By Youssef Sidhom – Watani –
My readers will find a large portion of this article similar to, if not an outright repetition of what I wrote before on the legalisation of unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings in Egypt. This is because I have been diligently following on the situation since the Cabinet committee charged with the legalisation process embarked on its task on 28 September 2017, one year on the passage of the 2016 Law for the Building and Restoration of Churches. The 2016 law was the first ever in Egypt to govern the building and restoration of churches, and it made provision for the legalisation of already existing unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings.
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. 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 for obtaining licence to build or restore a church or affiliated building, and includes provisions for legalising already existing ones.
Watani has regularly published the successive lists of churches and buildings approved for legalisation by the Cabinet-affiliated committee charged with that task. The committee issues approvals every few months for legalisation of batches of churches and buildings in various regions in Egypt, belonging to the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Coptic Churches.
In this issue, Watani prints the detailed list of the most recent batch of buildings approved for legality. This is the 21st batch of churches and affiliated community service centres included in the Prime Minister’s decision number 43 of 2021, and printed in the official paper on 29 November. The decision approved the legalisation of 32 churches and 31 Church affiliated buildings, bringing the number of buildings approved for legality up to 2021—an auspicious figure given that it coincides with the current year as it draws to a close—out of a total 3730 that had applied for legality. A simple calculation shows that the committee has approved 54.2 per cent of the total number of applications during the span of 50 months. This means that 1709 applications for legalisation remain to be looked into, 45.8 per cent of the total applications. At the same rate, we might expect the committee to complete that task in another 42 months, meaning that the entire legalisation process of 3730 Church buildings would have taken seven years and eight months to complete. For now, all we can say is that we have crossed the threshold of “half through”.
A review of the most recent batch of buildings approved for legalisation reveals that they are divided into four sets. It must be noted that final legality of a building is subject to the conditions that it meets the requirements of structural soundness and those of civil defence, that any outstanding or required dues be paid, and that ownership of the land on which the building is constructed would not be disputed.
The first set cites churches and Church affiliated community centres approved for legality provided they complete the civil defence requirements in a period of four months on the date the decision was issued. This set includes 18 churches and 17 community centres, a total 35 buildings in the governorates of Port Said, Beheira, Giza, Assiut, Sohag, and Qena.
The second set of buildings was approved for legality provided any dues owed to the State are paid, and that there would be no dispute concerning ownership of the land they are built on; also on condition of completion of the civil defence requirements in the space of four months on the date the decision was issued. This set includes six churches and 13 community centres, a total 19 buildings in the governorates of Beheira, Giza, Assiut, Sohag, and Qena.
The third set concerns buildings that do not meet the requirements of structural soundness, so should be pulled down and rebuilt. This set includes seven churches and one community centre in the governorates of Minya, Beheira, Sohag, and Qena.
The fourth set includes one church in the governorate of Qena that lacks structural soundness and needs restoration.
I will be tackling this topic again with the next batch of legality approvals for unlicensed churches and Church affiliated buildings.