Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail is making strenuous efforts to hammer out an agreement over the final version of the law on the building and reconstruction of churches, taking into account concerns from Church authorities that unnacceptable amendments have been introduced by parliament.
"The state is keen on passing the law on the building and reconstruction of churches as soon as possible," said Ismail in a statement Tuesday, adding that efforts are continuing around the clock to reach an agreement on the final draft.
His statement was made in response to claims from the Church that unreasonable amendments have been added to the bill since Church authorities last read and approved the draft, undermining efforts to slacken constrains on church building and reconstruction.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi summoned Ismail on Monday for an urgent discussion of the bill in light of the Church's claims.
According to informed sources, Ismail spoke several times with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Magdy al-Agaty over the past 48 hours seeking to resolve the objections before the bill is discussed by the Cabinet next week and is subsequently referred to the State Council.
A number of amended articles on the bill have been rejected by the three Egyptian Church denominations, including changes in the conditions for approval of constructing and licensing church buildings.
According to informed sources, the Church objected in particular to Article 5 of the bill, which stipulates that churches cannot be built without the official approval of state institutions.
Spokesman for the Catholic Church, Rafik Graish suggested that the government has introduced amendments to the bill after having obtained the approval of church representatives on a former draft.
Graish said that in a recent meeting between the government and representatives of the Church, the part of Article 5 that stated there must be coordination with concerned authorities in order for the state to approve the building of a church had previously been removed from the bill.
That same condition is part of the current law, and has been the subject of repeated complaints from Coptic Christians, who claim that the phrase "concerned authorities" puts the verdict on whether or not a church can be built into the hands of anonymous bodies.
Leaders of the three church denominations held intensive meetings throughout Tuesday to establish a unified position regarding the bill. According to the sources, Pope Tawadros called the Coptic Orthodox Church's Holy Synod for an emergency meeting on Tuesday morning over the bill.
The Evangelical Church will also be holding an urgent General Council assembly to discuss the matter, denomination president Andrea Zaki said in a statement.
The long talked-of draft bill, allegedly between 8 to 10 articles long, has not been made public. Snippets of articles have been leaked at regular intervals after the Prime Minister meets to discuss the law with church, leading to speculation and debate on the topic in the media.
Former head of the Press Syndicate Makram Mohamed Ahmed has been vocal in ridiculing the way the government is handling the process. In an opinion article for the news portal of Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya, he called for the bill to be brought into the open rather than being settled behind closed doors, leading to the spread of rumors.
"We do not know whether it is true or false that the government made significant amendments to the bill after having discussed and approved it with the three church groups," he said.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm