Egypt’s Cabinet approved recommendations made by a review committee to confirm the legal status of 53 churches and associated service buildings out of 3,730 requests submitted, the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper reported on Wednesday.
This is the first group of churches to be legalized since the committee stopped receiving requests last September.
“The committee will need 30 years to look into all of the requests it received,” said Ishaq Ibrahim, researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), adding that the committee has been “slow.”
Some 3,730 requests for review were submitted to the committee by the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches in Egypt, according to EIPR. The status of these buildings will be determined once it is clear what the legal status of the land they are built on is, and when all matters relating to civil protection have been dealt with, according to the committee.
Ibrahim said none of the churches he has been in contact with since the committee made its decision on Wednesday were notified as to which buildings were legalized. He raised concerns that already existing church buildings may be closed, despite this being a breach of legislation on church building.
According to Egyptian law, “In all cases, it is not permitted to ban or prevent the practice of religious rituals and activities in any of the buildings referred to and any of their attached buildings for any reason.”
This has not historically been the case, however, as churches have been closed in the past due to their lack of permits, despite being on the list for status review. This included two churches in Kafr al-Wasleen and Qababat village in Atfih district in Giza, and a Church in Qarea al-Baydaa in Amria district in Alexandria.
Minya and Abu Qurqas Diocese released a statement regarding the closure of four churches in October 2017, which coincided with the closure of another church in Sohag that was on the list of churches awaiting legal settlement.
EIPR released a report in November 2017, criticising the formation of the review committee, claiming an over representation of security-minded individuals, in addition to secretive objectives and meetings, and the absence of any timeframe for legalising the status of churches.