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Executive Summary

The constitution describes freedom of belief as “absolute” but only provides adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism the right to practice their religion freely and to build houses of worship. The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the primary source of legislation. The government continued not to recognize several religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and the Bahai Faith, and restricted their activities. Rights advocates said the government was sometimes slow in responding to sectarian violence, especially outside of major cities. Government officials regularly encouraged participation in “customary reconciliation” sessions to address incidents of sectarian violence, which human rights groups and Christians said constituted an encroachment on the judicial system and on the principles of nondiscrimination and citizenship, and regularly led to outcomes unfavorable to minority parties. Courts charged citizens with “denigration of religion.” Some of these cases resulted in convictions and jail sentences. In September the government enacted a new law facilitating approval of church construction and licensure of churches, replacing one mandating presidential approval for the construction of any new church. Some government entities continued to use anti-Shia rhetoric, and the government regularly failed to condemn anti-Semitic commentary. Christians reported discrimination by authorities at local levels, especially in rural areas. After a string of violent sectarian incidents in Minya, the government replaced the governor and chief of security there as part of a larger reshuffle. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi continued to call on Muslim scholars to renew religious discourse and challenge the ideology of extremists. In response, government and religious institutions at times defended the rights of Shia, continued to reform school curricula, and openly discussed alternatives to consensus Islamic jurisprudence. According to several churches’ representatives, the government had nearly completed rebuilding the 78 churches and other religious sites that were damaged or destroyed in mob violence in 2013, following the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

Religious minorities continued to face significant threats of terrorist attacks and sectarian violence. On December 11, a suicide bomb attack later claimed by ISIS killed 29 people during Sunday services at part of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral complex in Cairo. Three armed men killed a Coptic Orthodox priest in North Sinai in June, and assailants armed with bats and knives attacked the families of two Coptic Orthodox priests in Minya in July, killing one family member and injuring three. In May a crowd stripped an elderly Christian woman at a village in Minya, paraded her through the streets, and set fire to her house. According to International Christian Concern, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), Christians were targeted for kidnapping. Media reported that two men burned down a church in Ismailia village. Individuals accused of denigration of religion often faced social intolerance. Societal resistance, including acts of violence, to the building and rebuilding of churches continued. Anti-Semitic speech continued. Reports of defamatory speech against other minority religious groups were fewer than in the previous year.

Senior U.S. representatives met with government officials to underscore the importance of religious freedom and equal protection of all citizens before the law. During a visit in September, the Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South and Central Asia called for equal rights for all Egyptian citizens. In meetings with high-level officials at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior, he emphasized the U.S. commitment to religious freedom and raised a number of cases, including attacks on Christians, recognition of Bahais and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the rights of Shia to perform their religious rituals publicly. Embassy officers regularly engaged with human rights advocates, religious leaders, and community members on questions of religious freedom, for example, on the rights of all citizens to choose their religion, build houses of worship, and practice their religious rituals, as well as the government’s responsibility to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian attacks.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future