Egypt’s three main Christian denominations – Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic – have agreed on the final draft of a proposed new church construction and restoration bill.
According to the bill, churches will no longer be required to gain approval from the president before they can construct of a new church building. It will only be necessary to get a licence from the local governor. In addition, any request for a licence must be responded to within a four-month deadline, and each densely populated area in Egypt must have its own church.
The news, which was announced last Monday, 1st August, comes amidst an escalation in violence against Christians in Egypt, some of which has been provoked by rumours that churches are undergoing construction. The bill is now due to be discussed at a cabinet meeting, before then going to parliament for final approval.
Currently the construction of churches is strictly regulated in Egypt under laws dating back to 1856, when the country was part of the Ottoman Empire, and Christians had to obtain the Sultan’s permission to build new churches.
This was further tightened in 1934, when the Deputy Interior Minister issued a decree with ten further conditions that must be met before permission could even be applied for. These conditions, which still apply, include gaining permission from neighbouring Muslims and the fact that a church cannot be located near a mosque or a Muslim shrine.
Applications for permission to build churches have often taken many years to be considered and, after the long wait, the answer would often be “no”.
This latest step forward reflects the support shown to Egypt’s Christians by President al-Sisi since coming to power in 2013. He has been vocal in condemning attacks on Christians, ordered the military to re-build churches that have been burned down by Islamists, and granted churches land in new cities on which to build houses of worship.
However, the president has encountered criticism for not doing enough to ensure this supportive attitude filters down to the local authorities, especially in rural areas, and some Egyptian Christians have expressed the need for caution concerning the draft bill.
Criticism has been raised over the vague wording of the law and the way it could be open to interpretation by the local authorities and, because of this, there is concern over whether the proposed changes will, in fact, make any difference at the local level.
- Give thanks for this new draft bill and the support that Egyptian Christians have from the President.
- Pray for Egypt’s Christian community as they await the implementation of this bill. Pray that local authorities will heed the new law and make it easier for Christians to have a place where they can worship without fear.
- Pray for protection for the Church in Egypt, especially in rural areas where there has been a spate of violent attacks against the Christians.
- Pray for the growth of the Church in Egypt, and for many in this nation to have life changing encounters with Jesus Christ.
Matthew 16 vs 18: “And I tell you … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”