The Promised Law: Christians Wait for Egypt to Authorize New Churches:
Current laws, which have been in place since 1856, require Christians to get the consent of the local Muslim community—and the country’s president—before building a church.
Egypt is scheduled to vote as early as next month on a law that would ease the country’s historic restrictions on church construction.
More than 160 years ago, the Ottoman Caliphate ordered that anyone who wanted to build a Christian church get the approval of the country’s ruler, then a sultan, now a president. At the time, it represented progress since for centuries building a church—not permitted under Islamic Sharia—was a rare occurrence.
The law stood for nearly 80 years before some administrative regulations were introduced—not to ease up on church building restrictions, but to make them even harder. Christians were required to gain the approval of local Muslims and to make sure the proposed church was at least 340 feet from the nearest mosque. They also couldn’t build near schools, village canals, railways, government offices, government facilities, or between residential areas.
That law still stands in the majority-Muslim country where Christians make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population of more than 90 million. Most belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Not surprisingly, few churches have ended up being built. Over the past 60 years, an average of two churches a year have been approved, according to Coptic Solidarity. Egypt has less than 2,600 churches total, which works out to about 1 for every 5,500 Egyptian Christians. (By comparison, there is about 1 mosque for every 620 Muslims in Egypt.)
Christians end up meeting in overcrowded churches, in house basements, or in the premises of NGOs, according to World Watch Monitor.
But since they aren’t legal, they’re vulnerable and have proven to be an easy target for Islamist extremists. In 2013, during Egypt’s civil …