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Egypt: 70 churches legalised as church and mosque demolished

by Heather Preston

The Egyptian Government has legalised 70 churches this week, meaning they cannot be prosecuted for being used for worship.

In Egypt, the construction and renovation of Christian churches is not permitted without first submitting a request to local government for approval.

On Tuesday 19th May, following a meeting of the Government Committee that oversees the legalisation of churches, the decision was issued to legalise 70 church buildings for Christian meetings.

This brings the total number of churches that have been legalised by the committee to 1,638.

Mena from Christian Solidarity Worldwide told Premier that while this progress is encouraging, there is still more to be done to ensure religious equality in the country. 

"It makes a huge different because you can't really function or use any building for worship purposes without a permit.

"It's a step in the right direction but it is still not enough, because it gives a message that Christians and Muslims are not equal - these restrictions don't apply to Muslims when they want to build or restore a mosque."

Despite these approvals, one church in the country was completely destroyed alongside a neighbouring mosque in Koum Al-Farag, Beheira a day later.

The building, used by the Coptic Church for ten years was destroyed by police following protests after the local priest added two floors to accommodate his growing congregation. 

Local Muslims also constructed a mosque next to the building a few years ago, hoping to prevent it from being legalised as a church.

According to an ancient Islamic tradition (or common law), churches are prevented from being formally recognised or displaying any Christian symbols if a mosque is built next to them.

To prevent further escalation, local authorities demolished both the church building and the mosque that was built next to it claiming they were both in violation of building laws. 14 Christians, including the local priest were arrested when they tried to stop the authorities from demolishing the building.

CSW is calling on the government to work with local authorities to address tensions between religious groups and transform societal attitudes towards religious minorities.

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