Egypt's three Christian denominations approve bill on church construction, restoration

An Egyptian Coptic Church that was set on fire is seen in Benghazi March 14, 2013. | Reuters/Esam Al-Fetori

Egypt could soon liberate restraints on church buildings just after the predominantly Muslim country's three main Christian denominations approved a church construction and restoration bill.

According to Egypt Independent, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Magdi al-Agati told local media Aug. 1 that Egypt's Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical leaders signed the bill in front of Bishop Paula of Tanta.

"The law sets a four-month deadline for governors to respond to any request for a license to build a church," Agati said in a press statement.

He added that the bill would be discussed within the week during a cabinet meeting before it is submitted to the State Council and then to parliament for final approval.

Mada Masr reported back in May a leaked file of the bill proposal that revealed stipulations for the new rules for church construction. The draft bill reportedly allows heads of different churches to submit requests to governors, who should grant approval within 60 days or state the reason for rejection in which the church can file an appeal to the Administrative Court. It also aimed to legalize unlicensed churches that were built five years ago.

The country follows the Islamic Law of Classical Islam back from the era of the Ottoman Empire in 1856 that made it difficult for Egyptian Christians to build their own church buildings. Former Interior Minister Mohamed Ezaby Pasha also made the situation worse in 1934 by adding 10 more conditions in order to grant building permits for churches.

Activist Jolia Milad maintained that the existence of the draft bill only proved the discrimination against Christians although he considered this "a positive step" towards ending religious-based discrimination.

"Even if this law passes there will still be no equality in the building of places of worship, as building mosques does not require all of these measures such as the approval from a governor," Milad told The New Arab.

The signing of the law also came just after Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, the 63-year-old leader of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, met with members of the parliament last month.

"We will not accept the control of a particular party over the construction of churches in Egypt, and the current law had been in force since the era of the Ottoman Empire," the Coptic Pope told the lawmakers.