Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1376, (11-17 January 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1376, (11-17 January 2018)

Ahram Weekly

No more church closures

Unlicensed churches will remain open as the paperwork for permits is being processed, Michael Adel reports


No more church closures
No more church closures

Unlicensed churches which have submitted licensing applications may remain open according to a decree issued by the government committee formed to regulate the status of churches.

December’s attack against Al-Amir Tadros Church in Kafr Al-Waselin, a village south of Cairo, was the latest in a series of assaults on unlicensed churches waged by extremists. Security concerns that sectarian tensions might flare has meant that till now such churches are frequently closed on the grounds that the paperwork for their permits is incomplete.

The first meeting between church representatives and the government-appointed Committee for the Regulation of the Status of Churches was in October 2017. The participants decided to hold monthly meetings during which they would review licensing applications and begin reviewing files that had already been submitted in order that any requests for further documentation or clarification could be made in advance of the next meeting.

Once the paperwork is in order, specialised engineering committees visit the sites of churches to report on their adherence to the ground plans and other specifications submitted by the applicants. It is on then the basis of the engineering committees’ reports that licences are then issued.

The crisis surrounding the church in Atfih marked a turning point for the legal representatives of churches, especially after the arrest of the landlord who donated his house to the Atfih parish so that Coptic religious services could be held in Kafr Al-Waselin. He was accused of owning an unlicensed church building even though the required licensing application had already been submitted to the Committee for the Regulation of the Status of Churches.

Following the incident Egypt’s three churches submitted a petition requesting a halt to church closures. 

“We submitted a list of more than 2,600 churches and auxiliary buildings belonging to the Coptic Church in various parts of Egypt. While the list of churches that have been closed down permanently is unavailable, most are in Minya, followed by Beni Sweif, Assiut and the governorates of Giza and Cairo,” said Archbishop Mikhail Anton, vice president of the Orthodox Coptic Church’s own committee for unlicensed churches.

Archbishop Anton, the legal representative of the Orthodox Church, called for the application of Article 8 of the Law on the Construction of Churches, passed in 2016, which stipulates that churches that have submitted applications to the Committee for the Regulation of the Status of Churches could remain open for religious services.

The Committee for the Regulation of the Status of Churches wrote in response that “in accordance with Law 80/2016 on the construction of churches, it has been decided not to halt religious services in churches located in the 14 governorates until such time as they are issued licences.”

Counsellor Youssef Talaat, legal representative of the Evangelical Church, said that while his religious community did not have any churches that had been closed it supports the Coptic community’s demand to allow churches to remain open and religious services to proceed pending the completion of the licensing process.

Archbishop Atonius Aziz of the Catholic Church in Gaza said the decision will prevent a repetition of sectarian incidents such as that in Atfih.

Karim Kamal, a researcher of political and Coptic affairs and head of the General Federation of Copts for the Nation, described the letter addressed by the Ministry of Housing to governorate authorities instructing them not to close down churches that are awaiting licences as “an important step towards the application of the law on the construction of churches”.

He pointed out that the real problem did not lie with governors, the Ministry of Housing, the Interior Ministry or the government in general but with “the way in which extremists control a number of rural villages in Upper Egypt and elsewhere. These extremists would fabricate problems related to small rural churches in response to which security agencies closed them down for fear of further disruptions.”

The solution, he says, is for the government and security agencies to “impose their authority on all small villages and to abolish unofficial local councils”.

In a related development, sources say the Coptic Orthodox Church has obtained official approval for the construction of a new church in the 15 May suburb of Helwan. The church will be called the Martyrs of Helwan in commemoration of the victims of the recent attack against the Mar Mina Church in Helwan.

The church is to be constructed above the graves of the Mar Mina martyrs and the tomb of Pope Cyril VI.

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