Cairo (Agenzia Fides) – There are already 215 churches with adjoining service buildings built before the new law on the construction of Christian worship buildings came into force, legalized and “regularized” by the Egyptian government that declared them compliant with the parameters defined by the new legal provisions. The regularization was sanctioned by a decree signed by Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail. The list of Christian worship buildings so far legalized, published in the Official Journal, has been re-launched by some Coptic websites, and includes churches in seven Egyptian governorates, including those of Assiut and Sohag.
The number of “regularized” churches is destined to increase in the coming months. As already reported by Fides (see Fides 1/3/18), there are more than 3 thousand Christian places of worship that will have to be examined by the government apparatus to verify whether they meet the standards established by the new law.
In recent decades, many of the Christian places of worship to be subjected to the assessment of governmental control bodies were built spontaneously, without all the necessary authorizations. In the past, precisely such buildings built by local Christian communities had been used as a pretext by Islamist groups to foment sectarian violence against Christians.
The law on places of worship, approved at the end of August 2016 (see Fides 31/8/2016) represented for the Egyptian Christian communities an objective step forward with respect to the so-called “10 rules” added in 1934 to the Ottoman legislation by the Interior Ministry, which forbade inter alia to build new churches near schools, canals, government buildings, railways and residential areas. In many cases, the rigid application of those rules had prevented the construction of churches in cities and towns inhabited by Christians, especially in the rural areas of Upper Egypt.
Before August 2016, and in the absence of precise legislative references, in order to meet their own pastoral needs the various Churches and Christian communities had built buildings – buildings of worship, but also houses and premises for collective use – which often result still lacking the specific licenses required by the current legislation.