Nearly three years ago, the Egyptian Parliament passed legislation permitting the construction of new churches and the management of existing places of worship. Since then 1,109 Christian churches and related buildings were approved by an ad hoc Committee. In just the last few days, 88 Coptic churches were 'legalized', according to Fides news agency. Most of the churches had been built before the 2016 law, without official permits.
Legislation from 1934 had subjected the construction of new churches to '10 rules' that forbade building them near schools, canals, government buildings, railways, and even residential areas. Building permits for new churches could only be issued by presidential decree.
Strict enforcement of the law practically prohibited new places of worship being built in areas where Christians live, especially in sparsely inhabited areas of Upper Egypt - but local Christian communities frequently ignored the 1934 law and built churches without government authorization.
Islamist groups then sometimes used the 'illegal' churches as an excuse to provoke sectarian violence against Christians.
To remedy the situation, Egypt's 2014 Constitution (Article 325) ordered parliament to pass a law updating the 1934 rules "in a manner that guarantees the freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians."
The resulting legislation, passed on 30 August 2016, set up a committee to verify whether churches built without a permit meet the standards set by the law.
Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's population of 95 million, most of whom are Orthodox.
As more illegally-built churches are put in proper order, local Christian communities are able to pray without fear of expulsion from their houses of worship.
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