Problems on hold
Problems on hold
In light of the relevance of the unified law for building places of worship and the persistence on the part of the establishment to delay the passage of the bill, Watani started a campaign three months ago to rally support behind the longed-for law. Four consequent parliamentary rounds saw the law shelved, even though it got all the required preliminary approvals for discussion. I have already written about the viewpoints of a group of MPs and Shura (consultative) Council members on the question. These included Dr Rifaat el-Said (Shura), Ibtissam Habib (PA), Dr Georgette Qellini (PA), Hamdi Al-Tahan (PA), Talaat Sadat (PA), and Fahmi Nashed (Shura). All of them stressed the necessity of passing the law to end the current discrimination in terms of places of worship.
Today I am presenting a second collection of opinions of those surveyed by Watani.
Dr Mahmoud Abaza, MP and chairman of the Wafd Party said the law was inevitable to end all forms of discrimination and was consistent with the logic governing modern legislation. Building places of worship should take place solely in accordance with the general building regulations. The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) decides which bills are discussed by the parliamentary round, he said. As for the Wafd, it will attempt to place the unified law for building places of worship on the agenda of the upcoming round. “I doubt that anybody in government would dismiss the perception the law is based upon,” Abaza concluded.
Rabeh Rateeb Basta, an NDP Shura Council member, said the law is consistent with the citizenship principles stressed by the Constitution. It would put an end to the negative practices related to the application of the 2005 presidential decree mandating governors to authorise the restoration of already existing churches and monasteries. New towns are in dire need for churches, but the building of new churches should be approved by the President. “If the bill is discussed in the Shura Council, it will have my full support,” Basta said.
Nabil Louqa Babawi, deputy chairman of the Shura Council Committee for Media and Tourism, said that the bill was the only solution for the problem of licensing churches. Although the restoration and renovation of already existing churches have become easier, the erection of new churches since the Islamic invasion has been dependent on the ruler’s goodwill. Security apparatuses now have the upper hand in licensing new churches. They refer to the restricting ten conditions set in 1934 by the then deputy interior minister. Dr Bibawi said he had raised the issue in the Shura Council upon the outbreak of sectarian violence in Ayyat, and intended to open the file again in the upcoming round.
MP and member of the Muslim Brotherhood Saad al-Katatni stressed the significance of the bill. Places of worship, he said, should be included in the planning of towns and new districts since they fulfill the needs of the population. “I have no objection to passing a law to free the building of places of worship from legal shackles,” he said. “I plan to vote for the law when the bill is discussed, and I think that the government should be interested in this law since it would serve the purpose of social stability.”
Siyada Ilhamy Greiss, an independent MP, is of the opinion that the law realises equality among Egyptians in terms of the freedom of faith and practicing religious rites. It fills a legislative gap concerning the regulation of building places of worship. “I did call upon Mufid Shehab, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, to place the bill on Parliament’s agenda during the last round, and he commented that the law would serve to boost citizenship principles,” she said. “I will file a request to the Prime Minster and Minister of Justice to include the bill on the PA’s agenda in the upcoming round.”
As to Ragab Hilal Hemeida, Gehad Party MP, he remarked that, as places where God is worshipped, mosques and churches ought to be treated equally before the law. “It is about time,” he said, “to remove any obstacles preventing the passage of the unified law for building places of worship. In the past, I did not realise the magnitude of the problems suffered by Copts in terms of building churches—Muslims also suffer with building mosques—but I am now well acquainted with the issue and will raise it in the upcoming round scheduled to start in November.”