Since the introduction of the 2016 law, 1568 churches have been legalized out of 5540 requests. CSW activist: positive step by the authorities in the fight against the "historic injustices" that affect Christians. But more efforts are needed to tackle practices that limit freedom of worship.
Cairo (AsiaNews) - The Egyptian authorities have approved the legalization of 74 Christian churches and religious buildings.
Christian activists have welcomed the green light which leads to a total of 1568 ecclesiastical buildings, out of a total number of requests equal to 5540 since the introduction of the Law number 80 on the construction of places of worship on 30 August 2016.
In the past, permits were granted by intelligence and security agencies, while today the responsibility for the construction or renovation of buildings is the responsibility of the provincial governors.
According to experts from the activist movement for human rights and religious freedom Christian Solidarity Worldwide (Csw), the new legislation has made the process less complicated but the legislation remains discriminatory because it does not apply to Sunni Muslims.
Furthermore, the norm does not apply to religious groups such as Ahmandi, Baha'is and Shiite communities.
Among the main supporters of the norm on places of worship is President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The head of state has made religious freedom and the defense of Christians one of the slogans of his own policy, while ending up in the target of activist groups for numerous cases of violations of human rights and a harsh repression of internal dissent. In the past, many churches and prayer houses were built spontaneously, without the necessary permits, given that they were difficult to obtain.
The lack of permits proved to be a source of controversy or confessional violence when exploited by the Sunni Muslim majority. And even in the event of obtaining one, Christians have had to compromise on several occasions including churches without bells or towers.
CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas appreciates "the legalization of other churches" and welcomes "the efforts of the Egyptian government" to put an end to "historic injustices affecting the Christian community". At the same time, he gives encouragement to the authorities to "continue on the path of reform" and make greater commitment "to contrast social injustices and practices that continue to limit freedom of worship".
Christians (mostly Orthodox Copts) are substantial minority (10 per cent) in Egypt, a Muslim majority country of almost 95 million people.
In 2016 and 2017, several violent attacks were carried out against the Christian community.
In connection with the attacks, a military court sentenced 17 people to death; however, the iron fist of the authorities did not serve to stop the violence.