Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's Muslim-majority population.
Christian communities have long faced difficulties under Egyptian law, which for decades retained strict Ottoman-era rules on building or repairing churches. The church in Ezbet had only been granted legal status in 2011.
The older restrictions were repealed in 2016, though critics still say that most applications to build or repair churches are rejected, especially requests from poor or rural areas or areas where Christians are a small minority.
At present, the U.S. Commission on Interreligious Freedom says that religious freedom conditions in Egypt are “trending tentatively in a positive direction.” Its website cites “a decrease in radical Islamist violence and anti-Christian mob attacks, some progress in implementing the registration process for unlicensed churches and related buildings, and the launch of a government program to address religious intolerance in rural areas.”
“However, systematic and ongoing religious inequalities remain affixed in the Egyptian state and society, and various forms of religious bigotry and discrimination continue to plague the country’s Coptic Christians and other religious minorities,” adds the commission, an independent bipartisan U.S. government agency which advises the U.S. President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
In a June 2021 report to the Catholic charity foundation Aid to the Church in Need United States, Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of the Coptic Catholic Eparchy of Assiut said that the situation of Christians has improved in Egypt under its current president, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, though many continue to regard the Christian minority as second-class citizens.
“These are golden times for us Christians under Sisi,” he said, noting some improvements. “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 bishop said that Christians are underrepresented in many sectors and are passed over for hiring and promotions in public administrative positions and the army. He specifically voiced concern that Christians are underrepresented among university students, faculty and administrators.
Aid to the Church in Need has said that serious allegations, even allegations of terrorism, have been made against Coptic activist and government critic Ramy Kamel, though human rights observers consider these charges absurd.