Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra reports in Christianity Today on efforts to change laws concerning church construction in Egypt: “Current laws, which have been in place since 1856, require Christians to get the consent of the local Muslim community—and the country’s president—before building a church.”
At times, “Christians were required to gain the approval of local Muslims and to make sure the proposed church was at least 340 feet from the nearest mosque. They also couldn’t build near schools, village canals, railways, government offices, government facilities, or between residential areas. That law still stands in the majority-Muslim country where Christians make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population of more than 90 million.” As a result, “Christians end up meeting in overcrowded churches, in house basements, or in the premises of NGOs, according to World Watch Monitor.”
Another result is that Christian meeting places become an “easy target for Islamist extremists. In 2013, during Egypt’s civil unrest, 52 churches were destroyed, 12 were damaged, and 29 people were killed, according to the US State Department. In July of 2015, a mob firebombed a church in Alexandria; police were noticeably slow to respond.”
New laws have been promised before but not delivered. In 2014, the new Egyptian constitution required that Parliament ease the restrictions on churches. That didn’t happen, so Parliament set a goal of passing legislation by the end of September.
Yesterday, Zylstra updated the story: “Egypt’s parliament approved a new church-building law this week, relieving the nearly insurmountable requirements . . . that Christians had to meet before constructing a church. . . . The bill, which gained the two-thirds majority it needed for approval, still places more restrictions on building churches than on building mosques. But several Coptic MPs said it was ‘a step in the right direction.’”