Christians' situation in Egypt improves, though many still consider them 'second-class citizens'

Anti Christian slogan in Saint Cyril Church in Cairo Egypt Credit Aid to the Church in Need CNA 8 20 13 An anti-Christian slogan graffitied on a Coptic church in Egypt. | Aid to the Church in Need.

While the situation of Christians has improved in Egypt under its current president, many continue to regard the minority as second-class citizens, a Coptic Catholic bishop has said. 

In a June 24 report to the Catholic charity foundation Aid to the Church in Need United States, Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of the Coptic Eparchy of Assiut said that Christians are underrepresented in many sectors and are sidelined in administrative positions.

The Catholic leader asked for equality in the country, saying, “We are not asking for much and we are being realistic. Unfortunately, there are still many people who consider Christians to be second-class citizens.”

Asked how the mistreatment is manifested, Bishop Kyrillos said, “For example, Christians are underrepresented at universities. Not only in terms of student numbers, but particularly among the faculty and the administration of the university. Every now and then, a Christian is appointed but this is mere show.”

“Overall, Christians are usually passed over, even when they are equally qualified,” Bishop Kyrillos said, adding, “This is also the case in public administration and the army.”

He called for a change in mentality, for other religions to start treating Christians as their equals, in adherence to calls made by the country’s head of state, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi who, the bishop says, constantly talks about “the equality of all Egyptians.”

Bishop Kyrillos compared the situation of Christians during Sisi’s time to the presidency of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and said that Christians are better off today.

“These are golden times for us Christians under Sisi,” he said: “When a mosque is built in a new city, he (Sisi) always asks when a church will be built next to it. He often affirms that everyone - Jews, Christians and Muslims - must be allowed to practice their religion freely and be able to build places of worship.”

The leadership of ACN has however noted that even under Sisi, individual Christians still attract the attention of the state.

“Serious allegations, even including charges of terrorism, have been made against Coptic activist and government critic Ramy Kamel. These are considered absurd by human rights activists,” ACN leadership asserts.

The pontifical charity foundation seeks to know whether people enjoy as much political freedom as there is religious freedom under Sisi's presidency.

According to Bishop Kyrillos, however, there are restrictions for all Egyptians, irrespective of their religion.

The Catholic leader says that attacks against human rights activists in the country are not specifically targeted at Christians.

The Catholic charity further makes reference to its World Report on Religious Freedom that has mentioned the killing of a Coptic Christian in Sinai and the abduction of Christian girls in Upper Egypt.

Asked whether attacks against Christians are still regularly being carried out today, the bishop responded, “There are far fewer such incidents. The government is doing everything in its power to prevent them.”

“Recently, a Muslim who had murdered a Christian was even executed,” the 74-year-old Coptic Bishop of Assiut said, adding, “Before, it would have been unthinkable that a believer would be put to death because of an infidel.”

The bishop also confirmed that things have improved in the country with regard to the legalization of churches that were built without approval.

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“I read that about 50 percent of the Church buildings in Egypt have in the meantime been legalized. However, things here in Assiut are moving forward very slowly. The process is very complicated,” he said.

Highlighting some of the requirements that need to be met in the legalization process, Bishop Kyrillos said, “Two requirements need to be met. You must be able to prove undisputed ownership of the land on which the church was built. The second is the submission of a plan of the building prepared by a registered architect. There are also special safety requirements.”

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