On 25 November, a Muslim mob gathered after Friday prayers and launched a coordinated attack on Christian homes and business in the Egyptian town of al-Naghameesh, incited by false rumours that the Christian community was about to open a church. A Christian-owned guesthouse was torched, a shop looted and ten homes damaged in the attack, during which the water supply to al-Naghameesh was cut off and the road blocked to prevent fire engines reaching the town. Police did intervene to disperse the mob and make arrests, and the local governor has subsequently stated that the regional government will cover the cost of repairs to the guesthouse, assuring the Christian community that justice will be served.
The attack is reminiscent of the heightened anti-Christian violence in June and July 2016, which witnessed a series of similar mob attacks on Christian communities following false claims that existing buildings, or ones under construction, were to become churches; such attacks are not unusual in Egypt, where the Christian minority comprises approximately 10% of the population. Although there are 2,000 Christians in al-Naghameesh, which is around 280 miles south of Cairo, there is no church building in the town and an application to use space for church meetings in a Christian community centre that also houses a pre-school and a home for the elderly, is currently pending.
In August, Egypt’s parliament passed landmark legislation to allow easier construction of churches, overturning Ottoman-era regulations that tightly restricted church building. Under the new laws, applications for new churches must be considered by local governors within four months; previously, such applications required the approval of the head of state and took years to process, with many still being refused.
The proactive response of the local governor following the attack in al-Naghameesh is welcome, but true justice must also include upholding the Christian community’s right to establish places of worship, as clearly stated in the Egyptian constitution.