Earlier in January, al-Azraa (Virgin Mary) Church and Mar Girgis Church in the village of Sheikh Alaa at Minya officially opened their doors as legally-recognized churches for the first time, despite being built in 2015, state-news agency MENA reported.
In October 2017, Coptic worshipers entered a church to pray, but were harassed the same day and the church was subsequently closed by police following the sectarian attacks. In response, Coptic Christians staged a sit-in at the church’s premises, conducting a daily mass which went on until the reopening of the church earlier in January.
The Orthodox Coptic Archbishopric of Minya governorate said at the time that four churches were closed during October, and questioned if Coptic Christians praying was a crime.
“We stayed silent for two weeks after the closure of a church, hoping that the officials would do the job they were assigned to do by the state.”
“However,” he continued, “this silence has led to something worse, as if prayer is a crime the Copts should be punished for. Coptic Christians go to the neighboring villages to perform their prayers,” the Archbishop revealed, highlighting the desperate situation for Copts in Egypt.
Following harassment of Copts, the housing ministry announced that it would “allow Christians to practice religious rites at unlicensed churches, pending their formal recognition as places of worship,” a move that was praised by the Christian community.
Archpriest Antoun said that the Orthodox Coptic Church sent requests to formally recognize 2,600 churches and affiliated buildings across Egypt by September 2017. He added that according to 2016 law, religious rites are to be allowed at unlicensed churches pending the legalization of their status.
Christians make up an estimated 10 percent of the country’s population of 100 million, although some estimates argue that the actual number could be far higher.
Throughout the years, they have long struggled to obtain the licences required to build churches, or at least have them legally recognized as such.