Egyptian Christian clerics praise decision to allow worship at unlicensed
churches pending formal recognition
Ahram Online , Tuesday 9 Jan 2018
A number of Christian clergymen and political commentators have welcomed
the latest decision by Egypt's Ministry of Housing to allow Christians to
practice religious rites at unlicensed churches pending their formal
recognition as places of worship.
A committee was formed in January 2017 by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail to
review requests to formally recognise unlicensed churches.
The committee was formed in accordance with law no 80/2016, which eases
restrictions on the building of churches.
The housing ministry's decision came upon a request from Archpriest Michael
Antoun, the Coptic Orthodox Church’s representative in the committee,
according to a statement by the ministry.
Archpriest Antoun said that the Church has presented requests to formally
recognise 2,600 churches and affiliated buildings in all Egyptian
governorates by the end of September 2017.
Antoun said that the 2016 law allows religious rites to be practiced at
unlicensed churches pending the legalisation of their status.
Karim Kamal, a Coptic political researcher and president of Copts for the
Nation, described the ministry's decision as a positive step towards
implementing the 2016 law on building churches.
"The issue of unlicensed churches is not a problem from the state,
governors, the ministry of interior or housing," says Kamal, arguing that
this is evident from the efforts by the Armed Forces to restore churches
that were torched in the wake of the 30 June revolution in 2013.
"The real problem lies in the ultra-conservative Islamists in some villages
in rural and Upper Egyptian governorates, who fuel tensions over small
unlicensed churches to pressure security officials into closing these
churches to prevent sectarian strife," Kamal said.
Kamal also called on the state to enforce the rule of law and not to resort
to mediating between parties to settle sectarian conflict.
Youssef Talaat, the legal representative of the Anglican Church in the
committee, affirmed there are currently no Anglican churches that have been
However, he expressed support for the Coptic Orthodox Church, which he says
is the most affected by the closure of churches. Coptic Orthodox Christians
make up 90 percent of all Christians in the country.
Catholic Archpriest of Giza Antonios Aziz also praised the Ministry of
Housing’s decision, saying that it prevents the recurrence of sectarian
incidents over unlicensed churches.
The ministry’s decision comes one month after a mob of Muslims stormed a
building in Giza’s Atfih over a rumour that the premises would soon be
officially recognised as a church. A number of Christians were injured in
In October 2016, four churches were closed in Upper Egypt's Minya
governorate following sectarian clashes over the premises being used as
Christian places of worship without a licence. Christian officials and
clergymen protested the decision to close the churches.
Before the church building law was passed in 2016, Christians – who make up
an estimated 10 percent of the country's nearly 100 million people – had
long struggled to obtain permits to build churches, with the process at
times taking years.