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Egypt: Council of Ministers Discusses a New Bill Regulating the Construction of Churches

(Aug. 12, 2016) On July 21, 2016, the Prime Minister of Egypt, Sheriff Ismail, met with his Cabinet members to discuss the provisions of a draft law that would govern the construction of new Christian churches and the renovation of existing ones in the country. (Ismail, Ministers Discuss Draft Laws, Including Church Construction Bill, DAILY NEWS EGYPT (July 31, 2016).)

Under the newly proposed law, the approval of the President or the Prime Minister is not required for the issuance of a license to construct or renovate a church. The law also exempts from such approval ancient churches that are under the supervision of the Ministry of Antiquities. Moreover, it legalizes the status of churches that were constructed without a license. (Mai Shams El-Din, Parliament to Review Draft Law on Building New Churches, MADA MASIR (May 19, 2016).)

Specific Provisions

The draft law consists of eight provisions. The first provision covers definitions. Article 2 provides that any new church must accommodate the density of the Christian population in the area where the edifice is to be built. Article 3 allows the legal representative of Christians who want to construct a church in a certain area to submit a request for the governor of the given province to issue a certificate stating that there are no objections to the construction. The request must include the measurements related to the design and height of any minarets and to the land area on which the church will be built. The applicants must also show the governor all documents verifying the ownership of this land. (Text of the Draft Law Concerning Churches’ Construction, AL YOUM 7 (Aug. 2, 2016) (in Arabic).)

Article 4 regulates requests to renovate churches. It requires the legal representative of a Christian community that desires to renovate a specific church to submit a request for the governor of the province in which the church is located to issue a certificate stating that there are no objections to the renovation. Article 5 stipulates that governors are entitled to approve requests to build churches within 120 days of the request date. If a governor rejects a request, the he must state the reasons for the refusal. (Id.)

Finally, article 8 of the draft law legalizes the status of churches that were constructed without licenses. It states that all buildings where Christians pray and practice their religious rituals are considered licensed during the period of enforcement of this law. However, article 8 requires the legal representatives of Christians who own the buildings where the religious rituals take place to send the governors of the relevant province a list of the buildings, indicating their locations. (Id.)

Reactions to the Draft Legislation

The Liberal Free Egyptian Party has declared its opposition to the draft law. During a press conference, a party spokesperson commented that the draft proposal does not meet the needs of Christians. Consequently, party members decided to work on drafting different legislation that would eradicate all restrictions on constructing Christian places of worship nationwide. (Sisi Meets Pope Tawadros as Negotiations on Law to Build Churches Continue, MADA MASR (July 28, 2016).)