Court bans demolition of churches in Egypt

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An Alexandria administrative court stopped on Monday an order to demolish a Church in Beheira governorate and banned the demolition of churches in Egypt.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Rashid had sold a piece of land two decades ago that included small shops and a church.

The new owner later decided to demolish the church, claiming it was abandoned, but the Coptic Orthodox Church intervened to challenge the demolition and entered a legal dispute to stop the order for another decade.

“The Coptic Orthodox Church has already offered to buy this church in Rashid,” Mounir Sami, the legal adviser of the Greek Patriarchate in Cairo, told Ahram Online.

Sami said that the sale of the church by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was legally invalid.

“Legally this church is considered of public benefit and should not be demolished or treated like [a common shop],” said Sami.

The administrative court stated in its ruling that churches cannot be demolished or used for anything other than worship.

It also added that the Greek Orthodox Church’s decision to sell the church for the purpose of demolition was “against public order.”

The court based its ruling on a previous ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that equated the legal status of churches to that of mosques.

Churches, like mosques, “are houses of worship that, once used for prayer, are no longer owned by people but are owned by God,” the court stated in its ruling 12 years ago.

The court consulted with Al-Azhar – the foremost religious authority in the Sunni Muslim world – regarding the status of churches under Islamic law.

Al-Azhar stated that non-Muslims living in majority Muslim lands had a right to protect their places of worship, therefore churches are not to be demolished and are to be rebuilt if they are.

Pope Tawdros II used the opinion of Al-Azhar to argue his case.

The principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation according to the second article of the 2014 Egyptian constitution.

The administrative court also demanded that parliament as the main legislating power in Egypt draft a long-awaited law on the building of houses of worship, which many believe would solve numerous problems related to the status of churches in the country.

source: Ahram Online