In this issue, Watani prints the details of the most recent of the Cabinet decisions that grant legality to given numbers of unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings in Egypt. The decision brings the number of churches and affiliated community service buildings approved for legalisation up to 1882 out of a total 3730 that had applied for legality before 28 September 2017, the deadline set by the 2016 Law for Building and Restoring Churches. Legalisation becomes final only when the approved churches comply with provisions of structural soundness and civil defence conditions, and pay the required dues.
Until the Law for Building and Restoring Churches was passed in Egypt in September 2016, 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, the first ever in Egypt to allow for and regulate the building of churches, stipulates a straightforward time limited legal procedure to obtain license to build or restore a church or affiliated building, and includes provisions for legalising already existing churches and Church-affiliated buildings that had been built without licence.
The recent Cabinet decision is the 19th since a Cabinet committee undertook the task of looking into the cases of churches and affiliated buildings applying for legality more than three years ago, in September 2017. Officially issued on 4 May 2021, the decision marks the approval of 50.5 per cent of the 3730 churches and buildings that had applied. At this rate, we would need another three-and-a-half years to complete approvals of the full number requiring legality. This means that the Cabinet committee would have taken seven years to complete its task, a span of time that is beyond doubt too long and that defies the spirit of the law which was in the first place enacted with the purpose of easing conditions of building churches and freeing already existing ones from the fetters of illegality. Are we before a case of “stalling justice” through procedures that defeat the very raison d’être of the law?
The new batch of buildings approved for legalisation by the Cabinet comprises 82 churches and affiliated community service buildings, listed in five sets.
The first set includes the churches and community service buildings unconditionally approved for legalisation. These have fulfilled all the requirements stipulated by the administrative bylaws of the Law for Building and Restoring Churches, and have no pending conditions or paper requirements that need fulfilment. This set includes 45 buildings in Cairo, Assiut and Alexandria.
The second set includes churches and service buildings approved for legalisation provided dues owed to the State are paid, and indisputable proof of land ownership is furnished. This set includes 20 buildings in Cairo, Assiut and Alexandria.
The third set includes 13 buildings in Alexandria approved for legality pending the settling of dues owed to the State.
The fourth set includes only one building in Assiut, the legality of which was approved pending restoration of the building to comply with conditions of structural soundness.
The fifth set involves three Church buildings in Alexandria; their legality was approved pending reconstruction to comply with structural soundness, and settling State dues.
The Egyptian folk wisdom comes to mind: “Oh God who eases difficulties! So much is over; so little lies ahead” but with a twist: “Half is over; the other half yet lies ahead!”
28 May 2021