Egypt: “A Church for Every Mosque”

March 16, 2022
A church in Alexandria

In the land of the Pharaohs, newly built cities will have to include the construction of a church in the urban project and the master plans, even if this Christian place of worship will be frequented and used by a small number of baptized.

This is the particularly strong affirmation made by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, during a recent meeting with members of the government in charge of issues related to the massive urbanization plans implemented by the Egyptian political leaders on 2 March 2022.

“Where there is a mosque, there must also be a church,” the President said. “If the church to be built is to be attended by even 100 people, it must be built. No one should meet in an apartment and present that private setting as a church.”

Thus, within the framework of the intensive urban development program launched in Egypt, each new district built according to the guidelines of the civil authorities will have its own church.

The Ten Rules

Until 2016, the construction of new Christian places of worship was still conditioned and in fact hindered by the “Ten Rules” added in 1934 to Ottoman legislation by the Ministry of the Interior, which notably prohibited the construction of new churches in proximity to schools, canals, government buildings, railways, and residential areas.

In many cases, the strict application of these rules prevented the construction of churches in towns and villages inhabited by Christians, especially in rural areas of Upper Egypt.

In the decades following the imposition of the “Ten Rules,” many churches and chapels were built without permission throughout Egypt. These buildings, erected by local Christian communities without legal permits, continue to serve as a pretext for troublemakers to foment violence.

Legalization of Unauthorized Constructions

The new law on places of worship, ratified by the Egyptian Parliament in August 2016, has started a methodical process of legalizing these Christian places of worship that were built in the past without the required permits.

The government commission created for this purpose met twenty times to give approval each time for the legal regularization of churches and buildings that were previously considered totally or partially unauthorized by law.

So far, 1,958 churches, buildings dependent on a church and as well as auxiliary service buildings, built before the 2016 law, have been tolerated and regularized after verification of their conformity with the standards set by the new law on construction places of worship.

Reactions from Religious Leaders

The new presidential statement received positive feedback from representatives of churches and church communities in Egypt. They praised this gesture which will count in the history of Egypt.

These guidelines, now promoted by the Egyptian political authorities, are important in light of the many problems and disputes that have arisen in the past regarding the construction of new churches. Problems and disputes that may have gone as far as the destruction of the building.

According to the Sunnis, in Egypt Christians make up no more than 2% of the population. According to the Egyptian authorities, the they make up 10%. According to Christians, this proportion is between 15 and 20% — 93% of them are Orthodox Copts, and less than 5% are Catholics.

These new churches will therefore mainly benefit the Coptic Orthodox. It remains to be seen whether Catholics will be able to obtain a church of their own in these new urban plans.