Egypt’s parliament recently approved the country’s first law spelling out the rules for building Christian places of worship.
The new 10-article law states the rights of Christians to build and renovate churches in the mostly Muslim country. Church building in Egypt has been difficult for decades, where 10% of the population of 90 million are Christians. Muslim hardliners oppose anything that they think undermines the country’s “Islamic character.”
Before the new law, Christians had a hard time building churches since local authorities refuse to give them building permits. These Christians then decided to building illegally or setting up churches in other buildings.
Parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Al hopes that the law will build new bridges of confidence between Christians and Muslims and promote national unity in Egypt.
Less than a week after the approval of the new law, a Muslim MP submitted the first request to build a new church the Assiut village of Salam in Upper Egypt. MP, El-Badri Ahmed Deif said, “I wanted it recorded in history that a Muslim was the first to submit a request for building a church in Egypt after the passing of the new landmark law.”
“Although this village was the birthplace of [the late Coptic Orthodox] Pope Shenouda III, it has never had a church,” said Deif.
Meantime, the Coptic Catholic Church has welcomed the new law. “There’ve been some criticisms, but the government has tried to resolve any problems, and we now have a law which meets modern needs,” said Fr. Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Coptic Catholic church. “No law can be like the Bible — it has to be interpreted and it can be changed. But having had the same law since the Ottoman Empire, we’re satisfied we now have one which seeks to avoid sectarian enmities.”
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