Egypt to relax restrictions on church building

Mixed reactions to new government law on church construction

Christian leaders in Egypt have endorsed the government’s draft law governing the construction and repair of churches. However, Christian political activists have questioned the deal, warning it institutionalizes the second class status of Christians in the majority Muslim country. At a press conference in Cairo last week Minister of Legal Affairs Magdi Al-Agati said Coptic, Catholic and Anglican leaders had reached a consensus that would support the bill. However sources in Egypt tell the Church of England Newspaper the church leaders identified as speaking on behalf of the Diocese of Egypt were leaders of the Coptic Evangelical Church, a Presbyterian church that is Egypt’s largest Protestant denomination. The Diocese of Egypt, they note, remains under legal disabilities introduced by the Nasser regime following the Suez Crisis in 1956, and is deemed under law to be a sect within the Evangelical Church. Following a 30 July 2016 meeting with Coptic, Catholic and Protestant leaders Mr. Al-Agati said the new law would “prevent the eruption of problems over the construction of churches for the next hundred years.” Under a law promulgated by the Ottoman Sultan in 1856 the construction or repair of churches could only take place with his prior approval. These rights passed to the Egyptian civil government but in 1998 President Hosni Mubarak issued a decree allowing governors to authorize repairs and in 1999 devolved this authority to local governments, but reserved the power to grant building permits to the presidency. The new law devolves the authority to issue new construction grants to governors, who must act within four months. Church leaders are optimistic the new law would grant security of tenure to existing churches and codify the property rights of new churches. Christian lawmakers in Egypt’s parliament have endorsed the bill, arguing it is as good a deal as they could expect, however Christian political activists have not been persuaded. Mina Majdy, the chairman of the Young Christians Association, told Breitbart the bill “makes church building a national security issue,” and “includes opaque parameters such as the ‘appropriate number of Christians.’ According to whom? What are the objective parameters? What we Christians see as appropriate may not seem that to a government official. Our country needs a law that would stifle, rather than fan, the flames of sectarian tension.” Former member of parliament and Anglican lay leader Farid Bayadi said the bill includes “deadly venom,” that leaves “many loopholes that would effectively enable the prevention of church building.” The Diocese of Egypt’s dealings with Egyptian officialdom make its leaders sanguine about the future. In June the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported the Supreme Administrative Court had rejected the Diocese of Egypt’s appeal, filed in 2007, that it be granted a separate legal existence from the Evangelical Church of Egypt. The court rejected the plea of Archbishop Mouneer Anis and held that for legal purposes Anglicans were to be grouped with Presbyterians.

Photo: Diocese of Egypt’s All Saints Cathedral, Cairo


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