The US State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006
Local government officials continued to prevent new churches from being built, often requiring an exhaustive list of documents to be submitted multiple times between administrative and security departments of governorates, in repeated attempts to preclude final authorization, despite presidential and interior ministry approvals for a building permit to be issued. As a result, congregations have experienced lengthy delays--lasting for years in many cases--while waiting for new church building permits to be issued. Authorities have also refused to issue decrees for restoration, renovation, and expansion of churches, or have failed to enforce decrees that have already been approved. Local authorities have also closed down unlicensed buildings used as places of worship.
Despite decrees issued by President Mubarak in 1998 and 1999 to facilitate approvals for repairing, renovating, expanding, and building churches, societal attitudes long nurtured by the 1856 Hamayouni decree and the 1934 El-Ezabi decree, and encouraged by some local security and governmental officials, continued to hinder efforts by Christians to obtain the permits required for such construction.
On December 9, updating the 1998-99 decrees, President Mubarak issued a new decree that devolved church repair and reconstruction decisions to the governorate level and stipulated that churches would be permitted to proceed with rebuilding and repair simply by notifying the governorate administration in writing. Permits for construction of new churches remained subject to presidential decree.
Numerous complaints of delayed church construction and repair projects continued to be reported during the period covered by this report. Elements within the government, often local administrative or security officials, continued to impede church repair and construction projects.
Although the National Council for Human Rights did not give significant attention in its report to issues of religious freedom, it submitted a total of 27 requests to the Ministry of Interior and several governorates in Upper Egypt requesting action on numerous complaints it had received concerning alleged violations of religious freedom. Twenty-three of the requests the Council submitted dealt with church repair and construction; however, according to the Council's report, the ministry had not responded to any of the requests
There generally continued to be religious discrimination and sectarian tension in society during the year. Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha'is.
There also are few Christians in the upper ranks of the security services and armed forces. Government discriminatory practices continued to include discrimination against Christians in public sector employment, in staff appointments to public universities, by payment of Muslim imams through public funds (Christian clergy are paid by private church funds), and by refusal to admit Christians to Al-Azhar University (a publicly-funded institution). In general, public university training programs for Arabic language teachers refuse to admit non-Muslims because the curriculum involves the study of the Qur'an. There have been no reports of Christian graduates since 2001.
In 2000, Shayboub William Arsal, a Coptic Christian, was convicted and sentenced for the 1998 murders of two Copts in al-Kush. His appeal, which has been pending for 5 years, had still not been heard by year's end. There was a widespread perception in the local Christian community that Shayboub was convicted because of his religion.
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