President Abdel Fattah al Sisi confirmed Egypt’s initiative for constructing a church in every newly built city saying, “Where there is a mosque, there must also be a church. And if the church to be built will be attended by even only 100 people, it must be built anyway.” The country’s urban development program includes regulations that a church must be constructed as part of city planning.
These churches are not subject to the 2016 law that regulates non-Muslim worship and mandates that all churches receive permission for renovations, building and demolition. Though the presidential announcement and commitment to church building was celebrated by the Orthodox and evangelical communities across the country, the new church construction has one major downfall.
Whether intended or not, the new regulation severely limits and poses threats to Egypt’s Muslim Background Believers (MBBs). Al-Sisi continued his statements above adding, “so no one will have to meet in an apartment and present that private house as a church.” MBBs are generally unable to enter normal, clearly identified churches for fear of persecution from their Muslim community or families. Instead, MBBs and those seeking to share the Gospel with their Muslim neighbors utilize house churches, meeting in homes. If those in new cities experience crackdowns on house churches when church buildings already exist, MBBs could become less common or driven to surrounding areas where the house churches are still unregulated.
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Since the ratification of the 2016 law, the committee legalizing Christian places of worship has met 20 times and provided permits for 1,958 buildings. Thousands of buildings are still awaiting their permits with many more still seeking renovation permission.
The new presidential pronouncement aroused positive comments from representatives of Churches and ecclesial communities present in Egypt. Among others, Andrea Zaki, President of the evangelical community in Egypt, pointed out that “the construction of places of worship during the era of President al Sisi has assumed national importance, and will not be forgotten in the history of modern Egypt”.