AFRICA/EGYPT - "Long live the Cross and the Crescent": the Egyptian Parliament approves the law on the construction of churches

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Cairo (Agenzia Fides) – Egypt’s parliament approved on Tuesday, August 30, a landmark law on the construction of churches, still the subject of harsh criticism from observers and groups belonging to the Egyptian Christian community. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Ali Abdel Aal – report national official sources - confirmed that at the end of the parliamentary session on Tuesday the law was voted by more than two-thirds of the 596 members of Parliament, mostly belonging to the majority that supports President Abdel Fattah al Sisi.
According to the provisions of the new law, the Governors of the Provinces will have to respond within four months with regards to the requests of construction of new churches presented by the Christian community. In case of refusal, the governor must give reasons for his decision, and the community has the right to appeal to the administrative courts.
The law, among other things, states that "the surface of the church should be appropriate to the number of citizens belonging to the Christian community, and must take into account the population growth". An indication criticized by many for its vagueness. The Egyptian press reports that the approval of the law took place in a relaxed atmosphere, with some MPs who chanted slogans such as "long live the cross and the crescent". The President of Parliament Ali Abdel Aal immediately phoned Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II to express his congratulations to the Primate of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
In past weeks, within the Egyptian Christian community the critical voices against the bill had multiplied, and Christian youth groups had also started to collect signatures for a petition that demanded the withdrawal. What seems to be causing problems, according to many, are the amendments added to the text during the long and laborious investigation stage. Many criticisms are mainly aimed at an article of the bill, which states that the construction of new churches is authorized by governors "under the coordination of the authorities concerned". Many fear that this indefinite expression will enable local security forces to block the construction of new buildings of Christian worship, citing reasons of public policy, especially in the areas marked by sectarian conflicts.
The Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church had expressed its consent to the proposed law only on Wednesday, August 24. "On the necessary consents required by the security forces" reported in recent days to Agenzia Fides Anba Antonios Aziz Mina, Coptic Catholic Bishop of Guizeh, "it is said that the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate has received verbal assurances that this provision will not be applied in a rigid manner". In the eyes of many Egyptian Christians, however, the new law is a step forward compared to the so-called "10 Rules" added in 1934 to the Ottoman legislation from the Ministry of Interior, which prohibited, among other things to build new churches near schools, channels, government buildings, railways and residential areas. In many cases, the strict application of those rules has prevented to build churches in cities and villages inhabited by Christians, especially in rural areas of Upper Egypt. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 31/08/2016)

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