Egyptian Christians now have an additional 168 legal church buildings.
On November 30, a cabinet committee approved the requests of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic churches to formally register facilities long functioning as centers of worship.
Prior to a new law passed in August 2016, churches faced an arduous task to secure recognition by the government. Local authorities could delay or deny paperwork for licenses, often on security grounds to placate objections by neighborhood Muslims.
CT previously reported how that law was not without controversy, but that it was designed to streamline the process, allow for judicial review, and transfer final approval from Egypt’s president to local governors.
The law also established a committee to review church requests to license existing church facilities. Consisting of the prime minister and the ministers of justice, housing, antiquities, and others, it officially convened in January 2017.
A total of 3,730 requests were submitted for approval, pending review of structural soundness and compliance with local regulations. The first batch of 53 church buildings was approved back in February.
According to the government, the current decree brings the total number of approvals by the committee to 508.
“I am pleased,” said Andrea Zaki, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt. “The process has been slow in the beginning, but I think going forward it will be better.”
Zaki is optimistic, believing the government is gaining steam and taking seriously its obligations under the law. Churches also are becoming more familiar with the required procedures.
Egypt’s Protestants have submitted requests to license 1,070 church buildings, he said. Forty-two were approved in this most recent batch, bringing their total to more than 80.
Not everyone is as hopeful as Zaki, however.
“If the easy cases have taken this long, what happens when they consider the difficult ones,” said Ishak Ibrahim, religion officer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jayson Casper