Important factors for church building in Egypt

Date of Publishing April 2008
Authors Christian Fastenrath & Corin Kazanjian
Reviewer Dr. Amīn Makram cUbayd
Editors Cornelis Hulsman, (Editor-in-chief), Clare Turner (ed.)
Full Text churchbuildingpaper.pdf


The issue of church building in Egypt is among the most misunderstood and misreported subjects affecting Muslim-Christian relations. Reporting on the subject, regardless of who is doing the reporting, both in Egypt and the West, is highly one-sided. A lot of reporting is focused on building problems, difficulties in obtaining building permits and tensions that sometimes follow construction activities.

Christian Fastenrath and Corin Kazanjian worked very hard to systematically research ten years of Arab media reporting about the subject as well as the figures presented by the governors of Assiut and Qalyubiya.

The paper is the first known systematic work on church building in Egypt and seeks to give the reader in depth information about church building in Egypt which goes beyond the several newspaper articles that have reported on the topic and attempts to sharpen the reader's awareness of media reporting on this issue. The paper attempts to neutrally introduce all the relevant laws related to the existing legislation for the building of churches in Egypt in a coherent way and evaluate its relevance. All factors that influence church building in Egypt were placed in their proper context and their impact on the success or failure of church building projects was assessed.

Ten years of Egyptian media reporting revealed 330 articles on church building. It certainly shows that church building is high up on the agenda in discussions affecting Muslim-Christian relations. But just as in the Western media, in Egypt too the focus is mainly on problems that are most often associated with legal issues. The existing legislation was presented and it was possible to assess not only the quality of how laws are formulated but also of the execution thereof in two governorates.

The paper had far-reaching conclusions. It was possible to show that the relevance of the existing regulations and also the impact of new laws on church building should not be overestimated because the existence of a loophole for the administration or security body seems to be a common feature of the law for building houses of worship in general. These findings weaken the impact of the legal framework on church building considerably.

In addition, this report shows that more factors are at play than just Egyptian law. The paper highlights the importance of the social climate and relations in a society where relations are often more important than law. In particular the importance of good relationships with the local Muslim community and the local administration suggests a very positive conclusion. The best way for church congregations to realize church building projects as fast as possible and without problems is for them to have good relations with their neighbors.

It also shows that the Egyptian government, both national and local, has not done a very good job of making its role clear. The governors of Assiut and Qalyubiya have provided information about procedures and permits provided but regrettably the information from Qalyubiya lacks dates, thus making it hard to use. Information and figures from other governorates are needed in order to make comparisons possible to the highly one-sided presentation in much of the media. Therefore, suggestions for further research are also included in the paper.

This report has been presented to the National Council for Human Rights in the belief that they are the most competent body to deal with this issue at this moment in time.