Dozens of churches granted legal status in Egypt

A worker takes part in the renovation work of Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, October 28, 2018. Picture taken October 28, 2018.(Photo: Reuters/Shokry Hussein)

Dozens of churches have been granted legal status in Egypt. 

It reflects some improvement in the religious liberty situation of the country, where at one time applications for new churches had to be approved by security agencies.

A total of 74 new church buildings were approved by the Egyptian authorities on 2 April. 

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) welcomed the development but cautioned that the Church Construction Law under which the new buildings were legalised remains "discriminatory" because the requirements do not apply to Sunni Muslim houses of worship or those for other religious groups, like the Ahmadi, Baha'i and Shia communities. 

In some cases, the legalisation of the churches is on a conditional basis, with status being dependent on the fulfilment of additional requirements relating to construction, health and safety, and council taxes. 

CSW said that challenges remain for Egypt's Christians, with around 4,000 applications for legalising church buildings still outstanding. 

The organisation, which supports persecuted Christians, further warned that some churches are challenged by hostile Muslims even after obtaining permission to renovate or build new churches. 

In such cases, the churches are sometimes only able to move ahead with their plans after agreeing to alterations, like removing bells or towers, at "reconciliation meetings". 

Despite this, CSW said that the situation for Christians in the country has improved somewhat since President Sisi took office in 2013.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: "Whilst we warmly welcome the legalisation of further churches and commend the efforts of the government of Egypt to address historical injustices affecting the Christian community, we encourage the administration to continue on the path of reforming legislation and addressing societal attitudes and practices that continue to restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief."