I have taken it upon myself to closely monitor the file of legalising the 3730 unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings that had officially applied for legality according to the 2016 Law for Building and Restoring Christian Places of Worship. Until that law was passed in September 2016, there was no law in Egypt to govern the building and restoration of churches, and it was next to impossible for Copts to obtain licence to build or restore a church. Copts, who direly needed churches in view of the growing congregation and declining conditions of existing churches, resorted to building churches without licence. The 2016 law stipulates a straightforward, time limited legal procedure to obtaining license to build or restore a church or Church affiliated building, and includes provisions for legalising already existing unlicensed churches and affiliated buildings. These were given one year since the date the law came into action to officially apply for legality by submitting their papers to a Cabinet affiliated committee charged with looking into them. The committee started work on 28 September 2017, one year on the 2016 law.
Since that date, I have a made a point of listing every achievement made by the Cabinet committee in granting unlicensed churches legality approvals. Legality is only final if the buildings comply with provisions of structural soundness and civil defence, and pay outstanding dues.
Watani prints in this issue the details of the most recent Cabinet decision issued on 9 August. The decision grants approvals of legality to the 20th batch of unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings the committee has looked into. This batch includes 27 churches and 49 Church-affiliated community service buildings, bringing the total number of buildings approved for legality up to 1958 from a total 3730 that had applied for legalisation. A simple calculation shows that the committee has thus completed 52.5 per cent of its task in the span of 46 months. At the same pace, the committee would need a further 42 months to look into the remaining 1772 buildings requiring legalisation. Legalisation of the full 3730 unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings would thus have stretched over seven years and four months.
Until last May, I commented on each batch of buildings approved for legality by recalling the Egyptian folk wisdom that goes: “Oh God who eases difficulties! So much is over; so little lies ahead” with a twist: “So little is over; so much lies ahead”. Last May, the committee issued its 19th batch of legality approvals, completing 50.5 per cent of its task; I changed my comment to: “Half is over; another half lies ahead!” Today, I can say: “We’re more than half way through; less than half lies ahead!” I hope the committee would soon progress on its work, allowing me to go back to the original: “Oh God who eases difficulties! So much is over; so little lies ahead”.
If I sound sarcastic of the slow progress achieved by the Cabinet committee, this by no means underestimates the arduous responsibility shouldered by the committee, or disregards the serious effort exerted by its members in inspecting and scrutinising the documents submitted to them. However, with all due respect and appreciation, I insist that the slow pace of approvals defies the spirit of the law which was in the first place enacted to ease conditions for building churches and make already existing ones accessible for legal worship. Are we before slow justice the procedural progress of which defeats the raison d’être of the law?
The details of the most recent batch of approvals, the 20th batch, granted by the committee to 27 churches and 49 community service buildings, lists them in five sets.
The first set includes the churches and community service buildings unconditionally approved for legality. These have fulfilled all the requirements of the bylaws of the Law for Building and Restoring Churches, and have no pending conditions or paper requirements that need fulfilment. This set includes 18 churches and 40 service buildings; a total 58 buildings in Assiut, Giza, Sharqiya, Sohag and Minya.
The second set includes buildings approved for legality provided dues owed to the State are paid, and indisputable proof of land ownership is furnished. This set includes four churches and two community buildings, a total six buildings, in Assiut, Giza and Sohag.
The third set includes seven buildings in Giza approved for legality pending settlement of dues owed to the State: two churches and five community buildings.
The fourth set includes buildings lacking structural soundness; they have to be pulled down and rebuilt. This set includes four buildings: three churches and one community building in Beni Sweif and Sohag.
The fifth set includes one community building in Sohag to be granted legality once it is restored to qualify for structural soundness standards.
27 August 2021