Egyptian Christians Critical of Parliament’s New Church Construction Law
Local Leader Claims New Law Maintains Unreasonable Restrictions on Christian Community
09/01/2016 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern): International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Egyptian Parliament has approved the long-awaited church construction law that was meant to ease restrictions Christians face in regards to building churches. The law was approved on Tuesday, August 30, with the majority of MPs voting for it.
The new law was originally an eight article bill that would reduce regulations on church construction by setting a four-month limit on processing requests for construction. This was almost a direct response to the recent upsurge of attacks against Christians, many prompted by rumors of ‘illegal’ churches being constructed.
This new law has faced heavy criticism, not only from the Muslim majority, but from the Christian community as well. A number of amendments were added to the original bill ensuring procedural hurdles Christians must overcome in order to build places of worship.
The primary points of criticism were: the size of the church must directly correlate with the Christian population in the neighborhood, the local government may take security and public order into account during the decision-making process, and security forces have a final say in the approval. This last amendment is of particular concern to Christian leaders who claim that local security forces have a well-known bias against their community.
While some say that this new law is at least a progressive step in the right direction for Egypt, many Christian leaders disagree.
“The law in its current form includes harsh conditions and obstacles for the building of churches,” an Orthodox Church leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told ICC. “The law does not achieve the primary objective of eliminating one of the root causes of sectarian tensions in Egypt. Instead, the state has reproduced it.”
Another local church leader, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, told ICC, “The role of government should be limited to respect the right to build and the freedom of religious practice. The law is full of actions which represent obstacles not only to the construction of churches, but renovating and expanding them as well.”
The Christian population of Egypt makes up 10% of the country as a whole. Church building restrictions have been a sensitive contention point for sectarian violence for decades. This new law, while a step in the right direction, still enshrines restrictions against Christians, leaving them in a second-class living situation.
William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “We are joyful that the Egyptian government is making an effort to relieve the restrictions on the Christian population, but are not satisfied with the regulations accompanying this new law. The Christian population should not have to be deemed ‘worthy’ of a church by local officials, but should rather have the absolute freedom to worship under the protection of said authority. ICC insists that the regulations accompanying this law be eliminated in a legal and timely manner. We still hope that this law will lead Egypt in the direction of full and uncontested religious equality for all Egyptians, including Christians.”