ICC Note: Eleven months after a Cabinet-affiliated committee was established for the swift legalization of churches based on the 2016 law, only 220 of the 3730 applications have been legalized. The first batch of legalization occurred in February 2018 and the second in April; no other batches have been approved since. Many estimate that at this rate, it will take 17 years for all the churches to be legalized.
09/03/2018 Egypt (Watani) – When the long-awaited Law for the Building and Restoration of Churches went into effect on 28 September 2016, it stipulated that non-licensed churches would be legalised provided they submitted the required documents to a Cabinet-affiliated committee formed expressly for that purpose. The date 28 September 2017 was the deadline set by the Cabinet committee for the submission of applications by the Church to legalise the status of unlicensed churches. The law clearly spelled out the documents required, without which a file would not be accepted by the Cabinet committee. This means that all 3730 applications submitted to the committee fully met the requirements otherwise they would have not been accepted. They were checked for that upon submission, and were consequently duly accepted.
With the 3730 files all complete, it stood to reason that a swift final decision could be made by the Cabinet committee regarding each. The Prime Minister had stipulated in his official decision to form the committee that it was to convene once a month. I thus imagined that it would take a few months to see a tangible outcome of the committee’s work. I expected that every month would bring about numerous decisions to unfetter the chained churches and service buildings, imagining that the numbers of buildings legalised every month would be in line with the huge target of 3730 cases needing legalisation. But this was not to be.
In 11 full months, the Cabinet committee issued approvals to legalise a mere 220 of the 3730 churches and service buildings. The first decision came on 26 February 2018, five months after the deadline for accepting applications, and involved the legalisation of 53 churches and service buildings. The second batch to be legalised included 167 churches and service buildings; they were approved for legalisation 16 April. Today, 11 months after the committee began its work, no further approvals have been issued, meaning that 3510 applications still await decisions.
In the span of almost one year, the committee has looked into 6 per cent of the cases. At this pace, we have to wait till 2034, 17 years since the committee began its work, for the full list of churches to be legalised. Does this agree with the spirit in which the Law for Building and Restoration of Churches was passed? The raison d’être of the law was to ensure justice, equality and citizenship rights to Coptic Egyptians regarding their places of worship and their practice of religious rites.
It might be well to remember that the Cabinet committee for legalising unlicensed churches was formed according to the PM decision number 199 for 2017, issued on 26 January 2017. The decision stipulated
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