Egypt’s Christians applaud new law granting legal status to churches

by WorldTribune Staff, June 10, 2016

Egypt’s Christian community is hailing a long-awaited constitutional change that governs the construction and renovation of churches.

According to Article 235 of the Egyptian Constitution: “In its first legislative term following the effective date of this constitution, the parliament will issue a law to regulate the construction and renovation of churches, in a manner that guarantees the freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians.”

Pope Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St Mark Cathedral, leads Egypt's Coptic Christmas eve mass in Cairo. /Reuters
Pope Tawadros II leads Egypt’s Coptic Christmas eve mass in Cairo. /Reuters

Egypt’s Copts for centuries had no legal reference regulating church construction, which was a presidential decision that involved a lengthy procedure.

During former President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 years in office “problems related to the construction of churches piled up in all provinces; licenses to build churches were not granted since the issuing authority feared a popular uproar by the Muslim community,” a report in Al-Monitor said.

“In light of the state apparatus’ intransigence, numerous Christian communities in Egypt were forced to build unlicensed churches or perform religious rituals in buildings allocated for theatrical and community activities and sports events,” the report said.

The draft of the new law was first submitted to the three Christian communities in Egypt: the Evangelical, Catholic and Orthodox churches. Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark told Egyptian media on May 18 that the three churches had reached an agreement with the state on the legal provisions governing the construction of churches and that the draft law would be passed in the near future.

Once finalized, the draft will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval and to the Legislation Department of the State Council before being referred back to parliament for its final approval.

Coptic activist Kamal Zakher told Al-Monitor: “The fact that the law governs the construction of churches only is a good thing and is in the best interest of Egypt’s Copts.”