By Devin Watkins
Nearly 3 years ago, the Egyptian Parliament passed legislation regarding the construction and management of places of worship.
1,109 Christian churches and related buildings have been verified and put in legal order by an ad hoc Committee.
In just the last few days, 88 Coptic churches were legalized, according to the Fides news agency.
Permitted by presidential decree
Most of the buildings were built before the passage of the 2016 law without having received the proper permits.
Legislation from 1934 had subjected the construction of new churches to “10 rules” that forbade building them near schools, canals, government buildings, railways, and even residential areas.
Building permits for new churches could only be issued by presidential decree.
In practice, strict enforcement of the law practically prohibited new houses of worship from springing up in areas where Christians live, especially in sparsely inhabited areas of Upper Egypt.
Build it and they will come
Local Christian communities frequently ignored the 1934 law and built churches without government authorization.
Islamist groups sometimes used the “illegal” churches as an excuse to provoke sectarian violence against Christians.
To remedy the situation, Egypt’s 2014 Constitution (Article 325) ordered parliament to pass a law updating the 1934 rules “in a manner that guarantees the freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians.”
Houses for worship
The resulting legislation, passed on 30 August 2016, set up a committee to verify whether churches built without a permit meet the standards set by the law.
Christians make up about 10% of Egypt’s population of 95 million, most of whom are Orthodox.
As more illegally-built churches are put in proper order, local Christian communities are able to pray without fear of expulsion from their houses of worship.