Islamic State (IS) attacks slowed in Muslim-majority Egypt in 2019, compared to the previous two years when terrible IS atrocities included suicide bombings at two churches on Palm Sunday 2017 that claimed at least 46 lives. But terrorism is still a threat to Christian targets.
Despite a counterinsurgency campaign by security forces, IS remains active in northern Sinai where terrorists have threatened to kill all Christians. In February 2019, Islamic terrorists abducted a Christian passenger from a bus travelling to the north Sinai city of El Arish – where IS murdered seven Christians in 2017. He has not been seen since.
President al-Sisi, who has condemned attacks on Christians in the past, has continued to speak supportively about the Egyptian Christian community. On 6 January 2019, he attended the inauguration of Egypt’s largest cathedral and expressed his support for Christians, “We are one and no one will ever drive a wedge between us.” Only one day earlier, an Egyptian security officer was killed while attempting to make safe a bomb placed near a church in Cairo.
Al-Sisi’s government has continued to legalise churches and church-affiliated buildings, following its repeal of Ottoman-era restrictions in September 2016. The licensing process remains slow, despite calls by successive prime ministers for the process to be expedited. In December 2019, the number of churches licensed stood at only 1,322, out of 3,730 churches that applied for approval. A number of churches were already licensed before the law was introduced.
Despite the government’s softer stance, Christian communities regularly face pressure and hostility. Newly-registered churches are often targeted by Muslim mobs who still resent Christian places of worship and use the status change as a pretext for violence.
Christianity is deeply embedded in Egypt’s history, dating back to the first century AD. Despite the later arrival of Islam and centuries of persecution, Christians number about 10% of the population.
Give thanks for President al-Sisi’s support of Christians and ask that Muslim communities will heed his call for tolerance. Pray that the church licensing work will speed up allowing Christians to worship legally. Ask God to protect Christians from terrorist violence.