Hundreds of Christian mourners, including some Muslim neighbours, gathered for the service held on a road in the village, close to the city of Samalout. They demanded that their church be reopened saying, “Worship is one of our basic rights.”
Members of Koum al-Raheb’s 2,500-strong Christian community were celebrating the opening service at the new, unlicensed church on 9 December when police arrived to shut it. The police were persuaded to wait until the service ended before officers confiscated the church keys.
The next day police cut off the church’s electricity and water supplies while Christians stood in prayer outside the four-storey building.
The Christians’ homes also came under attack by Muslim villagers throwing stones and thumping windows. One Christian eye-witness described this as orchestrated violence, incited by Muslim fundamentalists using the microphone and speaker system of the village mosque.
Christian leaders have since met with local politicians and security officials and agreed to obtain a licence for the church, while the politicians agreed to speed up the registration process.
Egyptian President al-Sisi’s government has continued the process of legalising church buildings, approving 508 applications in 2018. However, progress is slow and more than 3,000 churches that have applied for approval since 2017 are still waiting for licences.
Photo Credit: Pacification session held between representatives of the village’s Muslim and Coptic communities to ease tensions among them regarding closure of Koum al-Raheb Church – Watani