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POMED Tawadros

On Tuesday, Egypt’s parliament approved a long-awaited change to the law governing the construction and renovation of churches in Egypt. The Coptic Church rejected previous iterations of the law, but backed the version passed through Parliament this week. Eihab Ramzy, a lawyer for the Coptic Church, confirmed [Ar] that the government and the Church came to an agreement after the Cabinet addressed some of the Church’s requests and concerns. Top church official Father Sergius said the law was “historic,” adding, “The church and the government reached a reconciliatory agreement. Thank God we have this law now.”

However, some suggest that the Church was unable to push back against the government’s efforts and pressure from conservative elements. One church official said, “We are no longer talking about a constitutional right but about negotiations. The church couldn’t reject the law because it will put the state in a bad spot.” Youssef Sedhom, the chief editor of the Coptic weekly Watani, wrote before the law was officially passed that the legislation illustrated that the government still seeks to maintain “full mandate and monopoly” over the Coptic community.

Some Coptic MPs were cautious about the law, while others expressed outrage. Margaret Azer, a Coptic MP, said, “We hope [some of the laws] negative points will be eliminated in the future, but in any case this law is a good step.” MP Nadia Henry sharply condemned the law as “a political farce” that was “imposed on Christians.” Coptic MP Reda Nasif said, “The government is playing us, this draft was written by state security officers. I don’t trust them because they are discriminatory bodies.”

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) specializing in religious freedom, described the law as “catastrophic” and “sectarian.” He was critical of several vague portions of the law that may lead to more restrictions on building churches. Ibrahim added that provisions in the law that ensure the size of new churches must be proportional to the “number and needs of the Christian population” may lead to discrimination.

EIPR also criticized the negotiation of the law behind closed doors between government and Church officials, excluding members of the broader community.

At a July 2016 speech, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said, “We are 90 million, if we see an incident every day, or even a number of incidents, and react subjectively to it, it won’t be in the interests of the country.” He added, “We are all partners in this country,” asserting that it is inappropriate to distinguish between Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Christians.



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