The Egyptian Parliament has passed a new church construction law, but Christians say it will do little to change persecution against them.
The new law sets a maximum decision time of four months for governors to make a decision after new church construction permits are submitted for approval. Also, licenses must now be given retroactively to all existing churches as long as they are structurally safe.
The downside? New church construction permission will be based on the size of the Christian population in a town or village—no cathedrals in tiny villages and if the provincial governor feels there aren’t enough Christians in an area to warrant the construction of a church, he can reject the permit application.
So, some bright spots, but not many. Many Egyptian Christians say this is more window dressing and they will still be attacked, churches burned and new construction halted by militant Muslims despite the new law. And they say the police and government will do little if anything to stop it.
That’s why Christian leaders say they look to God, not government for protection.
Christian faced an increased number of attacks this summer.
A priest was recently stabbed in Sinai and churches and Christian homes have been burned. However, the rise in persecution is bringing about greater church unity.
Coptic Orthodox Christians are among the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.
"Five percent of the Middle East now is Christian and four of those five percent are in Egypt," said United Kingdom Coptic Archbishop, Abna Angaelos.
And they're under fire. They actually face greater persecution now than in recent years.
A group of Coptic Christians shouted, "Stop burning our churches in Egypt!" at a recent rally near The White House in Washington D.C.
In Cairo, Pastor Sameh Maurice of Kasr El Dobara Church said, "Only God can protect us. The government cannot. Nobody can."
Egyptian Christians know their government can only do so much to keep them safe inside their churches. But many say they'd like to see the government do more to better protect their constitutional right to religious freedom.
One step in that direction is a law under consideration in the Egyptian Parliament. It would shorten the maximum time churches have to wait to improve existing buildings or build new ones to only four months.
In the past, many waited years and others never received permission. Some Christians fear Islamists will pressure legislators to leave the law unchanged.
Currently, only about 2600 churches exist in Egypt for a Christian population of at least 10-million.
Many Muslims become angry just at the thought of a new church building going up in their village.
In July, a mob attacked Christians and burned their homes after false rumors spread about the construction of an unauthorized church near the town of Beni Suef.
Some similar violence happened earlier this summer in a village called El Beida. Officials arrested six Christians for building a church without a permit. They also arrested six Muslim arson suspects but later set them free.
Often following these attacks, Christians say they must attend humiliating reconciliation sessions with Muslim leaders. The sessions take the place of criminal law proceedings.
That's what government leaders wanted to see happen in the case of Soad Thabet, a 70-year old Christian woman who was recently beaten and paraded naked in the streets of her neighborhood. A mob took the action after accusing her Christian son of having a relationship with a Muslim woman.
Mrs. Thabet refused any reconciliation meeting because the sessions often favor Muslim perpetrators over Christian victims.