10/22/2014, 00.00
EGYPT
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New law to lift restrictions on church building, says Catholic Church spokesman

by Giulia Mazza inviato
Father Rafic Greiche talks to AsiaNews about a draft bill that would remove restrictions on building Christian places of worship. Egypt's parliament is expected to vote on the law in January and February 2015. Under the al-Sisi government Christian security and coexistence with Muslims have improved as "Egypt found itself."

Cairo (AsiaNews) - Christians in Egypt may soon be free to build their own churches, this according to Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Catholic Church.

Speaking to AsiaNews, the clergyman said he was confident that parliament would pass over the coming months a bill that would remove all existing restrictions on Christian places of worship.

"At the request of the government, the leaders of the various Christian denominations drafted a proposal, which they had been pushing for a long while. Parliament will meet in January and February next year and we trust they will approve it."

Adopted in 1934, the current law bans - among other things - church building near schools, canals, villages, railways, government offices and residential areas. This has meant that, in Upper Egypt and the more rural areas, whole towns or villages have no church.

"When President al-Sisi met the bishops of various denominations as well as Pope Tawadros II, he raised the issue, saying that every Egyptian is free to worship in his own place of worship," Fr Greiche told AsiaNews.

President al-Sisi, a former general who ousted President Mohamed Morsi and ended the Muslim Brotherhood' hold on power in June 2013, is a Muslim but from the beginning of his mandate gave his government a pluralistic basis. His cabinet for example has three Christian and four women ministers. At the same time, the general climate has changed in the country.

"In terms of security, life is much better than the year when the Muslim Brotherhood was in power," said the spokesman of the Catholic Church. Indeed, "the country is becoming more confident and, in a sense, one can say that the 'Egypt' has found itself."

"This is because the Islamist plan was not aimed at Egypt, but at an Islamic Caliphate, a glimpse of which can be seen in ISIS's actions Syria and in Iraq." Some violent incidents still occur, "but life goes on."

In a sense, the Islamic state "is not a threat in itself. Its ideology is that of the Muslim Brotherhood. What really concerns us are the jihadist groups operating in Sinai and Libya. They are much closer to us, and this can cause tensions."

The 'Sisi' effect is having positive repercussions in terms of peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians, which, according to Fr Greiche, "is almost back to normal."

"One has to distinguish between single individuals and what pertains to the state," the priest told AsiaNews. "Sectarian conflict still occurs, especially in the villages and in the poorest areas; for example, when people from different religion fall in love."

"This kind of conflict will always take place but under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood incidents related to this issue were frequent because the government itself fanned the fire. Now it is only a sectarian issue, which requires a solution on an ad hoc basis, not in terms of state policy."

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