03/08/2018, 19.22
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Egypt regularises 53 churches built without a permit

by Loula Lahham

Without a permit, the buildings were outside the law. A 1934 law prevented the construction of new Christian buildings. Under a new law adopted in 2016, Egyptian governors must justify whenever they reject an application. According to a local NGO, Egypt’s three main denominations (Orthodox, Evangelical, Catholic) have submitted in total 3,730 applications for regularised status.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Rev Refaat Fathi, secretary general of the Council of Churches of Egypt, said earlier this week that the implementation of the law on the regularisation of the status of churches in Egypt is a very important step "so that every citizen can have his or her legal rights recognised and know how to act in light of this".

"We got the approval of the ministerial committee, chaired by the Prime Minister himself, which is charged with regularising the legal status of churches and buildings erected without permits”. The situation touches 53 Christian buildings.

In fact, Law 80 on building and restoring churches and religious buildings was approved by the Egyptian Parliament in August 2016. Some 53 churches and Christian buildings in a number of Egyptian towns and villages now have the right papers and legal status.

"I know that the authorities are serious about trying to find solutions to the current crisis, and the Presidency of the Republic has proved that it really wants to solve all the problems concerning the construction and restoration of churches."

At the same time, Rev Fathi noted that, although many problems are now finding solutions, several governors continue to enforce the old law on churches of 1934, because the regulations to implement the new law of 2016 have not yet been adopted.

For its part, the Egyptian government had said that following a meeting in late February with the ministers of Housing, Interior, Justice, Parliamentary Affairs, Antiquities, Local Development and Social Solidarity, 53 churches were able to change their legal status.

At the end of this meeting, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Ashraf Sultan, told a television station that the regularisation of these churches reflects the government’s desire to implement the principle of common citizenship for all Egyptians.

It should be noted that the churches and Christian religious buildings in question, which are used by Church bodies, charities and welfare organisations, were built in violation of the existing building rules.

Moreover, like thousands of buildings on state or farm land, the 53 buildings were given a non-residential purpose so as to be hooked up to the necessary utilities (electricity, water, sewage), after the government was paid the value of the land on which they were built.

An Egyptian activist, Samuel Tadros, wrote on twitter that Egyptian authorities had received 3,730 applications to regularise churches and Christian buildings in Egypt’s 27 governorates.

A local NGO, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, confirmed this, noting that Egypt’s three main Churches (Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic) submitted three months ago a list of 3,730 unauthorised churches and buildings to the Egyptian government.

For other local NGOs, red tape and security concerns related to church building in Egypt have contributed to escalating sectarian tensions in Egypt, caused mainly by extremist anti-Christian Islamist groups, an issue the authorities have not addressed so far. The violence usually takes place in rural areas, mostly in Upper Egypt,

Under the 2016 law on building and restoring churches, "the competent governor is obliged to rule on the application after ensuring that all the conditions required by law are fulfilled. Any rejection must be motivated."

It must also be noted that the old law of 1934 banned, among other things, the building of new churches near schools, water channels, government buildings, railways and residential areas. In many cases, the strict application of the law prevented not only the construction of churches in Christian-inhabited towns and villages, but also the restoration or upgrading of existing churches.

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