Amid pressing demands for the parliament to issue a law on the construction of churches, the Free Egyptians Party (FEP) submitted a draft proposal to the parliament.
Article 235 of the Constitution called for reform of the issuance of building permits for churches. “The parliament should issue a law regulating the construction and renovation of churches, so as to ensure the freedom of Christians to practise their religious rites,” the article stated.
According to the proposal FEP released Monday, the law comprises 18 articles. It states that a maximum period of four months is required to respond to a request to obtain permission for the construction of a church; otherwise the request shall be considered approved. This came in Article 4 of FEP’s draft law.
The article further adds that once the permit is approved it cannot be reversed, and if rejected, the reasons must be clearly explained. In Article 10, the draft suggests that the suspension of church construction or activities, or the demolition of the building cannot occur without judicial order.
Moreover, the FEP demanded prison penalties for “anyone who obstructs the construction of a church or demolishes it”.
Head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II met Monday with the parliamentary Religious Committee, following violent clashes between Muslims and Christians in Minya and Beni Suef last week. He advised against the issuing of an “unsatisfying law” on the construction of churches, local press reported.
The pope also warned about escalating frustration among Copts regarding mounting incidents of sectarian assaults in Upper Egypt. Several mob attacks on Copts stemmed from rejection of “constructing churches” in their neighbourhoods, even if the construction was only rumoured.
Several churches and affiliated service buildings have remained closed for “security reasons”. In mid-June, a video showed hundreds gathered in a village in Alexandria chanting “we don’t want a church”, after which they assaulted and injured fellow Coptic residents and attacked a services building. The building has been closed since.
The independent Egyptian Coptic Coalition’s coordinator, Fady Youssef, had previously told Daily News Egypt that there were demands for issuing a law unifying the construction of houses of worship, which would reduce restrictions on building churches. The coalition had also sent a law on fighting violence and sectarianism to the presidency, church, and Al-Azhar institutions.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi recently addressed sectarianism on two public speeches, during which he asserted that accountability for such incidents must be implemented to enforce the law.
Following incidents, the police detained a few alleged perpetrators. They were released shortly after, as informal reconciliation sessions between all involved parties in the conflicts were held.