Construction of Christian Churches in Egypt Sparks Debate

by Jeffrey Lindholm



On August 30, the Egyptian Parliament approved a new law that allows Christians, mainly from the Coptic Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church, to build and renovate churches in Egypt.  


According to AhramOnline, Christians have historically not had the same legal rights as Muslims to preserve their churches. The new law liberalizes the regulations for church building and renovation and will simplify the process.  


A week after the new law passed, a Muslim MP submitted the first request to build a new church in the birthplace of the late Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III. 


“I wanted it recorded in history that a Muslim was the first to submit a request for building a church in Egypt after the passing of the new landmark law,” said El-Badri Ahmed Deif, an independent MP.


“This request aims to build new bridges of confidence between Muslims and Christians and foster national unity in Egypt.”


Deif chose Pope Shenouda’s home village of Salam as the site for a new church because “Although the village was the birthplace of Pope Shenouda III, it has never had a church.” According to Deif, the pope was a historic leader of Coptic Christians in Egypt for 41 years and in spite of his influence, “he never used his influence to build a church in his home village.” More than 5,000 Christians still live in Salam.


Once an Egyptian citizen files for the building or renovation of a church, their regional governor must rule within four months with their final decision, although the bill adds that the decision is “subject to appeal.”


Father Ray Greiche, a spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, says that the bill has had some criticisms, many of whom question why that the Egyptian government still controls church building. “The government has tried to resolve any problems,” said Greiche. “We now have a law which meets modern needs.”


Egypt’s parliament has 39 Christian members, a record 6.5. percent of the governing body. Many Christian MPs welcomed Deif’s proposal to build a church in Salam, especially Coptic Orthodox members.


“Deif's request is a very good initiative from a Muslim MP who belongs to a governorate that includes a large number of Coptic Christians,” said Coptic MP Margaret Azer, the deputy chairwoman of the parliament's human rights committee.


In an interview with AhramOnline, Azer also pointed out that “the new church building law represents a very progressive step,” especially for Islamist MP’s, such as the conservative members of the Salafist Nour Party. As some of the laws biggest critics, “The Salafist Nour MPs claimed that the law would weaken, rather than foster, national unity,” Azer said.


“But MP Deif's request now comes to refute this claim and send a different message that this law can build new bridges of confidence between Muslims and Christians.”

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