An update on this story, which discussed some of the potential problems with the “reforms” of the new law. In particular, the plan to move to a decentralized system to permit or deny building according to local approval echoes the system that has been so disastrous for Christians in Indonesia. There are additional issues, described below. “Copts Calls for Withdrawal of Draft Law on Places of Worship,” from Al Masry Al Youm, June 19:
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) called on the government on Sunday to withdraw a draft law on unified places of worship, which has been strongly criticized by various Christian denominations in Egypt. The churches said the draft law was a continuation of the old, discriminatory approach.
It would just decentralize it. To say all places of worship would be subject to local permission stacks the deck against the Christian minority.
Earlier this month, the Egyptian government approved the draft law for public debate.
For decades, Egyptian Copts have been calling for a law to unify the standards and conditions of construction for both Muslim and non-Muslim places of worship. The law would replace the “Hamayouni Decree”, which is a clause in Egyptian law that regulates church construction and maintenance, and which dates from Ottoman rule. The decree stipulates the need to obtain prior approval from the chief executive — the president in modern times — to build a new church or to expand or restore an existing one.
A joint statement issued last week by the Egyptian Coptic, Anglican and Catholic Churches rejected the draft law on places of worship. They requested amendments to certain articles, especially those stipulating that places of worship should be 1000 square meters in size, which they say would be hard to implement, and that there must be at least 1km between places of worship.
That would be too easy. Every time someone wants to build a church, Muslims who didn’t want a church in the area could find a place to claim to start a mosque project within 1km.
The permit system is also a non-starter:
They rejected the stipulation that local councils be given authority to grant permits, and requested that conditions for licenses be standardized.
In a statement on Sunday, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said the draft law was “put forward hastily and without adequate consideration to the reduction of growing sectarian tensions.”
The EOHR called for non-legislative measures to overcome the various legal, procedural, administrative and security problems that continue to pose obstacles.