Although new laws regulating the construction of houses of worship have been sought by politicians and human rights advocates long before the Jan. 25 revolution, there has been little progress toward passing such regulations.
A draft law proposes that building permit applications for houses of worship should go through the public engineering office in the governorate where the church or mosque would be built. It sets a maximum period of two months for approval or rejection of an application, and stipulates that no house of worship can built closer than a kilometer to another church or mosque.
A spokesman for the Egyptian Evangelical Church, Akram Lamei, said he believes that the draft law has a number of flaws, including the “strange” condition of setting two or more houses of worship apart by at least a kilometer.
“We have three Christian sects in Egypt. Such a large space of one kilometer could be accepted when implemented on two churches of one sect, but it’s too much for two churches from different sects,” he said. “In some towns and villages with high density, we have churches very close to each other to serve a number of communities in one area.”
On Sunday, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies sent a memo to Prime Minister Essam Sharaf asking the Cabinet to withdraw its proposal for a unified law for houses of worship.
“The provisions of the bill are directed explicitly at recognized religions in Egypt, which means that no consideration is given to the exercise of these rights by followers of religions or sects unrecognized by Islamic jurisprudence or representatives of the Coptic church,” according to the memo.
Egyptian Coptic Christians, who make up about 10% of the country’s population, have long complained of what they call “crippling procedures” in order to construct new churches, while Muslims faced no obstacles in building new mosques. Prior to Jan. 25, Christians had to obtain special permission for new construction from the Interior Ministry’s State Security Services. In many cases, approval was never granted.
This often resulted in Copts trying to get around the rule by turning residential blocks and social services buildings into churches, resulting in many deadly clashes with neighboring Muslims over the last few years.
— Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Egyptian lawmakers in parliament. Credit: Reuters