A mob of Muslim extremists attacked a church and the homes of Christians in Luxor, Egypt on June 23, after the church was granted an official license.
The church in al-Halla village, which had been operating without a license since 2003, was among 239 church premises registered in April by a government committee.
On the morning of the attack the Interior Ministry stationed guards outside the church.
Stationing guards is a standard government procedure at licensed churches across the country to ensure their security, though there is often a time lag between the granting of the license and the guards being placed at the church.
Local Christians said the licensing of the church and the appearance of the guards enraged Muslim extremists and that a large crowd gathered, including Muslims from outside the village, shouting anti-Christian slogans.
The mob went on to attack the church and throw stones at the homes of Christians. Several vehicles and motorbikes owned by Christians were set on fire.
“We kept to our homes for safety’s sake,” said a Christian. “This led to no casualties.”
Police were sent to the scene and helped the Interior Ministry guards to bring the situation under control. They cordoned off the church and closed streets leading to where the Christians lived, in case of further attacks the following day after Muslim prayers at noon on Friday.
“We have been worshipping at our church since 2003 without any problems,” explained a Christian. “The village Muslims were well aware of it and no one ever objected.
“Now that the church has been legalized, the fundamentalists among them were furious. They told us, ‘You’ve been worshipping here for years … why the official legality?’”
The church in al-Halla was legalized under the Law for Building and Restoring Churches, which removed Ottoman-era restrictions on church buildings in 2016. Before the law was introduced, it was almost impossible for churches to obtain a license and many congregations had no option but to worship illegally in unregistered buildings.
At the time of writing, 2,401 out of the 3,730 churches and church buildings that applied for licenses had been approved by the committee appointed to oversee the process.
In early 2018 the Egyptian government permitted Christians to worship in unregistered buildings pending the completion of the licensing process.
Christians say that their situation in Muslim-majority Egypt is now better than it has been in living memory. However, Christians still face pressure and hostility from local communities, especially in rural areas.