On 7th June President Morsi issued a decree authorising the construction of a new church building in the city of New Nubaria, in Beheirah province. This is the first such decree of his presidency. An application to build a church in the city was first submitted 17 years ago. Under Egyptian law, approval for new church buildings requires the President’s approval. A further 149 applications for new church buildings remain awaiting approval.
The legal framework and official procedures governing planning approval for church buildings dates back to the the Hamayouni Edict of 1865 and the al-Ezabi Decree of 1934, which required Christians to obtain permission from the President for any building or repair works. Former President Mubarak delegated the authority for repair work to local authorities, i.e. Governors and Mayors. However, the lack of legislation and a streamlined policy led to constant unjust delays, even when permission had officially been granted. A Presidential Decree of 2005 relating to rebuilding and repairs established the same processes for churches as for mosques. However, in practice churches continued to find that regional or local decision-making was arbitrary and unpredictable, making implementation of church repairs far more difficult than for mosque repairs.
For many years there has been consideration of a draft law entitled “Unified Places of Worship.” In July 2011 the then ruling military council approved a draft which was submitted to a consultation process that included Church leaders. They and others expressed concern that the proposals were unreasonable and would in practice severely restrict the building of new places of worship, especially churches. These included proposals that there should be a minimum distance of 500 metres between any two places of worship, and a minimum building-size requirement of 1,000 square metres. In September 2011 Egyptian Christians reported that progress on the draft had stalled, though there were some ongoing discussions involving church leaders and senior Muslim clerics. During 2012 an additional concern arose, namely that the draft might enable the authorities to regulate churches’ charitable funds, including the use of donations received from abroad.
Egyptian Christians welcome this decision. They request our prayers that:
a. The construction would proceed without delay
b. Further approvals will be granted soon
c. Progress will resume on the draft Unified Places of Worship legislation, with amendments made to reflect the concerns expressed by senior church leaders
d. Church leaders will know the Spirit’s guiding wisdom in all dealings with officials.