and made significant visits to Coptic Christmas masses, authorities have consistently failed to protect Christians from violent attacks, racism and discrimination.

“Aggression against Christians is happening to the present day, especially in the south, which is largely covered up by the authorities,” said a priest from the Cairo church, who requested anonymity. The New Arab.

“Many Coptic girls were abducted by extremists to force them to convert to Islam or rape them, then security forces returned the girls to their families without investigating these cases, leaving the perpetrators off the hook with their deeds,” he added bitterly.

The new Arabic reached out to a Christian but they refused to speak even anonymously.

People rarely hear about these incidents unless social media brings them to light. Most of these cases are presented in public sessions of reconciliation with Muslims, imposed on Christians and sponsored by the authorities, according to the priest.

On other occasions, Christians find themselves forced to run for their lives. In 2017, for example, nearly 140 Coptic Christian families leak the city of Arish, the capital of North Sinai following death threats by the local branch of the Islamic State, when some had already been killed.

“We are treated like second-class citizens even though the government denies it. But it is a fact that we all know. And the pope has always played it safe with the regime,” the priest concluded.

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