Egypt is scheduled to vote as early as next month on a law that would ease the country’s historic restrictions on church construction.
More than 160 years ago, the Ottoman Caliphate ordered that anyone who wanted to build a Christian church get the approval of the country’s ruler, then a sultan, now a president. At the time, it represented progress since for centuries building a church—not permitted under Islamic Sharia—was a rare occurrence.
The law stood for nearly 80 years before some administrative regulations were introduced—not to ease up on church building restrictions, but to make them even harder. Christians were required to gain the approval of local Muslims and to make sure the proposed church was at least 340 feet from the nearest mosque. They also couldn’t build near schools, village canals, railways, government offices, government facilities, or between residential areas.
That law still stands in the majority-Muslim country where Christians make up about 10 to 15 percent of the population of more than 90 million. Most belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
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