Egypt (MNN) — The Egyptian government is shortening the leash on Muslim congregations, and it’s not a good sign for religious freedom. Last week, Egyptian authorities announced that Muslim clerics will now be required to deliver identical sermons pre-written by government ministry officials and parliament members.
Government officials say it’s because they want to curb extremist preaching, make sure sermons aren’t too long, and keep messages from ‘getting political’.
Why is this bad? Open Doors USA’s Emily Fuentes explains, “Off the bat, people might say, ‘Oh it’s a good idea, they’re trying to avoid extremism.’ But anytime there are restrictions placed on the majority religion, it’s often worse for the minorities.”
We’ve seen the ripple effect of similar mandates in other countries.
“A good example of this is in Central Asia where they’ve put a lot of new restrictions on church registrations and religious registration, which they say is so Muslim extremists aren’t meeting together in private. But it’s hurting Christians the most because they have to have 80 members — where before, they were allowed to have 40 members — to be registered. They can’t meet in houses or have Bible study at their houses anymore. So while it seems like a good idea to prevent Muslim extremism, it’s really hurting the minority religion”
Basically, if someone can find a legal loophole to force limitations on one religious group, the same loophole can be used against all religious groups, including Christians. Cases like these don’t exist in isolation. They set precedents to inform future decisions with similar cases in the country.
So if this is true, why does it seem people are so willing to accept restrictions placed on religious groups other than their own?
Fuentes offers, “I think it’s the way it’s marketed and presented, honestly, by the government. It sounds like a good idea, and as we know in many of these countries, most of the Muslims are not extremists. They want to rid their country of extremists, they’re scared of terrorist attacks and all that. So it sounds good; they’re not thinking of the cons on the other side…. People kind of give in to fears.”
Relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt varies, generally, based on the area they live. Fuentes says in Egypt’s more urban communities, Christians and Muslims actually have fairly harmonious relationships.
“We find in cities there’s typically better relations [between Muslims and Christians]. A couple years ago with the change in the government and all of that when it was really violent, there was that image going around for awhile of Christians protecting Muslims while they were praying, circled around them, and likewise there were Muslims protecting Christians as they were meeting together for church. So these neighbors form a camaraderie and they recognize that they’re neighbors and yes, [they are in] different religions, but these were not extreme Muslims and so they wanted their Christian neighbors to have freedom of religion.
“But in the rural part of Egypt, we don’t see that as often as the case. That’s usually where you might see…if someone leaves the Muslim faith and becomes a Christian, Christians getting a lot more harassed in the rural parts. They’re often poor economically, because they’re not given jobs or educational opportunities. Not to say this doesn’t happen in the cities, but it’s a lot more common in the rural areas.”
When Christians and Muslims around the world value religious freedom for one another, religious freedom for everyone has greater value.
Please pray for an increased appreciation for religious freedoms in Egypt, and for God to grant wisdom to law-makers, church leaders, and Christians in various Egyptian communities.
“It’s vital for Christians…to be praying for Christians in Egypt just because the changing tide is happening so quickly and so rampantly with things like this. So they really need God’s wisdom…. We’ve seen the power of prayer with the united Body of Christ lifting up Christians, especially in countries where we’re seeing quick changes happening.”