Egypt grants long-awaited approval for reconstruction of 21 churches in Minya

(Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)Women pass by the Coptic church that was bombed on Sunday in Tanta, Egypt, April 10, 2017.

The Coptic community in Egypt's southern rural Minya governorate has finally been granted permission to restore, expand and rebuild their churches after waiting several years for the governor's approval.

Over the last six months, Minya Governor Essam al-Bedeiwi had approved applications for the reconstruction of 21 churches, some of which had been waiting more than 20 years for a permit.

Analysts noted that the approvals came ahead of several visits by international evangelical delegations to Cairo.

World Watch Monitor noted that leaders from evangelical churches around the world met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo last week to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

In early November, a delegation of Christian evangelicals from the U.S. came to Egypt to meet the country's evangelical leaders. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to visit Cairo later this month.

Meanwhile, the Coptic community in Minya has seen some of their churches forcibly closed or set on fire due to tensions between Muslims and Christians. While some of the churches have already reopened, others are still waiting for permits from the government.

In one weekend alone in October, authorities shut down four Coptic churches in upper Egypt in an attempt to ease religious tensions. "It is as though worship is a crime that Copts have to be penalised for," the Bishop of Minya, Anba Macarius, said in response to the closures.

Christians in Egypt had previously faced difficulties in obtaining a license to build a church, but last year, the Egyptian parliament passed a legislation relating to the rebuilding and renovating of churches. In October, a cabinet committee started working on a measure relating to unlicensed churches.

Following the attack on the al-Rawda Mosque in North Sinai last week, Coptic churches across the country rang their bells at noon on Nov. 25 to show solidarity for the victims.

At least 305 people were killed and 128 more were wounded in what has been described as one of the worst terrorist incidents in Egyptian history.

The Coptic Church issued a statement offering "its sincere condolences" to the bereaved families, adding that its members were "praying for a speedy recovery of the wounded."

An Islamic State-affiliated group known as the Sinai Province has attempted to impose its hardline interpretation of Islam on the residents of El-Arish, Sinai's the largest city.

Hundreds of Christians were forced to flee from North Sinai in late February after Islamic extremists posted videos and leaflets warning the Copts that they will be killed if they do not leave the region.

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