Egypt’s Social Solidarity Minister Nevin el Qabbaj has made controversial statements on replacing churches in densely populated places in the North African nation.
On Sunday, Qabbaj told Al Arabiya channel that the state is in the process of reviewing the conditions of the old churches, and the matter is not related to legalization only, but also extends to closing churches and replacing them with new ones.
Qabbaj’s statements came against the backdrop of grief gripping Egypt since Sunday morning when a fire broke out at a packed church, killing 41 people, the majority of whom were children, and leaving many others injured.
The blaze started just before 9 a.m. in the Abu Sifin church in the city of Giza where about up to 1,000 people had gathered.
“A field monitoring of the conditions of churches is being carried out with great sensitivity,” Qabbaj told Al Arabiya.
Reverend Michael Antoun, Vice-Chairman of the committee formed to study the situation of churches by the Egyptian cabinet, confirmed that the idea of replacing churches “wasn’t mentioned in any meeting of the committee since its formation.”
“The body entrusted with this matter is the Orthodox Patriarchate and the Episcopalians,” the priest confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the “Ministry of Social Solidarity is responsible for disbursing compensation to victims, and is not concerned when it comes to where churches are found.”
In her statements, Qabbaj said that Abu Sifin church was one of the old churches, and it was not secured, which makes it impossible to legalize its conditions.
“The situation of the church is illogical, and it is located in a densely populated area; in an alley and not in a street,” said Qabbaj, adding that the church’s location had made it difficult for ambulances and first responders to reach the scene.
According to Qabbaj, the inaccessibility of the church to ambulances had caused an increase in the number of victims.
On the other hand, Antoun stressed that “Abu Sifin Church is one of the churches that have already been legalized, taking into account the availability of all safety conditions.”