September 22, 2020

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The Promised Law: Egypt Authorizes New Churches

(UPDATED) After more than 160 years, restrictions on church building—including requiring Christians to get permission from the country’s president—are finally eased.

The Promised Law: Egypt Authorizes New Churches

Update (September 1):

Egypt’s parliament approved a new church-building law this week, relieving the nearly insurmountable requirements—some set by the Ottoman Caliphate in 1856—that Christians had to meet before constructing a church.

Along with asking the president and local Muslims for permission, Christians couldn’t build near mosques, schools, village canals, railways, government offices, government facilities, or between residential areas.

The bill, which gained the two-thirds majority it needed for approval, still places more restrictions on building churches than on building mosques. But several Coptic MPs said it was “a step in the right direction,” according to Ahram Online.

The 13-article law allows provincial governors—instead of the president—to approve church building or restoration permits, and requires a decision from them within four months of an application. The law also limits church size to the number of Christians in the area, but states that population growth must be taken into account.

A parliamentary report said the law’s clearly laid out procedures will make church construction easier to achieve. The report also commended a provision allowing unregistered churches to operate freely until a government committee can determine whether they are structurally sound and, if so, retroactively grant them a license to operate.

The law met the main requirements—the authorization of unlicensed churches and the ability to put crosses on church domes—of Orthodox, Catholic, and Coptic church leaders and gained their approval. But not everyone was happy with the outcome.

“Article I defines a church as a ‘walled stand-alone building,’ a …

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