World News: Egypt Softens Restrictions on Repairing Churches

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Christian churches in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country, will be able to carry out long-delayed facility repairs thanks to a recent decree by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The decree came in response to appeals from Egypt’s Christian community, which says its 7-10 million members are systematically discriminated against because they are a religious minority. Under the new decree, the government now has 30 days during which to approve church requests for renovations and governors must justify a rejection.

The Egyptian government had approved only 12 requests for church-related construction, the U.S. State Department said in its 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.

Jubilee Campaign, an interdenominational Christian human rights group, said that militant Muslims occasionally set up makeshift mosques near the site of planned churches or beside churches in need of repair, thereby giving the government a legal pretext for preventing construction or repair.

Safwat El Baiady, president of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, told Christian news agency Compass Direct that the decree “will solve almost 80 percent of our problems [with] rebuilding old churches, but we have to be very frank: It doesn’t solve all our problems.” (RNS)

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