Egypt: Situation of Coptic Christians and treatment by authorities and society; ability to access housing, employment, education, health care, and support services, particularly in Cairo and Alexandria; state protection (2020–April 2022) [EGY200980.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Situation

Sources state that approximately 10 percent of Egypt's population is Coptic Christian (DW 15 Apr. 2020; Freedom House 3 Mar. 2021, Sec. B4). According to a report by Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Christian populations are "particularly concentrated" in Upper Egypt and in major cities, including Cairo and Alexandria, and the "vast majority" of Egyptian Christians are Coptic (Australia 17 June 2019, para. 3.31). The New Arab, a London-based news website with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa (The New Arab n.d.), reports that in Upper Egypt's Minya district, an "Islamist stronghold" whose population is "around" 40 percent Christian, Coptic Christians are "besieged" by "unrelenting" sectarian violence (The New Arab 4 Feb. 2020).

Information on the socioeconomic situation of Coptic Christians in Egypt could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, a professor of political and international studies at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, who has researched and lived among Egyptian Coptic Christians over the last 27 years and published numerous peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters on church-state relations in Egypt, indicated that while there have been "public displays of patronage," such as government-funded church-building, over the last two years and the current regime endorses a "positive relationship" with Copts, Coptic Christians at the local level still experience "discrimination that is not extended in the same way to the majority of Egyptians" (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). Regarding freedom of religious belief and practice, Freedom House notes that "in recent years," Coptic Christians "in particular" experienced "numerous" incidents of forced displacement and physical assault, as well as bomb and arson attacks (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. D2). In its 2021 annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommends that Egypt be placed on the US Department of State's "Special Watch List" for "engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA)" (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66). The same source states that despite "anti-Christian mob attacks" being "less frequen[t]" in 2020 compared with previous years, these remained "serious threats" (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66). The report further notes "systematic and ongoing" inequalities between religious groups in Egypt in 2020, including "various forms of religious bigotry and discrimination" against religious minorities, notably Coptic Christians (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66).

According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2020, there were instances of "societal sectarian violence" against Coptic Christians in 2020 (US 30 Mar. 2021, 2). Citing the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, "an independent monitor," Reuters reported in April 2021 that there had been a "rise" in attacks against Christians in the western Sinai region in "recent months," including two people killed and four more kidnapped (Reuters 19 Apr. 2021). Sources report that in April 2021 an Islamic State (IS) [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Daesh] affiliate group released a video of the execution of a [Coptic (Al Jazeera 19 Apr. 2021)] Christian in northern Sinai (Al Jazeera 19 Apr. 2021; Al-Monitor 22 Apr. 2021; Reuters 19 Apr. 2021). According to the USCIRF 2021 annual report, despite the "few" incidents of "radical Islamist violence" occurring outside of North Sinai in 2020, the use of counterterrorism "as a pretense" by the government to repress religious freedom activists and other civil society members resulted in "some" cases against such individuals being tried through a terrorism court (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66).

Sources report that on 25 October 2021 Egypt lifted its four-year state of emergency, which was first imposed in April 2017 following the bombings of two [Coptic (AFP and TOI 26 Oct. 2021)] churches that claimed the lives of "more than" 40 people (AFP and TOI 26 Oct. 2021) or "at least" 47 people (Mada 28 Oct. 2021).

1.1 Coptic Christian Activists

Sources report that Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi [el-Sisi, Sissi], cultivates a "narrative" of himself as "savi[our]" of Coptic Christians (The New Arab 4 Feb. 2020; Thabet 14 Jan. 2022) from "the Islamists" (Thabet 14 Jan. 2022). The New Arab states that, in the wake of a "wider [government] crackdown on civil society" since September 2019, the state has no "leniency" for Coptic activism (The New Arab 4 Feb. 2020). Similarly, the USCIRF indicates that the detentions of Egyptian activists advocating internationally for religious minorities, including Coptic Christians, in Egypt are part of the government's "systematic and ongoing effort" to quell any challenges to the country's "narrative of progress" and image abroad (US 21 Apr. 2021, 67). Freedom House similarly states that activists who express views that run counter to the "preferred state narratives" are subject to reprisals from the authorities and "common[ly]" arrested (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. D4).

2. Treatment
2.1 By Authorities

According to the USCIRF, authorities in Egypt either "perpetrate or tolerate" "systematic and ongoing" violations of religious freedoms (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66). In an interview with the Research Directorate, a postdoctoral research associate at a university in the US whose research specializations include Middle Eastern Christianity and Muslim-Christian relations and who has published a book on Coptic Christians based in part on research in Egypt, stated that "in general," Egyptian authorities view Coptic Christians as "second-class citizens" (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The same source noted that, "typical[ly]," authorities, including police, and Coptic Christians understand that perpetrators of sectarian attacks on Coptic Christians will not be charged (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022).

The Postdoctoral Research Associate noted that authorities may "forc[ibly] displac[e]" Coptic Christians from villages in which there have been sectarian incidents to avoid "future flare ups" (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In a May 2020 case reported by sources, 14 Coptic Christians were arrested in a village in Beheira [Al-Buḥayrah, Al-Behera] Governorate as they protested (MEMO 21 May 2020) or attempted to stop (CSW 1 Mar. 2021) the demolition of their church by local authorities (MEMO 21 May 2020; CSW 1 Mar. 2021). According to the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), a pro-Palestine media monitoring organization covering Palestine and neighboring countries (MEMO n.d.), security forces "assaulted" the church priest and fired tear gas at the protesters over the course of the demonstration (MEMO 21 May 2020). The same source adds that, according to the church's lawyer, the church had existed for 15 years; an appeal against the church's destruction had been filed and was still pending when the demolition occurred (MEMO 21 May 2020).

In its report on the events of 2021 in Egypt, Human Rights Watch (HRW) indicates that "independent activists" who raised awareness on "societal and governmental discrimination against Egypt's Christian minority" were detained by the authorities (HRW 13 Jan. 2022). An article published by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) [1] reports that Coptic activists have also been "detained or targeted" for promoting for socio-economic rights, including advocating for workers and the poor (Fallas 12 Jan. 2022). Sources report that one [Coptic (Religion News Service 5 Dec. 2019; ANHRI 29 Jan. 2020)] labour activist was arrested in November 2019 and accused of terrorism (Fallas 12 Jan. 2022; MRG 20 Mar. 2020; ANHRI 29 Jan. 2020). According to Qantara.de [2], this activist remained in detention as of January 2021 (Qantara.de 29 Jan. 2021). According to sources, an advocate for Coptic Christians in Egypt was arrested, also in November 2019, and accused of joining a terrorist group (The Christian Post 11 Jan. 2022; HRW 13 Jan. 2022; Religion News Service 5 Dec. 2019). Sources report that the activist was held in pretrial detention for more than two years, including in solitary confinement, before being released in January 2022 (Coptic Solidarity 8 Jan. 2022; Fallas 12 Jan. 2022).

In another case reported by sources, a [former (Al Jazeera 7 Dec. 2021)] researcher for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) [3] was arrested in February 2020 upon returning to Cairo from Italy, where they were pursuing studies, and charged with "spreading false news" after writing about the experience of Christians in Egypt (Al Jazeera 7 Dec. 2021) or their own experience as a Coptic Christian in Egypt (BBC 28 Sept. 2021). According to sources, the EIPR, which is representing the researcher, states that he was beaten (Al Jazeera 7 Dec. 2021) or the researcher's lawyers indicate that he was "torture[d]" (BBC 28 Sept. 2021) and subjected to "electric shocks" by the Egyptian authorities during their questioning (Al Jazeera 7 Dec. 2021; BBC 28 Sept. 2021). Al Jazeera reports that the activist was held in pre-trial detention for "more than" a year and a half before being released in December 2021 pending trial (Al Jazeera 7 Dec. 2021).

2.1.1 Blasphemy Law

Egypt's Law No. 58 of the Year 1937, Promulgating the Penal Code, translated by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), provides the following:

Article 98 F

Detention for a period of not less than six months and not exceeding five years, or paying a fine of not less than five hundred pounds and not exceeding one thousand pounds [C$34-69] shall be the penalty inflicted on whoever exploits and uses the religion in advocating and propagating by talk or in writing, or by any other method, extremist thoughts with the aim of instigating sedition and division or disdaining and contempting [sic] any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto, or prejudicing national unity or social peace. (Egypt 1937)

Sources report that in 2020 Egypt's blasphemy legislation [article 98 F of the Penal Code (US 21 Apr. 2021, 67; MRG Oct. 2020, 176), above] was used to arrest and prosecute (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 147) or "most often targeted" (US 21 Apr. 2021, 67) members of religious minorities, including Christians and Shia [Shi'a, Shi'i, Shiite] Muslims (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 147; US 21 Apr. 2021, 67). Similarly, MRG states that the blasphemy law is "frequently used" against freedom of expression and critics of the "official interpretation of Islam" and "fails" as a protection mechanism for non-Muslim citizens (MRG Oct. 2020, 176).

In a case reported on by the EIPR and for which they provided legal defense, an Egyptian Christian was sentenced to five years' imprisonment with "hard labor" for "'exploiting religion in promoting extremist ideas, contempt of Islam, and transgression of the values of the Egyptian family'" (EIPR 15 Mar. 2022). According to media sources that refer to the EIPR's Arabic-language reporting on this case, the Coptic Christian man, a private citizen, was arrested in June 2021 after it was found that his mobile phone contained "'sexual images'" alleged by prosecution to be "in 'contempt of the Islamic religion'" (World Watch Monitor 9 Feb. 2022) or "improper" images deemed offensive to Islam (The New Arab 2 Feb. 2022).

2.2 By Society

According to the Postdoctoral Research Associate, Coptic Christians are viewed as "second-class citizens" by Egyptian society (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The Professor stated that the security situation in Egypt "improved" for Coptic Christians between 2020 and 2022; with the government having "driv[en] Islamist movements into exile or underground," sectarian violence is "not common," though it still occurs in a "restrained" but "unpredictabl[e]" manner, particularly on Coptic religious holidays such as Coptic Christmas or Easter (Professor 1 Apr. 2022).

Sources report an incident in December 2020 in which one Coptic Christian man was stabbed to death and two others were injured in Alexandria, describing it as a "hate crime" (Watani 14 Dec. 2020) or an example of "[a]nti-Christian violence" (ACN Canada 29 Jan. 2021). In another case reported by sources, a Coptic priest was fatally stabbed in Alexandria on 8 April 2022 (AP 8 Apr. 2022; Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). According to the Postdoctoral Research Associate, such an attack is "exceptional" (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022).

Sources indicate that sectarian violence is "more prevalent" in rural and southern Egypt (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022) or occurs "mainly" in rural areas of southern Egypt (AP 8 Apr. 2022). The Professor also noted that individual and family conflicts between Christians and Muslims are "common" in rural areas, though conflicts between the two communities are "less common" in larger urban centres (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). According to sources, "mob attacks" against Christians in rural areas of Egypt occur "regularly" (MEMO 21 May 2021) or continued to be "endemic" in 2020 (US 21 Apr. 2021, 67). The Postdoctoral Research Associate notes that that, because the State is less "effective" in rural areas and villages, in such areas individuals with less money or social power are "more vulnerable" to sectarian violence by Muslim neighbours (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022).

According to the Postdoctoral Research Associate, Coptic Christian landowners in Upper Egypt "common[ly]" have Muslim families "squatting" on their property and, although authorities will "likely" rule in favour of the Coptic landowners, in practice such a ruling will not be implemented, due to the "delicate" sectarian relations in the region (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. Ability to Relocate to Cairo and Alexandria

The Professor indicated that "most Egyptians" can travel in the Sinai region "without incident," though an "ongoing insurgency against the government" in North and South Sinai makes travel "not entirely safe" (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The same source noted, however, that the "[r]elatively few" Coptic Christians who live in the region are "soft targets" for militants seeking to damage "the government's reputation for security in the region" (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The Postdoctoral Research Associate stated that Coptic Christians who are resettled by the government to escape sectarian violence in Upper Egypt tend to relocate to other villages where they have family and that, to their knowledge, such individuals are "never resettled" in Cairo or Alexandria (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The same source added that while Upper Egypt is connected by rail to Cairo and Alexandria, the ability to travel to these cities "depends" on a family's circumstances and resources (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The Professor further stated that, for Coptic Christians, resettlement in Cairo or Alexandria is "feasible but not easy" (Professor 1 Apr. 2022).

The Professor further indicated that women in particular, both Christian and Muslim, are subject to more "limitations" on their freedom of mobility since they need permission from the "ranking male member of their family (typically their father, brother, or husband)," making it "more challenging" for them to relocate from rural areas into cities (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The same source added that Christian women face "more acute" "discrimination," since unlike Muslim women, they are "not likely" to be veiled, which makes them "more vulnerable to harassment" in public (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The Postdoctoral Research Associate similarly stated that single Coptic Christian women are "very rare[ly]" able to travel by themselves to Cairo and Alexandria; "conceivably," upper-middle-class women might travel by themselves to Cairo or Alexandria and stay there in church housing while completing post-secondary studies (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The same source added that elderly people also face barriers to travelling and relocating to cities like Cairo and Alexandria; "most" will not resettle after a sectarian attack due to their reliance on existing family networks (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022).

4. Ability to Access Services, Particularly in Cairo and Alexandria

Information on access to services, including for Coptic Christians resettling in Cairo and Alexandria, was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4.1 Housing

According to a 2019 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing on a visit to Egypt from September to October 2018, Coptic Christians are among several groups that face "discrimination" in accessing housing in Egypt (UN 3 Oct. 2019, para. 105). In a statement immediately after the 2018 visit, the same source indicated that Coptic survivors of sectarian violence in the Governorate of Minya (Upper Egypt) had been "displaced from their homes by their own neighbours without sufficient protection from security officials" and were unable to return due to safety concerns (UN 3 Oct. 2018). In the 2019 report, the Special Rapporteur added that Coptic families in Basra village in Amreya [Ameriya], Alexandria; Nag Al-Taweel in Tud, Luxor; Shibin Al Qanatir [Shebin Al Qanater] in Al-Qalyubiyah [Qalyubia, Kalyubia, Kalyoubia, Kalioubieh]; and Maiana Bahnasia in Kafr Darwish, Beni Suef [Banī Suwayf] had also faced "forced evictions" (UN 3 Oct. 2019, para. 82). The same source reported that "in some instances" forced evictions were "ordered" by "community reconciliation mechanisms" [see section 5.2.1 of this Response], including in the presence of government officials who "reportedly failed to intervene when rulings legitimized the arbitrary expulsion of Coptic families from their homes" and "sometimes expressed public support for such decisions" (UN 3 Oct. 2019, para. 83). In responding to the UN Special Rapporteur's statements in paragraphs 82 and 83 of the final report, the Egyptian government states that Coptic Christians "have the same civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as all other citizens" and that "[d]iscrimination is prohibited and all citizens are equal before the law," adding that the Special Rapporteur's "insinuation" that the State is involved in the forced eviction of Coptic Christians "in particular" is "false and baseless" (Egypt 1 Mar. 2019, para. 106).

According to Amnesty International, Egyptian authorities "arbitrarily" arrested "dozens" of protesters objecting to house demolitions; on 18 July 2020, security forces broke up citizen protests in the Ma'awa el Sayadeen [Maawa Al-Sayadeen] region of Alexandria, "us[ing] force" and arresting "about" 65 protesters and detaining "[a]t least" 42 for "up to five months" while they were investigated for "'participating in unauthorized protests'" and "'attacking public employees'" (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 150).

Sources reported that Coptic Christians [from Upper Egypt (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022)] seeking housing access in Cairo and Alexandria would face "significant challenges" without "local connections" (Professor 1 Apr. 2022) or it would be "near impossible" without family in the city (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The Postdoctoral Research Associate stated that, in both Cairo and Alexandria, services such as housing are "typically" not provided by the State but rather through family networks in "poor, informal settlements" on the outskirts of the city (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The Professor noted that Copts who are "willing and able to pay above-market prices" are "less likely" to struggle to find housing (Professor 1 Apr. 2022).

4.2 Employment

The Professor, in discussing access to employment and other services in Cairo and Alexandria, stated that, compared to those in rural areas, Coptic Christians living in larger cities experience "greater general discrimination" in employment and noted that they will face "significant challenges" in seeking employment if they lack local contacts in the city (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The Postdoctoral Research Associate stated that in Cairo and Alexandria employment is "typically" accessed through family connections rather than state-sponsored services and that Copts from Upper Egypt resettling in either city without an existing network of relatives would find it "near impossible" to obtain employment (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The same source added that "most" industries operating in Cairo and Alexandria, including construction, petroleum, public school teaching and the public sector, either refuse to hire Coptic Christians or avoid promoting them; in "most cases," it is Copts who employ other Copts (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The Professor similarly noted that Coptic Christians are "most likely" to work for other Copts, as sectarian identity affects employment access (Professor 1 Apr. 2022).

4.3 Education

When asked about accessing services such as education in Cairo and Alexandria, the Professor noted that Coptic Christians "regularly" experience "discriminat[ion]" in primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational institutions; "bribes or extra fees" are "often" required to access educational services provided by instructors (Professor 1 Apr. 2022).

4.4 Healthcare

When asked about accessing services such as healthcare in Cairo and Alexandria, the Professor stated that they were not aware of any instances of "discrimination" against Coptic Christians related to healthcare (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The same source added that while Copts "would face significant barriers" in accessing public services, they would "generally" still have access "equa[l]" to that of Muslim citizens (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). According to the Postdoctoral Research Associate, access to healthcare services, including mental health services, is "nonexistent" for Coptic Christians resettling from Upper Egypt in Cairo and Alexandria (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022).

4.5 Other Support Services

Information on access to other support services in Cairo and Alexandria for resettled Coptic Christians could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5. State Protection

Freedom House states that Egypt's "laws, policies, and practices" result in "various forms of harassment and discrimination" against minorities, including Coptic Christians (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. F4). Amnesty International reports that in 2020 Christians "continued" to experience "discriminat[ion]" from authorities in both legislation and practice (Amnesty International 7 Apr. 2021, 151).

5.1 Legislation

According to MRG, while the 2019 constitutional amendments criminalized "incitement to hatred," no provision exists to punish hate speech (MRG Oct. 2020, 176). Australia's DFAT states that "anti-discriminatory laws and legal protections" exist but are "not always enforced fairly" and that as a result Christians, particularly in rural areas, "may experience some discrimination" (Australia 17 June 2019, para. 3.33).

US Country Reports 2020 states that the Egyptian constitution was amended in 2019 to include a requirement for "better" political representation of certain groups, including Christians (US 30 Mar. 2021, 49). However, Freedom House reports that while Egyptian citizens are legally and constitutionally guaranteed political rights regardless of their religion, "discrimination" and rights denial is "affect[ing]" the ability of Christians to be politically active (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. B4). The same source states that, due to the government's increasing societal and electoral control, Christians are limited to political engagement "within the narrow scope of officially sanctioned politics" in order to avoid "harsh penalties" (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. B4). Freedom House further indicates that the "diminishing power" of the legislative branch has "undercu[t]" Christians' ability to achieve "meaningful representation" (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. B4). US Country Reports 2020 notes that 2 of the 27 governorates had Christian governors in 2020, including a Coptic Christian woman as Governor of Damietta (US 30 Mar. 2021, 49).

5.1.1 Religion-Based Personal Status Law

US Country Reports 2020 indicates that laws on civil status are "generally" determined by a citizen's religious identity and notes that Coptic Christians have access to divorce on "rare" occasions, such as in the case of adultery or conversion to another religious faith (US 30 Mar. 2021, 58, 59). According to the Egyptian government's National Human Rights Strategy for 2021–2026, the Constitution protects the right of "citizens believing in heavenly religions" to "practice religious rituals and build houses of worship" but that regarding personal status matters, Egyptian citizens "can refer to their own religious laws" (Egypt 11 Sept. 2021, 38).

According to media sources, the draft of a new law governing "personal status" (Agenzia Fides 11 Jan. 2022) or "family law" for Egyptian Christians, drawn up by representatives of Egypt's Christian churches, was submitted to Egypt's Cabinet in October 2020 (Agenzia Fides 11 Jan. 2022; Watani 20 Oct. 2020). According to Watani, an Egyptian newspaper with a focus on Coptic culture, though the new law is "unified" for all Christians in Egypt, each denomination has a separate chapter for issues on which they disagree, such as marital separation and divorce (Watani 20 Oct. 2020). Agenzia Fides, the news agency of the Vatican focusing on missionary work (Agenzia Fides n.d.), reported in January 2022 that the revision of the law was complete but that it had yet to be approved by Parliament (Agenzia Fides 11 Jan. 2022).

Egypt released its first human rights strategy document in September 2021; regarding freedom of religion and belief, the strategy lays out goals such as promoting religious coexistence through awareness campaigns, fostering religious tolerance through improved coordination among religious institutions and continuing to "regularize" churches (Egypt 11 Sept. 2021, 4, 41–42). However, sources state that the strategy is designed to "shield the regime from both domestic and foreign criticism" (ACW 24 June 2021) or "secure foreign funding contingent on Egypt's human rights record" (VOA 12 Oct. 2021) or "mislea[d] the international community into believing that the Sisi government is initiating reform" (CIHRS 15 Nov. 2022, 3). Information on implementation of the Egypt's national human rights strategy could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5.1.2 Church Permits Legislation

According to Egypt's National Human Rights Strategy, Law No. 80 of 2016 on church construction and renovation provides details on the rules and procedures for obtaining church permits and "mandates governors" to issue permits (Egypt 11 Sept. 2021, 40). The same source indicates that, as of December 2020, the status of 1,800 churches and buildings was regularized, and 72 damaged or sabotaged churches were renovated (Egypt 11 Sept. 2021, 40). Sources report that on 20 April 2022 the cabinet committee overseeing the legalization of churches granted legal status to 239 churches, bringing the total of churches legalized since 2017 to 2,401 (The Daily News Egypt 20 Apr. 2022; CSW 27 Apr. 2022).

Sources report that since 2016, 1,958 out 5,540 Christian church buildings "lack[ing] proper legal status" have been legalized (HRW 13 Jan. 2022) or 1,800 out of 5,515 applications for church building registration have been approved (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66). However, HRW indicates that licenses to build new churches were not issued, apart from those requested from within "new desert cities," according to an October 2021 Arabic-language article by the EIPR (HRW 13 Jan. 2022). Freedom House states that "in recent years" church construction permits have been "block[ed]" for Coptic Christians "in particular" (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. D2). The USCIRF adds that while the Cabinet committee responsible for registering churches and church service buildings had approved 388 "preexisting properties" in 2020, this represented a "significant decline" from 785 in 2019 (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66).

5.2 Judiciary

According to MRG, Egypt has "fail[ed]" to "institutionalize" the rights of minority groups and has shown an "inability" to "mediate differences" between ethnic and religious minorities through its judicial and educational systems, resulting in "a perpetual state of low-level conflict" between the various communities (MRG Oct. 2020, 175). Australia's DFAT also reports that Christians "may face difficulty" accessing justice through the legal system, "particularly" in rural areas (Australia 17 June 2019, para. 3.36).

Media sources report that al-Sisi appointed a Coptic Christian judge to the presidency of the country's highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, on 9 February 2022 (Agenzia Fides 9 Feb. 2022; AP 9 Feb. 2022; The New Arab 11 Feb. 2022). According to US Country Reports 2020, Christians held "[s]everal senior" judge positions in 2020 (US 30 Mar. 2021, 49).

According to sources, on 17 December 2020 a Minya court acquitted three men who had been sentenced for participating in a "mob" assault, which included stripping a 70-year-old Coptic woman and the torching of her home in 2016, following allegations that her son was having an affair with a Muslim woman (The Media Line 23 Dec. 2020; The Tablet 5 Feb. 2021). The New Arab states that the case "highlights" the "routine lack of justice" for Coptic Christians regarding incidents of sectarian violence (The New Arab 4 Feb. 2020).

5.2.1 Customary Reconciliation

According to a 2018 article published on the Fikra Forum [4], Viola Fahmy, an Egyptian journalist "specializing in human rights and religious freedoms" reports that customary reconciliation sessions are formed to settle religious disputes and are established by "official entities," supervised by local security forces, and attended by "security leaders, other figures from the city[,] and both Christian and Muslim religious leaders" (Fahmy 30 Nov. 2018). The same source indicates that session arbitrators and the concerned parties and representatives meet in a "neutral location" to examine the claims and provide a ruling that is signed by both parties (Fahmy 30 Nov. 2018).

The USCIRF report indicates that the Egyptian government has "lon[g]" dealt with "sectarian mob violence" through customary reconciliation councils (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66). According to a Coptic advocacy group representative interviewed by Christianity Today, an evangelical Christian magazine (Christianity Today n.d.), the government uses reconciliation sessions to avoid prosecuting those who attack Copts and instead "pressures Christian victims to drop charges" (Christianity Today 18 Oct. 2021). Sources report that this use of customary reconciliation sessions creates a "culture of impunity" for religious "persecution" (Christianity Today 18 Oct. 2021; MEMO 30 Nov. 2021). According to the Postdoctoral Research Associate, customary reconciliation councils are "specific[ally]" for cases of sectarian conflict targeting Coptic Christians and limited to Upper Egypt and other rural areas (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). The same source states that the "extra-legal" reconciliation system serves to "appease" local authorities and leaders who wish to settle incidents as quickly as possible and avoid "upsetting" the Muslim majority (Postdoctoral Research Associate 11 Apr. 2022). Freedom House indicates that this mechanism has "denied Copts justice for acts of violence against them" (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. D2). The USCIRF reports that "anti-Christian mob attacks … most commonly" take place in response to

a rumor of a perceived slight against the Muslim majority—such as an interreligious affair, a social media post perceived as insulting Islam, or an attempt to register an informal church legally—and they are almost always met with the convening of a "customary reconciliation council" that ultimately absolves the perpetrators of legal responsibility and punishes the victims. (US 21 Apr. 2021, 67)

For instance, in a case reported by the USCIRF, customary reconciliation councils were leveraged to resolve violent sectarian incidents that occurred in the towns of Dabous and Barsha, located in the Minya Governate, in October and November 2020; in both cases the perpetrators were "absolved … of responsibility" (US 21 Apr. 2021, 66). In their end of mission statement, the UN Special Rapporteur stated that for Coptic survivors of sectarian violence who were driven out of their homes, such as in cases that occurred in Minya governorate, resolving incidents through customary community reconciliation channels "frequently resulted in the legitimization of forced displacement prohibited under national and international law" (UN 3 Oct. 2018). Similarly, Fahmy reports that the use of customary reconciliation sessions in the aftermath of sectarian incidents has resulted in the "forced displacement of numerous Egyptian Christians in Upper Egypt" and that neither state authorities nor civil society actors have "effective[ly]" addressed the issue (Fahmy 30 Nov. 2018).

The UN Special Rapporteur report states that "official judicial bodies" have "failed to provide legal protection against community reconciliation decisions" (UN 3 Oct. 2019, para. 83). In an article published by TIMEP, Timothy E. Kaldas, a TIMEP policy fellow (TIMEP n.d.b), indicates that government officials, including from the state institutions represented on the anti-sectarianism committee established in 2018, have participated in reconciliation sessions through which "sectarian criminals evad[ed] legal punishment" while "collective punishments" were inflicted on the Christian community (Kaldas 28 Jan. 2019).

5.2.2 Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents

According to sources, the Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents was created by presidential decree in 2018 (Al-Masry Al-Youm 30 Dec. 2018; Egypt 11 Sept. 2021, 38). Egypt's National Human Rights Strategy states that the committee is responsible for

  • developing and implementing policies that "ensure further awareness of the threa[t]" posed by sectarian conflict
  • fostering religious coexistence
  • addressing specific sectarian incidents case by case
  • undertaking "development activities" in regions with sectarian "tensions" (Egypt 11 Sept. 2021, 38).

Sources report that the committee is formed by various actors from state security institutions, including the Administrative Control Authority and the National Security Agency, and is headed by the president's advisor for security and counter-terrorism affairs (Al-Masry Al-Youm 30 Dec. 2018; Kaldas 28 Jan. 2019). Kaldas indicates that a number of "relevant" stakeholders are missing, noting a lack of representation from the minority groups affected and a total absence of judicial, legislative and rights advocacy actors (Kaldas 28 Jan. 2019).

The US Department of State's International Religious Freedom Report for 2020 indicates that, on 18 February 2020, eight "protocols of cooperation" were signed between several government ministries and councils, including the Supreme Committee, and "a number" of both Muslim and Christian NGOs for the launch of a program to "promote equality"; with a budget of US$765,000, the program is set to "target" 44 villages located in the Governorate of Minya, which has "a significant Christian population and a history of sectarian tensions" (US 12 May 2021, 17–18). Information on the effectiveness of the Supreme Committee for Confronting Sectarian Incidents could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5.3 Police

According to the Professor, in both urban and rural contexts, the police are "not likely" to act on reports of "vigilante activity against Copts," and that Coptic Christians are already "generally unlikely" to trust that police will provide redress (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). The same source added that this situation is "particularly acute" in "smaller centres," including Upper Egypt and the Delta (Professor 1 Apr. 2022). According to the Special Rapporteur, "in several instances" law enforcement has "refused" to protect Coptic Christians who were forcibly evicted from their homes after sectarian conflicts and who wished to return (UN 3 Oct. 2019, para. 83). According to MEMO, authorities are "[o]ften" forewarned of upcoming attacks against Coptic Christians, such as "looting and burning of people's homes," but they do not provide protection (MEMO 30 Nov. 2021).

Mada Masr (Mada), a Cairo-based media organization whose reporting focuses on Egypt (Mada 9 Oct. 2019), indicates that under the four-year-long state of emergency, security forces were given "wide-reaching powers" with "almost no judicial oversight" to "detain and interrogate suspects, monitor private communications, and censor media content before publication" (Mada 28 Oct. 2021). US Country Reports 2020 states that the government was "inconsisten[t]" in its prosecution and punishment of security services officials who committed abuses and "[i]n most cases" failed to "comprehensively" investigate accusations related to human rights abuses and violence perpetrated by security forces (US 30 Mar. 2021, 2). The same source adds that the government's handling of such cases "contribut[ed] to an environment of impunity" (US 30 Mar. 2021, 2).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a non-profit organization based in the US that fosters dialogue with local stakeholders on policy issues such as the rule of law and just societies in the Middle East and North Africa (TIMEP n.d.a). The article is part of a project on Egypt's religious minorities, "support[ed]" by the European Commission and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation; the article was written by Amy Fallas, a PhD student at the University of California specializing in the modern history of the Middle East (Fallas 12 Jan. 2022).

[2] Qantara.de, a media portal which aims to "promote dialogue with the Islamic world," is funded by the German Foreign Office and run by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany's international broadcaster, alongside German government entities—the Federal Center for Political Education (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung), the Goethe-Institut and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) (Qantara.de n.d.).

[3] The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) is an NGO located in Cairo that aims to "strengthen and protect basic rights and freedoms in Egypt" (EIPR n.d.).

[4] The Fikra Forum is a platform for contributors to provide "on-the-ground perspectives and insight" on current events in the Middle East (TWI n.d.a). It is run by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (TWI), a non-profit whose mission is to provide a "balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them" (TWI n.d.b).

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Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; assistant professor of sociology at a university in the US whose research focuses on power structures in sectarian relations across various ethnic and religious minority groups, notably between Egyptian Christians and Muslims; associate professor at a university in Canada whose research focuses on Egyptian Christian pop culture and its relationship with the community's own structural marginalization and experiences with sectarian violence; associate professor at a university in Canada whose research focuses on modern Egyptian history and relations between Christians and Muslims; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Ottawa, Montreal, and Eastern Canada; Coptic Solidarity; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Human Rights Watch; lecturer at a university in Canada whose research focuses on Middle East history and Coptic Christian immigration to North America; Organisation franco-égyptienne pour les droits de l'homme.

Internet sites, including: ACI Africa; Ahram Online; The American University in Cairo; The Arab Weekly; Brookings Institution; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Catholic News Agency; Copts United; La Croix International; Daily News Egypt; DiverseAsia; Egypt – National Council for Human Rights; Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms; Egypt Migrations; Egypt Today; France – Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides; International Christian Concern; Lawfare; Organisation franco-égyptienne pour les droits de l'homme; UK – Home Office; UN – ReliefWeb, Refworld; The Washington Post; Wilson Center.