The Cabinet-affiliated committee charged with looking into the status of unlicensed churches to grant them legality has approved on 8 January 2024 the legalisation of a new batch of churches and affiliated service buildings.
The new batch comprises 187 churches and affiliated community service buildings, and is the 27th since the committee undertook its task in September 2017 according to the 2016 Law for Building and Restoring Churches.
Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly presided over the Cabinet-affiliated committee meeting which reviewed the decisions taken during the previous meeting in May 2023.
Participating in the meeting were the ministers of housing, local development, and parliamentary affairs; also representatives of the construction department of the Armed Forces and representatives of other ministries and authorities concerned.
According to Cabinet spokesperson Mohamed al-Homosani, the recent decision brings the number of churches and affiliated community service buildings approved for legalisation up to 3160 out of a total 3730 that had applied for legalisation according to the 2016 law. Legalisation becomes final only when the approved churches comply with provisions of structural soundness and civil defence (safety) conditions, prove land ownership, and pay the required dues.
Father Mikhail Antoun, who is also Deputy Head of the Cabinet committee charged with looking into the legality of unlicensed churches, told ++Watani++ that this decision is long overdue, since the last one involving the 26th batch of churches and service buildings was made in May 2023, some eight months ago. Father Antoun however praised the efforts made by all the parties concerned to finish the charge of legalising the status of the unlicensed churches, noting that it is the spirit of the law that should be applied while looking at the cases, rather than solely its text.
Until the Law for Building and Restoring Churches was passed in Egypt in September 2016, the first such law in the history of Egypt, it was next to impossible for Copts to obtain official licence to build or restore a church, leading many Copts to term these times “the crisis era”. Copts, who direly needed churches in view of the growing congregation and declining conditions of existing churches, resorted to circumventing the law and building churches without licence. The 2016 law stipulates a straightforward, time limited legal procedure to obtaining licence to build or restore a church or affiliated building, and includes provisions for legalising already existing unlicensed churches and Church-affiliated buildings.
The Cabinet-affiliated committee charged with looking into applications for legalisation issues every few months approvals for legalising batches of churches and buildings in various regions in Egypt, belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Coptic Churches. Legalisation becomes final only when the approved churches prove land ownership, pay any required dues, and comply with provisions of structural soundness and civil safety conditions.
Given that a sizeable number of unlicensed churches were built in rural areas or underprivileged, unplanned urban areas characterised by very narrow streets, and crowded wall-to-wall small buildings, complying with standard safety conditions has not been attainable in many cases. Church officials complained about this to the Cabinet committee which then decided to involve the Ministry of Housing in resolving the issue by figuring out adequate safety requirements according to relevant building codes. Until this is resolved, churches have been required to fulfil the minimum precautionary measures, such as providing fire extinguisher facilities.
9 January 2024