CHRISTIANITY DAILY

Egypt's New Law Regulating Churches Draws Mixed Response from Christians

Egypt church
(Photo : Ana Paula Hirama / Flickr / CC) Egypt passed a new law to regulate building of new churches on August 30.

Egypt's parliament has passed a new law to regulate churches, which has invoked mixed reactions from Christians in the country.

Ministers in the Egyptian cabinet said that the law was passed after consultation with the major churches, and that their "full consensus" was sought.

"I think MPs decided to approve this law only after leaders of Egyptian churches signed off on it," said parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al, adding, "We could not approve a law that is rejected by the three churches - the Coptic, Catholic and Anglican."

An initial version of the bill was objected to by the churches and led the Egypt's Orthodox Church to release a statement saying that "the church was surprised with unacceptable amendments and impractical additions; and it declares that they will impose a danger on Egyptian national unity."

Afterwards, the Coptic Bishops met with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to reach an agreement, and released another statement announcing a compromise.

"Following amendments introduced recently and an answer provided to [our] questions and inquires ... the Holy Synod announces, in good faith, that it has reached a compromise formula [on the law] with government representatives," the church said.

"It is vital that the final law that gets passed should be acceptable to all parties and fully consistent with Article 235 of the constitution," Dwight Bashir, co-director of policy and research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told the Catholic News Agency (CNA).

The final 13-article law was not appreciated by Salafist Nour Party, a fundamentalism-leaning party, and some of the Coptic MPs as well.

The Christian critics are still apprehensive of the institutionalization of the non-formal constraints in the building of new churches.

Building a new church is cumbersome in Egypt where the bureaucratic hurdles make it extremely difficult to get permits for the new churches. At the same time, the security agencies scan the church-building requests in view of fundamentalist threats.

The most criticized part of the new law is Article 2, which states that the size of the church must be tied with the Christian population in the area.

However, some Coptic MPs said that the law was a step in right direction, though the failings of the measure might be taken care of in the future.

The new law now does not require the Christian churches to seek presidential approval for renovations to the building.

Coptic Solidarity, a rights group in Egypt, reported that there are only 2,600 churches in Egypt, translating into one church for every 5,500 Christians. Meanwhile, the country has "one mosque for every 620 Muslim citizens," according to the group.

Coptic Solidarity said that an average of two churches per year have been authorized to be built in Egypt for the last six decades, which, according to the organization, leads to "the creation of a tragic cycle of violence wherein Christians are forced to pray, marry and bury their dead in ad hoc constructions, triggering countless acts of mob violence, often backed by official indifference, complacency or state intervention charging Copts on the spurious basis of using unauthorized places of worship, all ultimately feeding into a climate of increasing fanaticism targeting Copts."

Tags Coptic Christians, Christians in Egypt, Egypt's Orthodox Church, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail

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