(Photo: Reuters / Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Building churches could get easier for Egypt’s Christians if new government proposals are given the go ahead.
Until now, church building has been hindered by a complicated process which involves receiving permission directly from the president.
Some Christians have waited years before receiving permission to build a new church.
According to Aid to the Church in Need, the government’s proposals would shorten the process considerably by having applications sent to the regional governor for a decision within three months.
Bishop Kyrillos Kamal William Samaan of Assiut has given his tentative support to the proposals.
“If these proposals come into law, it could mean that building churches will be almost on the same level as constructing mosques,” he said.
“It is a major step forward for the citizenship of Christians."
Bishop William went as far as to say that the proposals were “one of the first fruits” of the demonstrations that led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak.
“When the Christians demonstrated, they asked for their rights and the first right they demanded was the construction of churches," he said. “Everybody knows that this has been a big problem for the Christians. Many moderate people have recognized it.
“In fact more than 50 percent of the problems Christians face will be resolved if we can make progress on this issue.”
Christians are keeping a cautious eye on the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the autumn.
Despite assurances from the Islamic movement that the rights of Christians will be respected if it comes to power, Christians remain wary after deadly attacks by Muslims on Coptic Orthodox churches in Cairo last month.
Bishop William is optimistic that the hardliners will be sidelined.
He said: “Of course the Salafist continue to interfere but their campaign of slander cannot get the support of moderate Muslims who do not accept their complaints against Christians.
“We hold interfaith meetings during which speeches are presented by religious representatives. These presentations are intended to promote mutual respect cooperation.”