(Worthy News) – The Egyptian government on Monday approved legalization of 127 churches, the culmination of a 2016 law by which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sought to make the world’s largest Arab nation more officially inclusive of Coptic Christianity.
A presidential committee chaired by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly oversaw the process, bringing the total number of formerly unlicensed churches now granted legal status to 1,021.
On January 7th, 2019, the day on which Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas, President el-Sisi attended the inauguration ceremony of the Middle East’s largest Christian church—having gifted the building to the Coptic community himself—in what many saw as a turning of the tide in Egyptian politics.
The gesture seemed to dovetail with a 2017 meeting in which el-Sisi hosted a delegation of American Evangelical leaders, who afterward glowed with praise for the ostensibly tolerant spirit of the Egyptian leader. El-Sisi reportedly asked a group that included Johnnie Moore, Joel Rosenberg, and Michele Bachmann to pray for him in his battle against radical Islam.
Others familiar with the situation of Christians in Egypt remained unconvinced by the recent public relations campaign, as Christian converts from Islam, according to Open Doors USA’s fact sheet for Egypt, have no way of getting their conversions officially recognized by the government, thus putting them in a sort of legal no man’s land where they have frequently become prey to Muslim backlash and police reluctant to punish the crimes against them.
“While the upgrade in public rhetoric on religious tolerance coming out of Egypt’s presidential office is important in and of itself, it has not lead to a positive change in the situation on the ground,” Sara Salama, president of Coptic Voice, a non-profit supporting the Egyptian diaspora community, told National Review in June after Christians suffered Muslim mob violence a couple weeks straight.
It’s estimated that 90% of Egypt is Muslim, with Coptic Christians comprising 90% of the 10% leftover who practice minority religions, and evangelicals, Catholics, and heterodox Muslims representing less than a percentage of the population.
Egypt remains 16th on Open Doors USA’s World Watchlist for severe Christian persecution.