Egypt's Coptic Church reaches agreement with govt on draft churches law

Ahram Online , Thursday 25 Aug 2016

The Church says it hopes the bill will prove a 'step forward'

File photo of an Egyptian Orthodox Church. (Photo:Reuters)

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church says it has reached a concord with the government over a long-awaited draft law on the building and restoration of churches.

A statement by the church came days after it criticised what it called "unacceptable amendments" and "impractical additions" made by the government to the draft bill, which was jointly drafted by Egyptian churches.

But following an extensive meeting of 105 of its bishops Wednesday, and recent discussions with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismael, the church says it now sees eye to eye with the government on the matter.

"Following amendments introduced recently and answers provided to [our] questions and inquires ... the Holy Synod announces, in good faith, reaching a compromise formula [of the law] with government representatives," the church said in a statement early Thursday.

The 10-article law is now expected to be sent to the cabinet for approval, then referred to parliament for final ratification.

The Church says it hopes the bill will prove a "step forward," adding that it is looking forward to seeing the legislation made "effective and respecting of others" in the first years of its application.

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.

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

Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had said that successive governments have, since regulations introduced in 1934, adopted "crippling" conditions for church construction, but stated he hopes the new law will streamline the process and cut out bureaucracy.

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

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.

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