Egypt’s Coptic Church reaches agreement with govt on draft churches law

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church says it has reached a concord with the government over a long-awaited draft law on the building and restoration of churches.
A statement by the church came days after it criticised what it called “unacceptable amendments” and “impractical additions” made by the government to the draft bill, which was jointly drafted by Egyptian churches.
But following an extensive meeting of 105 of its bishops Wednesday, and recent discussions with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismael, the church says it now sees eye to eye with the government on the matter.
“Following amendments introduced recently and answers provided to [our] questions and inquires … the Holy Synod announces, in good faith, reaching a compromise formula [of the law] with government representatives,” the church said in a statement early Thursday.
The 10-article law is now expected to be sent to the cabinet for approval, then referred to parliament for final ratification.
The Church says it hopes the bill will prove a “step forward,” adding that it is looking forward to seeing the legislation made “effective and respecting of others” in the first years of its application.
Egyptian Christians, estimated to make up over 10 percent of the country’s 90 million population, have long struggled to obtain the official permits required to build churches, with the process at times taking years.
Copts hope the new law will combat preceived discrimination in dealing with Muslim and Christian houses of worship.
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had said that successive governments have, since regulations introduced in 1934, adopted “crippling” conditions for church construction, but stated he hopes the new law will streamline the process and cut out bureaucracy.
According to official statistics from 2011, Egypt has 2,869 churches and over 108,000 mosques.
Dozens of churches were torched on the back of political turmoil unleashed by the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi. The damaged churches are being renovated by the country’s armed forces.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/241632/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts-Coptic-Church-reaches-agreement-with-govt-o.aspx

Govt fully coordinating with Church on draft church building law: Egypt’s PM

Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said Tuesday the government is in “constant coordination” with the Coptic Orthodox Church on the drafting of the church building law, state news agency MENA reported.
The long-awaited bill is expected by Coptic Christians to put an end to long-standing bureaucratic obstacles that stymie the building and restoration of churches.
The cabinet was meant to finalise the law last week to present to parliament by 21 August, but a stalemate was reached when the government proposed new additions to the bill, only to be rejected by the Church.
The bill has been criticised for keeping the authority to grant permits for the building and restoration of churches in the hands of governors in each province.
Ismail, who met with Pope Tawadros on Monday night, said the government is in talks with the Church around the clock to finalise the bill, which then would be reviewed and voted on by parliament.
There are no recent official figures on the number of Christians in Egypt, but many estimates put the figure at around 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 91 million. The Church says the number of Christians is substantially higher.
http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/241495/Egypt/Politics-/Govt-fully-coordinating-with-Church-on-draft-churc.aspx

Egyptian cabinet approves church building bill following ‘full consensus’ with churches

Egypt’s cabinet has approved a draft bill on church building and restoration in ”full consensus” with representatives of the country’s three major churches, according to a cabinet statement released on Thursday.
The 10-article bill–which had been the subject of earlier disagreements–is to be sent to the State Council then referred to parliament for a vote.
Earlier on Thursday, the Coptic Orthodox Church said it had reached a concord with the government over the long-awaited draft law.
The statement by the church came days after it criticised what it called “unacceptable amendments” and “impractical additions” made by the government to the draft bill, which was jointly drafted by Egyptian churches.
On Thursday, the Coptic Church announced it has reached an agreement following an extensive meeting of 105 of its bishops on Wednesday, and recent discussions with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi and Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.
“Following amendments introduced recently and an answer provided to (our) questions and inquires … the Holy Synod announces, in good faith, that it has reached a compromise formula (on the law) with government representatives,” the church said in a statement early on Thursday.
The Coptic Church said it hopes the bill will prove a “step forward,” adding that it is looking forward to seeing the legislation made “effective and respecting of others” in the first years of its application.
Egyptian Christians, estimated to make up around 10 percent of the country’s 90 million population, have long struggled to obtain the official permits required to build churches, with the process at times taking years.
Due to the restrictions, some congregations have been forced to build unlicenced churches or carry out their religious practices in buildings that have not been designated for religious use.
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had said weeks ago that successive governments have, since regulations introduced in 1934, adopted “crippling” conditions for church construction, but stated he hopes the new law will streamline the process and cut out bureaucracy.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/241689/Egypt/Politics-/Egyptian-cabinet-approves-church-building-bill-fol.aspx

Egypt’s Christians may have to wait longer for church building reform as bill stalls

Egyptian Christians are tensely awaiting the passage of a governmental bill that would end decades-long obstacles to the restoration and building of churches in Egypt.
However, although 14 versions of the draft laws were discussed over the past two years with representatives of the country’s three churches, Christians might have to wait even longer.
The cabinet has once again failed to present a convincing bill to church representatives, as the latest version includes amendments that the Coptic Orthodox Church – which represents 90 percent of the country’s nine million-plus Christians – deems inacceptable.
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail met with Pope Tawadros on Monday night and said the government is in “constant coordination” with the Church to finalise the bill, which then would be reviewed and voted on by parliament.
On Thursday, the spokesperson of the Coptic Orthodox Church criticised the Egyptian cabinet in an official statement, stressing that the Church was “surprised by unacceptable amendments” and “impractical additions” made by the government to the draft bill.
It remains unclear what amendments the government has added to the bill, which had previously been approved by the three Christian denominations, as Church representatives have not disclosed information about the additions, stressing that the issue was still subject to talks.
The Coptic Church did say, however, that the amendments “pose a threat to Egyptian national unity due to the twists and obstacles that such amendments hold.”
The church spokesman said that the draft bill was still under discussion, adding that it needs a high sense of patriotism” for the sake of the country’s future and the safety of its unity.
The Evangelical Church also issued a statement on Thursday stating that it was following the discussion on the draft law.
Although the Evangelical Church did not directly criticise the new amendments, it did say that it hoped the government would take into consideration the concerns expressed by Egyptian churches.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Magdy El-Agaty commented in press statements on the Coptic Church’s announcements, saying that the amendments by the cabinet do not “threaten national unity” as claimed by the Coptic Church.
“We are keen on Egyptian national unity, it is the main engine leading us in the steps that we are taking,” El-Agaty said.
He did not provide information on the amendments, stressing that the government was still holding discussions about the bill with involved parties.
The deputy head of the human rights committee in the Egyptian parliament, Margaret Azer, criticised the cabinet in earlier press statements for backtracking on what had been agreed on earlier between the cabinet and the churches by adding a new article to the eight-article bill.
Azer pointed out that the Church was well aware of concerns of national interest that the state may have, but that it has the right to review amendments made by the government that could cause paralysis in the issuing of the law.
On Friday, the Coordinating Group on Citizenship and Civil Forces – which includes intellectuals, human rights advocates and several Coptic activists – said that Church representatives were being “pressured” to accept a bill that would “lead to the return of crisis.”
The group called for the government to hold “societal discussions” on the law, even if this would lead to the postponing of the law being issued till the next parliamentary session.
“If the government insists on moving forward with what it wants despite what many forces have warned, the Egyptian president should interfere to suspend the issue as part of his responsibility to protect the unity of the nation and the rights of the people,” the statement by the group concluded.
Some experts speculate that the amendments added by the government state that security officials must sign off on the building of churches, likely due to concerns regarding the possible reactions from ultra-conservative Islamist groups if a more liberal bill passes.
“We are facing a real challenge. Does the state want to be a secular state as it stipulates in its constitution or does it want to be a religious one that seeks to satisfy a certain religious body or group like the Salafists?” researcher Ishak Ibrahim from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said to Ahram Online.
“We want a clear answer,” he added.
Ibrahim believes that “if the state wants the bill to pass, it will pass – as [the government] is the one currently holding all powers – without concern over any response by Salafists or any Islamist dissent,” adding that the issue was not about the bill itself, but rather the extent to which the state is ready to defend the rights of Copts guaranteed by the constitution.
“The Church is in an unenviable position, especially since it had previously approved a first draft of the bill despite growing criticism from both Muslims and Christians of its articles.
Now, the Church can no longer compromise,” Ibrahim said.
Government vs parliament
A new round of conflict is also looming as MPs introduce another bill also addressing the issue of church construction, just as the cabinet’s bill is set to be discussed by the House of Representatives.
In late July, the liberal Free Egyptians Party said it was pushing for a draft proposal on the construction of churches.
Article 235 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution states that the House of Representatives shall issue a law regulating the building and renovating of churches in its first legislative term after the constitution comes into effect, guaranteeing Christians the freedom to practice their religious rituals.
The Free Egyptians Party released a draft bill of 18 articles in July, separate from the cabinet’s current nine-article bill.
The bill drafted by the party and a number of individual parliamentary members was sent to a joint committee that includes a number of parliamentary committees, including the constitutional and legislative affairs, religion and endowments, and housing committees.
According to the party’s spokesman, Shehab Waguih, the party’s MPs were not aware of the government’s efforts to submit a different bill on the issue.
Parliamentary affairs minister El-Agaty said in press statements last week that the governmental bill would be up for discussion in the House on 21 August, but the new conflict has stalled progress and no discussion has taken place.
According to a leaked copy of the pre-amendment government bill, seven out of the eight articles address the issue of the building and reconstruction of churches, while one article addresses the legalisation-related adjustments to already established churches.
The governmental bill stipulates a four-month deadline for local governors to respond to any request for a church building licence.
The Free Egyptians Party’s proposed bill – which would also give governors the authority to approve or reject the building of churches – adds that that if the governor does not respond to the request within four months, the request is considered automatically approved.
The party’s bill adds that a legal representative of the Church would have the right to appeal the rejection of a building request in accordance with State Council laws, including punishing through jail terms anyone who obstructs the building process. It is not clear if this right to appeal is granted in the government’s bill.
Officials have clashed over which is the superior bill, now with reports that the liberal Wafd Party, the country’s oldest political party, is pushing for their own law.
“Anyone coming forward with a bill would say his is better, but if you ask me personally, ours is definitely better,” MP Alaa Abed, the head of the Free Egyptian Party’s parliamentary bloc, told Ahram Online.
Abed says that a “practice of democracy” will decide the issue, with the bills being introduced for discussion and voting on the House floor.
He suggested that a merging of the two draft bills may take place in the House when the issue is put to a vote.
“Whether PMs decide to vote on our bill or the government’s, there will be no grudge. It is all a matter of democracy,” he adds.
He asserted that 90 percent of churches had violations, adding that the main point behind the bill – whether the government’s or his party’s – is to regulate the building and renovation process, with Church officials knowing their rights and duties.
“We want a state of law and order, and we aim through our bill to see an improved relationship between churches and state apparatuses,” Abed says.
Both the party and the cabinet have said that their representatives have held “societal discussions” with Coptic representatives over their two bills, with the government’s pre-amendment bill signed off on by Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical church representatives two weeks ago.
The future of the law is so far unclear, with growing divisions and conflicts muddying the waters.
Prior to the current conflict over the government bill, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II had said in press statements that successive governments have, since regulations introduced in 1934, adopted “crippling” conditions for church construction, but stated that he hopes the new law will streamline the process.
Due to the restrictions, some congregations have been forced to build unlicensed churches or carry out their religious practices in buildings that have not been designated for religious use.
Earlier this month, the US State Department has hailed the efforts of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to protect the Christians rights though admitting they still face enormous challenges.
“The Copts in Egypt still face significant challenges. However, President al-Sisi has…taken a very public position that the Copt community needs to be protected,” David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom said in its 2015 annual report.
El-Sisi’s paid two visits to Christmas mass since he came to office in 2014 and boosted the efforts to rebuild many churches that were destroyed in the violence following the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/151/239353/Egypt/Features/Egypts-Christians-may-have-to-wait-longer-for-chur.aspx

Coptic Church says amendments to church building law ‘threaten national unity’

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church and the Evangelical Church issued statements on Thursday slamming proposed amendments to the long-awaited church building draft law after Church officials met with state representatives on Wednesday at the cabinet headquarters.
“The Church was surprised to find unacceptable amendments,” said the Coptic Orthodox Church in its statement.
Although it did not reveal the nature of these amendments, the Church described them “impractical,” and said that they contain “complexities and obstacles” that could pose a danger to national unity, “with no consideration for the citizenship or patriotism of Egyptian Copts.”
Egyptian Christians have long struggled to obtain permits required to build churches, facing tough regulations and time-consuming red tape.
Many are hoping that the new eight-article bill would loosen these regulations and facilitate the building of churches, as it would set a limit of four months to process requests to build or renovate churches.
The government-drafted law would also designate any building where Christian rituals and services are held as a “licensed church.”
The Coptic Church said following the Wednesday meeting that the draft law was still being discussed.
The Evangelical Church also issued a statement on Thursday stating that it was following the discussion about the draft law.
Although the Evangelical Church did not directly criticise the new amendments, it did say that it hoped the government would take into consideration the concerns expressed by Egyptian churches.
Legal and parliamentary affairs minister Magdy El-Agati confirmed in media statements that all the objections and remarks about the draft bill are being considered by the government.
However, he dismissed the notion that any part of the amendments threatened national unity.
The talks between representatives from Egyptian churches and the cabinet will continue on Wednesday in another meeting.
Egyptian Christians make up roughly 10 percent of the country’s population of 90 million.
According to official figures from 2011, Egypt has 2,869 churches and over 108,000 mosques.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/239184/Egypt/Politics-/Coptic-Church-says-amendments-to-church-building-l.aspx

All Egyptians are equal under the constitution: Sisi to Coptic pope following sectarian attacks

Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi told the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church Pope Tawadros II on Thursday that all Egyptians are equal in their rights and duties in accordance with the constitution during a meeting held in the wake of recent sectarian attacks in Upper Egypt.
Last week, Muslim assailants set ablaze Christian homes in the village of Abu Yacoub in Minya over a rumour that a Christian intended to turn a kindergarten into a church.
Also last week, a Muslim mob stabbed a Christian to death in Minya’s Tahna village during a street dispute.
The two incidents were the latest in a string of incidents involving attacks on Christians in Upper Egypt in the past month.
Presidency spokesman Alaa Youssef said in a statement that El-Sisi stressed during the meeting with the pope the importance of maintaining unity among all Egyptians.
The Egyptian president praised the “wise and patriotic” spirit that Egyptian Christians have displayed in dealing with challenges throughout the past few years, and warned of the danger posed by those who would use religion as a tool for division or to foster extremist ideas.
El-Sisi also praised efforts of the Egyptian Family House, a semi-official group of Muslim and Christian leaders who promote peaceful coexistence, and stressed the importance of increased cooperation between Al-Azhar and the Coptic Church.
He added that these “individual incidents” should not damage the good relations among Egyptians.
Following the meeting, the Coptic Orthodox Church released a statement where Pope Tawadros II expressed his gratitude to the Egyptian president for inviting him to the meeting.
According to the Church, the pope told El-Sisi that all citizens should stand together to work for the country’s interests and accomplish the aspirations and hopes of the Egyptian people.
Last week, El-Sisi warned of anyone attempting to drive a wedge between Egyptians and vowed to hold violators accountable.
In May, Muslim villagers torched seven Christian homes and assaulted a Christian man’s elderly mother in Minya’s El-Karm village, parading her naked in public. The assault was sparked by rumours that the man was having an illicit relationship with a Muslim woman.
El-Sisi asked the mother to “not be angered” by what happened to her, promising that those responsible would be brought to justice.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/236314/Egypt/Politics-/All-Egyptians-are-equal-under-the-constitution-Sis.aspx

Egypt’s Coptic pope warns of ‘danger’ following recent attacks against Christians

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Tawadros told a parliamentary committee on Sunday that the country’s legacy of religious unity is currently being “defaced” in the wake of sectarian attacks against Christians in Upper Egypt.
“The incidents we heard about are very painful. On my part, I’m patient and enduring, but there have been incidents that warn of danger,” a Coptic Church statement quoted the pope as saying.
The pope made his comments after he met with a parliamentary delegation which was composed of members of parliament’ Committee on Religious Affairs and the Support Egypt bloc at Cairo’s Al-Abbasiya Cathedral.
The pope cited a report compiled by the church showing that in the past three years there have been 37 attacks on Christians; an average of one attack per month.
Last week, Muslim assailants set ablaze Christian homes in the village of Abu Yacoub in Minya over a rumour that a Christian intended to turn a kindergarten into a church.
Also last week, a Muslim mob stabbed a Christian to death in the village of Tahna – also in Minya – during a street argument.
In May, Muslim villagers torched seven homes of Christians and assaulted a Christian man’s elderly mother in Minya’s El-Karm village, stripping her and parading her naked in public. The assault was sparked by rumours that the man was having an illicit relationship with a Muslim woman.
The delegation also discussed a draft law on the construction of houses of worship to be presented to parliament in the next few weeks.
Saad El-Gamal, the head of the Support Egypt coalition, praised the pope’s “wisdom” and described it as a “safety valve for this nation.”
El-Gamal praised Pope Tawadros citing his 2013 patriotic statement of “a homeland without churches is better than churches without a homelabd,” following the torching and ransacking of churches by supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
El-Gamal said the religion committee is currently preparing a law that would criminalise sectarian attacks as “crimes against national unity.”
The head of the committee Osama El-Abd said that work must be put in to “build our modern state in the face of discord.”
“I have Christian friends, we are partners in [business], and they have never harassed me or subjected me to injustice,” El-Abd said in his speech in front of the parliamentary and church delegations.
Following the sectarian attacks, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi urged unity between Egyptians, saying Christians and Muslims are equal in their rights and duties.
“Whoever has committed wrongdoing will be held to account by the law,” he said.
There are no official figures on the number of Christians in Egypt, but informal numbers suggest that Christians make up around 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s population of 91 million.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/234958/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts-Coptic-pope-warns-of-danger-following-recen.aspx

Pope Tawadros warns Egyptians not to allow anyone to affect national unity after Minya attacks

Pope Tawadros II, head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, warned Thursday that Egyptians should not allow anyone to exploit recent events and affect national unity in reference to a recent series of violent sectarian attacks in the country’s south.
“We should not give the opportunity to those who exploit the events in a society which has 90 million people, and suffers from financial difficulties and shortage in financial resources, to affect our national unity because their goal is the destruction of our country,” the Pope said.
In a statement after a meeting with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi following a military graduation ceremony, the Pope said that El-Sisi highlighted the importance of the participation of all segments of society in creating a unifying culture against “evil forces”.
The Pope also said that the President stressed that whoever violates the law in this regard will be held accountable.
In his speech during a military graduation ceremony earlier Thursday, the president warned against attempts to drive a wedge between Egyptians and vowed to punish those responsible for violent attacks, urging national unity between Egyptians.
His comments come days after a Muslim mob stabbed a Coptic Christian to death during a street argument in the southern governorate of Minya.
On Saturday, a group of Muslims attacked and set ablaze houses of Christians in the village of Abu-Yacoub, also in Minya, after acting upon a rumour that a Christian intended to turn a kindergarten into a church. At least 14 people were arrested over the assault.
In May, Muslim villagers torched seven homes of Christians and assaulted a Christian man’s elderly mother, parading her naked in public. The assault in Minya’s El-Karm village was sparked by rumours that the man was having an illicit relationship with a Muslim woman.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million, according to unofficial data.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/233763/Egypt/Politics-/Pope-Tawadros-warns-Egyptians-not-to-allow-anyone-.aspx

‘Consolations are not enough’ says Minya bishop after Sunday sectarian violence

Anger is mounting amongst Minya’s Copts after two incidents of sectarian violence, Bishop Macarius of Minya said in statements he made to Ahram Arabic website on Tuesday.”Anger is mounting and authorities are taking steps too late,” the Coptic Bishop warned.

“Consolations are not enough,” he added when commenting on the statement made by Egypt’s Grand Mufti Shawky Allam, who called on citizens to practice ‘self-restraint’.

On Sunday, families of two priests in the Tahna El-Jabal village were attacked by assailants wielding knives and batons killing a 27-year-old man and injuring three others, including a woman.

According to eyewitnesses, the attack started as an argument between young Muslim men and Christian children over right of way on the narrow streets of the village. The disputing parties then involved the families of the Christian children, including the son of the local church’s pastor.

In May, Muslim villagers set ablaze seven Christian homes and assaulted a Christian man’s elderly mother, parading her naked in public. The assault in in Minya’s El-Karm village was sparked by rumours that the man was having an illicit relationship with a Muslim woman.

Incidences of sectarian violence have frequently been reported over the past years. Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 90 million, have long complained of discrimination and sectarian attacks in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country.

source :

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/233594/Egypt/Politics-/Consolations-are-not-enough-says-Minya-bishop-afte.aspx

Coptic Christian priest killed in Egypt’s North Sinai

The Priest of St George Church was killed in North Sinai earlier Thursday.

A Coptic Christian priest was killed earlier Thursday in North Sinai, Egypt’s interior ministry announced.

Reverand Rofael Moussa, the priest of St George Church in Al-Arish, was killed early morning, shot down by a group of unknown assailants, the ministry said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

Moussa was fixing his car when he was shot, the statement added.

The murder and gunmen are currently being investigated by authorities.

The Islamic State group’s Egyptian affiliate claimed responsibility for the murder in a statement posted online, accusing the priest of “fighting Islam.”

The Egyptian Orthodox Church mourned the slain priest and condemned his murder.

In July 2013, following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, gunmen also killed another Coptic Christian priest in Al-Arish.

Egypt’s security forces are fighting a decade-long Islamist insurgency in parts of North Sinai, which has spiked since 2013.

Christian citizens in North Sinai have been a target for militants, especially in Al-Arish.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/232215.aspx