CSW has welcomed the legalisation of 74 church buildings by the Egyptian authorities on 2 April.
In Egypt, churches have to apply for legal status for their buildings, which in the past had to be approved by the security agencies.
However, under the Church Construction Law (Law No. 80 of 2016), which was approved by the Egyptian Parliament on 30 August 2016, the power to approve the building and renovation of churches was extended to provincial governors. While the new Law made the process less complicated, the legislation remains discriminatory as the same requirements do not apply to Sunni Muslim houses of worship, and other religious groups such as the Ahmadi, Baha’i and Shia communities, are not covered by the Law.
CSW's sources report that 5540 applications for legalising church buildings have been submitted since the Church Construction Law came into force and the total of approved applications now stands at 1,568 following the decision on 2 April. In some cases, the approved applications are conditional and the churches will have to fulfil further requirements regarding building construction, health and safety, and council taxes, in order to retain their status.
Church building regulations have historically been a source of controversy and of sectarian violence. Even under the new Law, Egyptian Christians continue to face difficulties establishing and maintaining church buildings. In some cases, even when Christians have obtained permission to renovate or build new churches, local Muslims have blocked their attempts to do so. Consequently, Christians are forced to make concessions, such as building churches without a bell or tower. Such decisions are often arrived at following “reconciliation meetings” backed by local authorities, which are essentially aimed at appeasing the local community, but which in many instances infringe on the rights of religious minorities. Nevertheless, the situation of Egyptian Christians has improved to some degree since President Sisi took office in 2013.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “Whilst we warmly welcome the legalisation of further churches and commend the efforts of the government of Egypt to address historical injustices affecting the Christian community, we encourage the administration to continue on the path of reforming legislation and addressing societal attitudes and practices that continue to restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief.”