Defenders of Egypt’s President Sisi have long claimed that he was a protector of that country’s beleaguered Christian minority. Roughly ten percent of Egyptians are Coptic Christians, and they suffer not only discrimination but repeated physical attacks (that the authorities do not fully investigate and do not punish). Moreover, for decades they have been refused permission to repair old churches or build new ones.
This week Egypt’s parliament adopted a long-awaited new religion law, and it does nothing for the Copts and their churches. Here’s a part of the Associated Press’s story:
Egypt’s lawmakers on Tuesday passed the country’s first law spelling out the rules for building a church, a step Christians have long hoped would free up construction that was often blocked by authorities. But angry critics in the community say the law will only enshrine the restrictions.
Church building has for decades been one of the most sensitive sectarian issues in Egypt, where 10 percent of the population of 90 million are Christians but where Muslim hardliners sharply oppose anything they see as undermining what they call the country’s "Islamic character."
Under the law passed Tuesday, Christians must apply to the local provincial governor when they want to build a church.
The law stipulates that the size of the church must be "appropriate" to the number of Christians in the area. According to an official supplement to the law, the governor should also take into account "the preservation of security and public order" when considering the application.
Preserving public order means avoiding anything radical Islamists oppose--such as a new church. Governors are likely to be former military or police officers and unsympathetic to the Copts’s desires for new churches.
As one Egyptian analyst put it this week,
There was hope that Sisi would anchor the principles of citizenship within the rule of law during his time in power. Indeed this is effectively what pushed [Coptic Pope] Tawadros II to call on Copts to support Sisi at home and abroad by every means possible. But with every passing day, their faith in Sisi faded.
The new religion law ensures that that faith, and that hope, recede further. President Sisi is doing as little as he can for Egypt’s Copts, and defenders of his rule must give up arguing that his treatment of this ancient community is actually a point in his favor.