Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Africa, Egypt
A proposed law that could remove crippling restrictions on the building of churches in Egypt will be presented to the country’s parliament early next year, according to a government minister.
Egypt’s Minister of Transitional Justice, Ibrahim Henaidi, told reporters on 16 October that a committee comprising church representatives and government officials will be formed to discuss the bill before it is presented to parliament.
Under Egypt’s constitution, which was passed in January this year, parliament is required in its first session to “issue a law aimed at regulating the construction and restoration of churches in a way that ensures that Christians perform their religious rites freely”.
Currently, a church cannot be built within 100 metres of a mosque. Also, congregations have long been required to obtain permission from the head of state to erect a church building or to renovate an existing building or even to make simple repairs, under legislation introduced under Ottoman rule in 1856. Such permission has often been refused and the process of applying can take many years.
Permission to erect a new building must still be obtained from the head of state; former president Mubarak delegated the authority to approve the expansion or rebuilding of churches to the country’s regional governors in 2005.
The minister’s announcement came after an interdenominational meeting of Egyptian Christian leaders, who at the government’s request made proposals on the issue of church buildings. Following the meeting, Christian lawyer Nabil Luka Bibawi filed a lawsuit with the Administrative Court of the Egyptian State Council to compel the government to form the a committee to draft the law’s outline.
Article 64 of Egypt’s current constitution grants “absolute” freedom of belief and religious practice to followers of Islam, Christianity and Judaism for the first time.
The Egyptian parliament is expected to vote on the bill in either January or February 2015.