New Egyptian church building law to provide permits faster

Ayat Al Tawy , Thursday 11 Aug 2016

Egyptian Christians have long complained of having to wait years to get licences to build or renovate churches

Saint George Church
A file photo for Saint George Church in Old Cairo, Egypt (Mai Shaheen)

A long-awaited draft law on building churches will make the process of obtaining licences easier, the legislation text shows.

Egyptian Christians, estimated to make up over 10 percent of the country's 90 million population, have long struggled to obtain the official permits required to build churches, with the process at times taking years.

But Copts hope the new law will combat discrimination in dealing with Muslim and Christian houses of worship.

The draft of the new 8-article bill, published by Al-Ahram Arabic news website on Thursday, guarantees that authorities will process requests to set up new churches or rebuild existing ones in a maximum period of four months from the date of the request.

The government-drafted law will also consider as a "licenced church any building where Christian rituals and services are held."

Christian clerics had said that almost half of Egypt's churches are non-licenced due to the tough regulations in place to optain the licences.

According to official statistics from 2011, Egypt has 2,869 churches and over 108,000 mosques.

The new law requires that churches' sizes should be in proportion with the number and needs of Christians in the neighbourhood.

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had said that successive governments have, since regulations introduced in1934, adopted "crippling" conditions for church construction, but stated he hopes the new law will streamline the process and cut out bureaucracy.

Egypt's minister of parliamentary affairs was quoted in local media as saying that the cabinet will discuss the bill next week and send it to the State Council, a judicial advisory body, for review. It will then be referred to parliament for final consent.

Dozens of churches were torched on the back of political turmoil unleashed by the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. The damaged churches are being renovated by the country's armed forces.

In recent weeks, a string of deadly sectarian incidents have hit some of the country's southern provinces, mainly Minya governorate, which is home to a large Christian community.

The US State Department in a 2015 international religious freedoms report, released on Wednesday, noted that Egyptian Christians and other religious minorities still face major challenges, including sectarian violence and tension.

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