Over a year after the enactment of a law by the Egyptian parliament to ban the building of new churches in Egypt in August 2016, a government committee will meet for the first time on Monday 9 October, to consider the licensing of the construction of Churches in Egypt.
The passage of the law was trailed by criticism and controversies. Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said the law “shows the state prefers the adherents of one religion over another.”
Mr. Bahey el-Din Hassan, speaking at a Coptic Solidarity conference, said the law called Copts, a “‘sect’ and not equal citizens.” though the law is ‘A Unified Law for Houses of Worship’, this law, he said, is simply to prevent Copts from building and repairing churches, he explained.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the law as discriminatory against Christians due to various stipulations that maintain, “restrictions over the construction and renovation of churches.”
Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, said, “Many Egyptians hoped that governments would respect and protect freedom of religion, including for Christians, after the 2011 uprising.” He noted that by the passage of the law, “the authorities are ignoring the underlying systemic issues and sending a message that Christians can be attacked with impunity.”
The committee, to consider new buildings, will meet to look at the papers of all churches, worship houses and places of prayers in Egypt considered to be unlicensed by the government. Some of these churches have existed before the enactment of the law last year.
Head of the Evangelical Church, Andrea Zaki, said in a statement that the churches are in cooperation to facilitate and speed up the procedures for approvals. He said property contracts, engineering drawings, are part of the papers required from the churches.
The Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church says it already has 2,650 requests from its parishes, who have met all the requirements and are awaiting approval for years which seemed to have been delayed or simply ignored.
Coptic Christians in Najaa Rizq Shenouda village, Tahta district, have waited to build a church for their 3,500 citizens, on the land allocated for it since 1971, and have submitted more than 30 requests to the Interior Ministry and the Sohag Security Directorate for building the church during the past 46 years, but .nothing has been done to approve the permits.
Zakariya Gerges, legal representative of the people said the building law has not solved the church building crisis in Egypt since its creation. He said that despite submitting necessary papers to request permission to build the church more than nine months ago, the governor of Sohag had refused to issue a building permit for not clear reason within the statutory four month period.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.