Three weeks after the new Church of Saint Bishoi opened its doors to the Coptic Orthodox faithful in Cairo's poor district of Tora, a large security contingent forcibly closed it.

Since the surprise July 15 closure, the church's doors and windows have been sealed with wax, and a police car remains stationed in front, preventing anyone from entering. The police raid in Cairo's southern district of Tora near Maadi was led by officers from several security forces.

The reason for closing the church, a security forces spokesperson said, was that it had been built without an official permit. Egyptian law requires all congregations to obtain official permits to build new churches or repair existing ones, a process that has often taken as long as 10 years. Built on a 700-square-meter plot donated by local Christians, the church is in a rapidly expanding quarter of the city east of the Helwan-Cairo metro line.

Local Christians said they asked their bishop for a church in the Tora district because the nearest church was five kilometers away; transportation was difficult and expensive.

The local Coptic Orthodox prelate, Bishop Daniel, never applied for a church permit when the construction began four years ago. Since a permit was obtained in 1994 to build a kindergarten on the site, no problems occurred with the security police or the local population. According to Ramzy Zaklama, a prominent Coptic leader in Egypt and member of the Supreme Board of the Wafd party, Bishop Daniel could never have built the church if he had asked for a permit.

But Nabil Osman, head of the Egyptian State Information Service, claimed that since Hosni Mubarak became president in 1981, "not one single request for building a church has been refused."

Yet for Zaklama, the whole government procedure takes "far too much time," making it possible for extremist Muslim groups to cause difficulties and even block building procedures.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.