By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
EGYPT (ANS – May 24, 2016) — Once again the Egyptian Parliament is considering a proposal on the construction of churches that Christians hope will narrow the country’s religious inequality gap.
The House of Representatives was presented earlier this week with the draft law on the issue. Holding its first inaugural session January this year, it aims to discuss and comment on the new priority legislation within coming weeks, says Catholic news agency Agenzia Fides.
According to World Watch Monitor (https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org), the bill consists of 13 articles, defining a “church” and describing mechanisms to address building issues with local authorities. The draft hopes to recognize a right by Bishops to appeal to a higher government body about delays and to impose a ceiling of a 60 days’ wait for a decision to be taken.
“An on-again-off-again approach has so far characterized the issue, bogging Christians down in a maze of administrative complications,” said World Watch Monitor (WWM).
“The construction of each new church typically had to be authorized directly by the Egyptian President, although attempts have been made to grant church building permits by governors and the security authorities.
“It is hoped the new bill will remove a host of hurdles through establishing local authorities as sole arbiters for screening and approving new church construction.”
Although building new churches and re-modelling old ones is restricted and hardly permitted, in numerous cases Christians have set up churches in the basements of their residential buildings or through establishing NGOs and eventually using their premises for worship.
WWM went on to say that in small rural communities, it has often taken a rumor about the building of a new church to prompt radical Muslims to riot, attacking the place where Christians gather, the local pastor’s house and Christian properties in the village.
One law for everyone
The idea of a common law covering the building of all places of worship has been on the agenda since at least 2005 when liberal-leaning MP Abulezz al-Hareeri urged one rule for all regardless of religion.
“The idea of such a common law was floated back in the 1970s as a ‘remedy’ to friction between Copts and Muslims after a number of churches had been attacked,” said Coptic legal activist Naguib Gabriel.
“Today, the nature of attacks goes beyond mob riots or local authorities’ intransigence. A lot more mars the relationship between Egyptians and Egyptians. Important as it is, this law cannot on its own solve all the woes endured by Copts.”
Similar draft laws have been tendered by representatives of civil society, cabinet or parliament several times before, including in 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
The issue remains unsolved as churches are not on a par with Muslim places of worship.
“Egyptian Christians would like any new legislation to scrap rules laid out by the 1856 ‘Hamayoni Decree.’ Dating back to the waning days of the Ottoman Caliphate, it still regulates the construction of churches in Egypt,” added WWM.
“According to these rules, the building of churches is restricted when close to schools, canals, government buildings, railways and residential areas. Application of such rules has prevented the building of churches in cities and villages inhabited by Christians.
“The Ottoman decree is based on legal discrimination against non-Muslims under Muslim rule. It traditionally draws from the ‘Covenant of Umar,’ a pact imposed by the second Caliph of Islam. It specifies the terms Christians and Jews had to submit to, in order to safeguard an existence under Sharia in their newly conquered lands.”
Photo captions: 1) Rights activist Mina Thabet (center) and others examine church building set ablaze on Aug. 14, 2013. (Courtesy of Mina Thabet). 2) Dan Wooding pictured with Norm Nelson of Compassion Radio at the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and the author or co-author of some 45 books. He has one radio show and two TV programs all based in Southern California. Before moving to the US, Dan was a senior reporter with two of the UK’s largest circulation newspapers and also an interviewer for BBC Radio One in London.
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