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Egypt appoints first Christian governor in three decades

By DPA

Jan 2, 2006, 19:00 GMT

Cairo (dap) – Egypt’s first Christian provincial governor in three decades was sworn in Monday, the first working day of the country’s new government.

Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak had on Sunday appointed Magdy Ayoub Iskandar as governor of Qena, a province nearly 1,000 kilometres south of Cairo with a sizeable Christian population.

Iskander is the first Coptic Christian to become governor since former president Anwar al-Sadat appointed Coptic war veteran Fouad Aziz Ghali as governor of South Sinai province after the 1973 war.

The Egyptian constitution does not require officials in top government posts to have a certain religious affiliation. However, some positions, such as the head of intelligence and university deans, have in the past been held only by Moslems.

In his address before the new governors, President Mubarak urged them to guard the social fabric of Egyptian society, with its Moslems and Copts, in dealing with their problems, especially those related to building places of worship.

A decree issued last month by the president eased restrictions on churches by giving governors the authority to grant permits to renovate or add an extension to a church.

However, the decree did not grant governors the right to issue licenses for new churches.

The new Egyptian cabinet sworn in on Saturday includes two Christian ministers; Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali and Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Maged George.

The number of Christians in Egypt is disputed, with figures indicating they make up between 6 and 12 per cent of Egypt\’s 75 million people.