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THE CIVIL CONDUCT OF THE SCOTLAND INDEPENDENCE DEBATE

August 29, 2014

No one can argue, despite its few problems,  that the UK is a civilised country and can compete on that matter with any other country in the world.  Just follow the conduct of the debate and the whole business around Scotland independence.  I cannot think of any other country that has dealt with territorial issues and secession in such a democratic and peaceful way as the UK has.

In my opinion the credit goes to two:
1. The maturity of the 5 million Scottish people.
2. The tolerance and democratic principles of the English people who constitute 85% of the UK population.

As you admire the Brits for their democracy, maturity and tolerance, think of how other countries treat their national minorities – for example, think of Egypt!

COPTIC NATIONALISM AND CULTURAL AUTONOMY AND SELF-GOVERNMENT FOR THE COPTS

August 25, 2014

Coptic horsemanCoptic horseman. Coptic textile at Berlin Bode Museum.

 

 

When On Coptic Nationalism was launched back in 2011, we stated that Coptic nationalism works for the cultural revival of our nation. We continue to believe in that.

Coptic nationalism works for a civilian, secular democratic Egypt for all Egyptians regardless of religion, sex, colour or nationality.  This means on a practical level:

  1. The establishment of a secular, civilian, democratic Egypt that is just for all. This simply means getting Political Islam out of politics in Egypt. Islamism cannot coexist with democracy, fraternity, equality and liberty in any country. Eventually, though not immediately, it also means the replacement of the military rule by a purely civilian one. This will have to wait until the Islamists are sufficiently weakened.[i]
  2. The guaranteeing of the individual (civil and political) rights of the Copts within Egypt.

But these are only about individual rights. We demand more than that and here we represent an advanced form of political thinking and vision from other Coptic activists: Coptic Nationalism works and agitates not only for the individual rights of the Copts but for their collective rights too: We work for the realisation of a significant cultural autonomy and self-government for the Copts. We do not seek a regional self-government as in no governorate do we see the Copts representing a majority – we, however, demand a wide non-territorial autonomy which has been tried and found successful in civilised states and a model satisfactory to the cultural needs of minorities. The Copts must possess a large degree of religious, educational and cultural autonomy; and for this to happen, a Coptic Cultural Council must be elected exclusively and democratically by all Copts; and it must possess: 1. exclusive legislative powers over religion, education and cultural matters related to the Copts; and 2. the right to represent the interests of the Copts to the state.

It’s not going to be easy but being difficult does not mean it’s impossible; least of all, it does not mean it’s not the right thing to do. As we said: He who dares win. The Copts must not fear thinking big. Self-government and autonomy must be the primary aim of any Coptic movement if it aims at protecting our identity, culture and heritage.

 

[i] While in 2011 we had hoped that a civilian democracy in Egypt could be established; the last three years have taught us that Egypt is not yet ready for democracy – the two existent competing powers are Islamism and the Military.

LOVELY COPTIC CHILD TUNIC WITH A HOOD

August 25, 2014

Hooded child tunic

I present this lovely hooded child tunic from Coptic Egypt which is dated from 430–620 AD which is kept at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Its medium is weave in purple-coloured, red-brown, and undyed wool on plain-weave ground of green wool; fringes in green and red-brown along the perimeter of the hood and lower edges. Its textile dimensions (Including sleeves and hood) are height, 89.1 cm; width, 101 cm.

Most of the tunics were found in Coptic cemeteries (the provenance of this tunic is unknown); and this one is kept in its original condition when it was found. It is lovely to imagine the Coptic child wearing this beautiful hooded tunic which can form a prototype for those who would like to launch a project to produce modern Coptic costumes.

 

 

 

 

COPTIC PAIR OF SHOES

August 25, 2014

 

Pair of shoes

In the A&V (Albert and Victoria) Museum in London, one can find this beautiful pair of shoes in the Medieval and Renaissance, room 8, case 14. It dates from ca. 300-500 AD and was made in Akhmim, Egypt. One can admire the beautiful workmanship of the Copts of that period. The Museum has this to say about it this exceptionally well preserved pair of shoes:

Physical description:

Flat shoes of leather, with a high front coming up to a double lobed extension, finishing at the heel with a high tab; on the vamp an additional small disc of leather; constructional sewing in linen. Perhaps originally of purple or red, extensively embellished with gold leaf; the disc-shaped motif on the vamp encloses eight smaller circles, these are further decorated with embroidered stars, the embroidery thread possibly of silk.

Method of making:

These shoes were made by a common Coptic shoemaking technique: turning. The Copts were evidently among the first to make use of this method of assemblage (‘turned work’) in which the upper and sole are sewn together and then the shoe is turned inside out (or reversed) so that the sewing is protected by being on the inside. There is also a rand round the heel seat with an extra leather thong down the upper heel seam. The red-dyed leather is from North Africa, which was renowned for its fine tanned leather. There are similarly shaped shoes with gold leaf decoration in different patterns in the V&A collection, in various degrees of degradation.

Social context:

For Christians, death was not an end, but rather a preparation for a new birth, so they wished to present themselves in their finest clothes at the moment of the resurrection of the body. For women, their burial clothes included hair covering and shoes. Albert Gayet described in detail in 1898 the dressed body and the footwear of a female corpse: ‘Red leather shoes with gold leather appliqués edged in blue leather with embossed gilding’.

 

BEAUTIFUL COPTIC TUNIC FROM AROUND THE ARAB INVASION OF EGYPT

August 24, 2014

tunic

The above Coptic wool tunic with tapestry weave (154 cm high 104.1 cm wide) is kept at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City. It dates from the 6th-7th century around the time of the Arab occupation of Egypt, and it comes from Ashmunein (Hermopolis Magna).

 

ON THE INTERFERENCE IN COPTIC FAMILY STATUS BY THE EGYPTIAN STATE

August 24, 2014

In 1955 President Nasser inaugurated the Family Status Law 462, by which he intended to limit Coptic autonomy and introduce unified family status law that was based on the opinion of the majority Muslims. Prior to that, Copts had their own law which governed their family status, the latest was issued in 1938 when Egypt was still liberal – that law was drafted by Copts and applied by Coptic courts run by the Coptic Community (milli) Council. The 1955 Law took away that prerogative from Coptic courts and gave it to national personal status courts which were run mainly by Muslim judges. By that it basically limited Coptic cultural autonomy and nationalised (by which you must think Arabised and Islamised) their family status. It was bound to do that since the Nasser’s government was led by Arabs and Muslims mainly, the majority of Egyptians were Muslims, the predominant cultural concepts of marriage and family were Muslim, and the Egyptian constitution stipulated that Islam was the religion of the State and, later in 1970 and 1981, the principles of Sharia were the main source of legislation. The reader must read the excellent article by Mr Adel Guindy to understand how the 1955 Law came to interfere in (and cause damage to) the Coptic family by meddling in the internal affairs of Copts in respect of marriage, divorce, custody, adoption, and inheritance.

Since then, Copts have been trying to resist the intrusion of Islam into their family affairs. This effort was established by Pope Cyril VI and followed by Pope Shenouda III: the latter issued a Papal Decree in 1971 asking the Clerical Council for Family Affairs (CCFA) to develop a draft law that involved all Christian denominations. This law was presented to the Egyptian Government in 1980 and then in 1998 but on the two occasions it was completely ignored.

No one should be surprised, since it’s not only the Islamists (who want to establish an Islamist state) who would like to destroy and weaken the Copts but many Egyptian Muslims and Arabs who are not necessarily in the same camp with the Islamists. This is a fact that must not escape our attention. In a previous article I wrote about another law which had devastating effects on the Copts and their autonomy. In it I wrote about Nasser’s abolition of the Coptic educational autonomy:

Nasser ended the era of Coptic schools which had been inaugurated by the great, Patriarch Cyril IV (1854 – 1863): in 1958, Nasser imposed on all private schools a curriculum which included Arabic, history and geography lessons that were designed to indoctrinate and Arabise pupils. Then in 1961, he nationalised these schools altogether – henceforth, no Coptic school existed: Copts could not teach their language, history or culture at school anymore; they had to receive school instruction that glorified Arabic, Arabs and Islam all the time. The control of Coptic education is no more in their hands, but in the hands of Arabs and Muslims. And so the Copts lost their educational independence, which they retained until Nasser took it away from them.

Both the 1955 Family Status Law and the 1958/1961 Education Law had only one objective (and effect), and that is to take away Coptic autonomy and give it to the Egyptian State which is run by the majority Muslims. In this way, they represent two notorious tools for the Arabisation and Islamisation of the Copts.

QUEST ARTICLE: FAMILY STATUS ISSUES AMONG EGYPT’S COPTS: A BRIEF OVERVIEW

August 23, 2014

BY: ADEL GUINDY, a political writer on Middle East affairs and a senior editor of the (Coptic) Egyptian weekly Watani. 2007.

NOTE: The article does not represent the views of On Coptic Nationalism

The following article discusses the impact of the Egyptian Family Status Law of 1955 (which is still in effect) on the country’s Coptic population. It provides a concise overview of these laws, especially in light of the dearth of resources in English on the topic. While the Family Status Law is considered part of the “civil” code of law, it still has religious elements, referring to the Shari’a as a basis for Muslims, and to the corresponding religious principles or regulations for each of the non-Muslim communities. However, due to the general constitutional stipulation “Islam is the religion of State and principles of Shari’a are the main source of legislation,” courts quite often ignore the law and rule based on Shari’a. Thus the situation is a reflection of the difficulties of being a non-Muslim minority in an “Islamic” country and society.

INTRODUCTION

In 1955, a family status law was applied to all Egyptians. While considered part of the “civil” code of law, it still has religious elements, referring to the Shari’a as a basis for Muslims, and to the corresponding religious principles or regulations for each of the non-Muslim communities. However, due to the general constitutional stipulation that “Islam is the religion of State and principles of Shari’a are the main source of legislation,” courts quite often ignore the law and rule based on Shari’a.

The legal marriage age in Egypt is a somewhat confusing matter due, in part, to contradictions between the age of majority according to civil law and according to the Shari’a. This in particular represents a serious loophole in the case of “forced conversions” of young Coptic women. Moreover, the conditions set by the law for divorce and remarriage are not always in line with the church’s teachings, generating many problems. While the conditions of child custody in the case of divorce are outlined in the law, if one spouse converts to Islam, the children are forced to follow the converting parent. In addition, Christians are barred from adopting children, since the Shari’a does not permit adoption.

Thus due to the Family Status Law, and more so its application, the Copts have become entangled in a number of problems. While a draft unified personal status law for Christians of all denominations was prepared in 1980 and further revised in 1998, it continues to collect dust, as the government has been reluctant to deal with it.

Prior to 1955, family status issues were handled by the various communities. In 1938, the Coptic Community (Melli) Council adopted an ordinance that outlined nine reasons to be considered for divorce. In 1955, however, Family Status Law 462 was adopted and applied to all Egyptians. Accordingly, the various community courts were abolished and were replaced by civil courts (personal status courts). Article 7 of the law stipulates the application of the religious basis for divorce (Shari’a for Muslims, and the corresponding religious principles or regulations for each of the non-Muslim communities), provided that both spouses belong to the same denomination (as will be discussed below). The non-Muslim communities include:

 

  • Coptic Orthodox, who currently represent over 90 percent of Christians in Egypt. “Official” estimates report that Christians make up six percent of Egypt’s population, while the generally accepted, “more realistic” estimates[1] place the figures at 12 to 15 percent of the country’s total population (or about 10 million).
  • Coptic Evangelicals (Protestant), representing four to six percent of Christians.
  • Coptic Catholics, representing one to two percent of Christians.
  • Other minorities belonging to churches with foreign origins, including Orthodox (Greek, Assyrian, Armenian, etc.), Catholic (Armenian, Caldian, Latin, Maronite, etc.), and Anglican. They represent about one percent of Christians.
  • Jews, with only a few hundred left.

 

MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE

Marriage

There is no strictly civil marriage law in Egypt. Rather, “standard” marriage procedures are “religious” and “civilian” at the same time. The authorized priest, for Christians, or the ma’zoun, for Muslims (literally “the authorized” imam), performs a religious ceremony and also acts as an agent for the state. The ma’zoun or priest issues a formal Act of Marriage and also completes a state register, which provides detailed information and lists witnesses. It is this formal registration that is of importance to the state, whereas the religious ceremony is considered a personal matter.

As state agents, it is the duty of the ma’zoun or priest to record basic legal details such as identity, age, consent, value of the dowry, etc. Certain conditions must also to be met. For example, in the case of Muslims, the bride-to-be cannot be under a marriage contract with another man. For Christians, however, neither party can be married or engaged. For the ma’zoun, a Christian woman is permitted to marry a Muslim man, but the reverse is forbidden. For the priest, both candidates must be Christians of the same confession (denomination).

Beyond these “standard” procedures, other practices have become increasingly common. The most widely talked about practice is the urfi marriage[2] (literally, “nominal” or “traditional”). While other marriage procedures require both registration and for it to be a public act, the urfi marriage only requires a single document (a “piece of paper”) be signed by the two partners in complete secrecy. Much debate has been generated in the media regarding the legitimacy of this practice (it is acceptable according to Islamic law, or Shari’a) and its increasing prevalence (although there are no figures available, its increasing popularity among youth and especially among university students has been reported). It is interesting to note that the media has repeatedly cited the existence of this phenomenon among Copts–even if it is rare. In the eyes of the Church, such a practice is considered adultery.

A restricted form of civil marriage, in the presence of a public notary, would be possible in the following circumstances: 1) Both partners are foreigners; 2) A foreigner marrying an Egyptian, though an Egyptian Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim; or 3) An Egyptian Muslim man marrying a non-Muslim Egyptian woman.

The matter of legal marriage age in Egypt is somewhat confusing. According to Article 44-2 of the Civil Law, the age of majority is 21 years. Article 2 of Child’s Law #1996-12, however, stipulates that a person is considered a child until the completion of 18 years. The Family Status Law sets the minimum marriage age at 18 for men and 16 for women. For those who have reached the minimum marriage age but have not yet reached the majority age, marriage is allowed with consent of the guardian. On the other hand, the Islamic religious authorities (al-Azhar) consider the age of maturity to be 16 years (for both sexes), and in some cases younger, since according to the Shari’a it is the age of puberty that is of importance (and this varies[3]). While this might not appear to be a major issue, indeed it is one of the most serious loopholes in the case of “forced conversions” of young women.

“Untying” the Knot

The termination of a civil act of marriage must be authorized by the state. The meaning of the term “divorce” differs for Muslims and Christians. For Muslims, it is a man’s prerogative and is according to his own will. The court will simply comply with the man’s will after verification that his intentions to divorce are true. The man can also revoke his divorce request and remain with his wife. Yet after a three such revocations, the marriage must be dissolved. He then cannot “remarry” his wife unless she goes through a consummated marriage to another man and then divorces him. A woman can seek divorce for a number of reasons, which are regulated by the Shari’a-based law. The court’s main role, in any case, becomes one of attributing rights to the separating spouses and their offspring.

A revision to the Family Status Law, promulgated as Law 2000-1 of January 2000, improved the conditions of divorce for women.[4] For example, it allowed women to resort to khul, a mechanism whereby she can obtain a divorce in return for ceding the mahr (dowry, or bridal gift), the mu’akhar (a sum usually paid if the husband initiates the divorce), and alimony.

For Christians in general, marriage–from a religious standpoint–cannot be broken by the single will of either spouse or by their combined wills (mutual consent), since it is a sacrament. For those interested in keeping communion with their own church, its consent must be sought, according to certain conditions. This consent becomes more critical if a divorcee (following a ruling by a civil personal status court) wishes to remarry within his or her church. If that church deems a divorce was not according to its teaching, remarriage will not be authorized. Thus, the individual is left with the option of remarrying in another church (usually Protestant, which is more lenient in that regard), after “converting” to the new denomination.

Generally speaking, according to Church doctrine, a marriage can be terminated through “annulment” or “dissolution.”[5] The term “divorce” is used in the courts and also in the Church when resulting from “adultery” (to be discussed in detail below).

For the Coptic Orthodox, Articles 50 to 58 of Law 462 stipulate the same nine points in the 1938 guidelines referred to above. The plaintiff may be granted divorce if his or her spouse commits or falls under one of the following categories[6]:

  • Adultery
  • Conversion to another religion.
  • Absence for a period of five consecutive years with no news of whereabouts.
  • Being judged and sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
  • Mental illness, a contagious illness, or impotence–with no recovery for at least three years.
  • Serious domestic violence.
  • Debauchery or immoral behavior.
  • Separation for at least three years as a result of untenable marital life.
  • Joining a monastic order.

Death would naturally liberate the surviving spouse to remarry without need for a court ruling. If the legitimacy of parenthood is called into question, the courts will deal this matter.

According to the same law, other matters such as alimony, custody, inheritance (or even the recently introduced possibility of khul) are dictated by the Shari’a and apply to everybody, irrespective of their religion or confession. Furthermore, if one spouse “converts” to another denomination (e.g. from Coptic Orthodox to Protestant), the Shari’a is applied in the case of divorce. The relevant article of the Law 2000-1 reads:

 

Court rulings are made according to the Personal Status and Endowment laws in application. When there is no specific text in these laws, the most agreed-upon opinions (jurisprudence) according to Imam Abu Hanifa are to be used. However, in family status disputes between non-Muslim Egyptians, united in denomination and confession, who had organized community courts up until 31 Dec. 1955, rulings are made according to their respective (religious) Law, without disturbing public order.[7]

While not specifically mentioned in that article, Shari’a is applied by the courts in the case that the couple was not united in denomination or when one (usually the party seeking the divorce) “converted” to another confession. This absurdity and more so its application by the courts creates a serious loophole.

THE REALITY

By the 1960s, it became clear that the civil courts had “liberally” applied the rules set in the 1955 law regarding Christian marriages–contrary to the spirit of trying to salvage the marriages as much as possible. Another important factor, which comes into play both directly and indirectly, was (and still is) the fact that some 98 percent of Egypt’s judges are Muslim.[8] Despite attempts to apply the law diligently, the predominant (Islamic) cultural concept regarding divorce inevitably leads to a tendency to grant divorce rather easily.

Then-Pope Kirollos (Cyril) VI of the Coptic Orthodox Church asked some of his bishops to examine the situation. Among these bishops was the current Pope Shenouda III. In 1971, shortly after ascending to St. Mark’s seat as the 117th successor, Pope Shenouda III issued Papal Decree No. 7. The decree ordered the Clerical Council for Family Affairs (CCFA) to make the rules stricter and to only grant permission to remarry in cases in which a court’s divorce ruling was essentially based on adultery.

It must be noted here that the Catholic Church does not approve divorce for any reason, even adultery. The Protestants, who are now relatively the most lenient about divorce, had until the early twentieth century prohibited divorce except in cases of adultery.

In practice, the Coptic Orthodox Church’s CCFA still reviewed the cases presented for divorce with a broader scope of discretion.[9] First, marriages could be “annulled” in cases of a major “fraud” discovered early on that would hinder normal marital life and thus expose the innocent spouse to the temptation of adultery. Examples of such cases would include if the husband were impotent, homosexual, or had a serious illness that his wife was not previously aware of.

“Dissolution,” allowed in cases of “death” or “adultery,” would not be limited to the literal meaning of the latter two terms. For example, the case of a spouse joining a monastic order (in reality almost unheard of) would “technically” be categorized under “death,” since a symbolic death prayer is recited upon becoming a monk or nun. Most of the nine points of the 1955 Law would still be directly or indirectly valid, with the emphasis instead on saving the marriage rather than facilitating divorce.

Nevertheless, problems arose after the rules were made stricter in 1971. It is estimated that thousands of spouses who were divorced by the civil courts are attempting to obtain permission to remarry within the Coptic Orthodox Church. Media sources have reported some 50,000 cases of civil divorce, while a knowledgeable family status lawyer[10] has estimated that there are approximately 12,000 cases pending of those seeking permission from the CCFA to remarry. In addition, he criticizes the bureaucratic, inefficient, and insensitive attitude of the Council, which has led to frustration among the concerned persons and families unable to reach reconciliation.

SITUATION OF CHILDREN

In Egypt, children are considered to be the father’s legitimate offspring, even if they are the product of “adultery.” In cases where the paternity is questionable or unclear, medical examinations (as of recently, including DNA tests) are performed. In the eyes of the Church, children are innocent and have the right to be baptized, even if they are born out of wedlock.

The conditions of child custody in the case of divorce are outlined in the Family Status Law, with the mother typically retaining custody until the child has reached 12 years of age, after which boys may join the father. However, if one spouse converts to Islam, this general rule is ignored.[11] In this case, the court usually rules that the children are obliged to follow the parent with the “more noble religion” (i.e., Islam). Thus, the child is forced to convert as well.

Under Islamic law, adoption in the usual sense of the word is not permitted. “Adopted” children must carry the name of their biological parents if known. If the biological parents are unknown, the Ministry of Social Affairs must choose a family name different from that of the adoptive parents. Adopted children.[12] are also forbidden from inheriting their adoptive parents’ estates unlike biological children. On the other hand, the draft Family Status Law for Christians (see below) allows couples who adopt to give the child the adoptive parents’ family name.

LEGAL INTIMIDATION

The Copts in Egypt are subject to various societal pressures, including in the areas of family status. There has been increasing intimidation from the judiciary system–supposedly the society’s guardians of justice. The examples previously cited relating to children caught up in cases of religious conversion are not unique.

It has often been said that the second article of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that the principles of Shari’a are the main source of legislation, is directed to the legislators. Yet the judiciary does not seem to take this stand.

A recent example serves to shed some light on the implications of this constitutional stipulation.[13] On February 23, 2007, the High Administrative Court, presided by Justice Muhammad al-Husayni, and including five other member judges (all Muslims), ruled in the case no. 13719/59 that following a divorce ruling by a civil family status court, the Coptic Orthodox Church was required to issue permission to remarry in the Church.[14] Beyond the paradox of the seeming interference in the Church’s teachings and rituals, the ruling stated that it was “based on Shari’a–considering that it was the general and public legal order whose application is obligatory.”

Many still remember the 1987 case in which an Egyptian judge ruled that polygamy was permissible for Christians. This highlights how the Coptic community finds itself forced to submit to Islamic Shari’a regulations.

LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT

In order to address the various family issues, work on a unified personal status law began in 1978, when the Coptic Church formulated a draft law for the Family Status of Christians to replace the relevant parts in the 1955 law. The draft was prepared by a committee of eight jurists: two from each of the Catholic and the Evangelical Churches, and four from the Coptic Orthodox Church. It was signed by the heads of all the churches in Egypt. In 1980, the draft was sent to the Ministry of Justice and the People’s Assembly (Parliament) for consideration. It collected dust for two decades until the issue resurfaced.

When the People’s Assembly announced in 1998 that it planned to discuss a new personal status law, Pope Shenouda III called upon the representatives of Egypt’s various churches to revive the project and update it with the necessary amendments. The (revised) draft consists of 146 items divided into five sections. The first section is devoted to issues such as engagement, the basis for and procedures of marriage, the nullification of the marriage contract, and the rights and duties of both spouses. The second explains financial commitments towards parents, children, and relatives.

The third section of the draft discusses the limits of parental responsibility and authority over children. The fourth deals with legitimate and illegitimate offspring. The fifth section discusses divorce, separation, and adoption issues.

In the chapter on divorce, the definition of adultery (as stated in draft Article 115) was expanded to include any act that would confidently indicate extramarital relations[15]:

  • The wife running off with a stranger or spending the night(s) away from home;
  • Letters sent to a third party indicating marital infidelity;
  • The “suspicious” presence of a stranger inside the family home;
  • A husband inciting his wife to commit adultery or debauchery;
  • Pregnancy that could not be attributed to the husband due to absence or illness;
  • Homosexuality.

For some, the draft could be described as a more restrictive substitute to the current legislation, which allows divorce in several cases in addition to adultery–the only cause mentioned in the Gospel. However, the churches differ on this matter, arguing that married couples must commit to the marriage contract. Family is considered priority and the fundamental component of society. Thus, its collapse would lead to the downfall of the entire community.

As aforementioned, according to the current Personal Status Law, Christian couples who belong to different churches (denominations) are subject to Shari’a if they take a personal status dispute to court. It is commonly believed that this has provided a way out for those seeking divorce, since they can simply convert to obtain a favorable ruling.

The proposed law adopts the principle of “the spouses are bound by the terms of the original contract.” If one spouse, for example, were to convert to another denomination or religion, he/she would still honor the other spouse’s rights according to the original rules. In other words, the Shari’a based rules would not apply.

The draft, hence, does not recognize conversion to another church as a reason for divorce if there is suspicion that it was used to facilitate divorce. If the two spouses are from the same church, then the new legislation will apply to them, even if one of them converts to another denomination.

In any case, the revised draft law has joined its predecessor in collecting dust as the authorities are still reluctant to legislate it.

Why has this law been shelved for so long? There is no clear answer. In Egypt, matters concerning the Copts are usually considered extremely sensitive. Hence, such issues are often ignored or handled with extreme care, because, as is often said, “the atmosphere does not allow it.” Some advance, as more concrete points, such issues as addressing adoption and the removal of Shari’a as a reference–as is the case currently–for spouses of differing denominations. However, such stipulations are not accepted by the religious majority.

Whether this proposed law is the right solution or not, most agree that ignoring the issue is unacceptable. Some argue for a purely civil marriage law, as in the West; but this is not expected to come any time soon due to public resistance, as this would allow inter-religious marriages and would grant equal rights to both men and women.

 

CONCLUSIONS

When it comes to family status issues, the Copts appear to be entangled in a number of problems. The current law, and more so its application; the stand of the traditional churches regarding divorce–considered by some to be too strict in principle as well as insensitive and inefficient in practice; and the apparent refusal of the government to issue a new draft law on family status for Christians all pose serious problems. A new law that would authorize purely civil marriages is not on the horizon for now or for the near future. However, some consider such a law–or some variation of it–a necessary and timely step.

NOTES

[1] Numerous articles and reports refer to the more realistic figure. Refer, for example, to: U.S. Department of State, Egypt: Country Report on Human Rights Practices – 2006, March 6, 2007, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78851.htm.

[2] Iman al-Qasir, “Urfi Marriage” (in Arabic), BBC Arabic.com, June 23, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/talking_point/newsid_4123000/4123258.stm.

[3] Faraj Ismail, “Opening the File of Accusations on Kidnapping and Islamization of Coptic Women” (in Arabic), al-Arabiya.net, December 26, 2005, http://www.alarabiya.net/Articles/2005/12/26/19832.htm.

[4] Amira Ibrahim, “Hope on the Horizon?,” al-Ahram Weekly, No. 420 (March 11-18, 1999), http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/1999/420/fe1.htm.

[5] Imad Thomas, “Divorce of Christians between the ’38 Ordinance, the Unified Law and Civil Marriage” (in Arabic), Alhbar Saarah [Good News] (magazine of the Evangelical Church), March 2006, http://www.akhbarsarra.com/news.php?Id=1051.

[6] Ezzat Andrawos, “The Second Article of the Constitution is Behind the Persecution of Copts” (in Arabic), http://www.coptichistory.org/new_page_965.htm.

[7] Egypt’s State Portal, “Text of the New Law No. 1/2000 on Family Status” (in Arabic), Article 3, http://www.egypt.gov.eg/arabic/laws/personal/introduction.asp.

[8] No official statistics exist, but the records of judiciary personnel published in the papers have supported such an assumption. See, for example: Youssef Sidhom, “A New Collection of Racial (Discriminative) Presidential Decrees” (in Arabic), Middle East Transparent, November 6, 2005, http://www.metransparent.com/texts/youssef_sidhom/youssef_sidhom_reading_in_unsaid_things_109.htm.

[9] Bishop Grigorios, “Divorce in Christianity,” (in Arabic), December 4, 2006, http://www.stgeorgecz.org/Forum/viewtopic.php?t=1752&view=previous&sid=0554c9587c371944475414b0b3c8357e.

[10] Me. Naguib Gobrael, a Cairo-based lawyer. See Me. Naguib Gobrael, “Why Christians Convert” (in Arabic), El-Fagr, http://www.elfagr.org/Elfagr_L_Details.aspx?NewsId=2453&section_related=956.

[11] Report by Watani, (Arabic) March 11, 2007, p. 11.

[12] Ibrahim, “Hope on the Horizon?”

[13] Adel Guindy, “The Most Common Denominator, Not Submission” (in Arabic), Elaph, March 17, 2007, http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWeb/ElaphWriter/2007/3/219341.htm.

[14] Text of ruling was reported by Sout al-Ummah newspaper, May 3, 2007.

[15] Andrawos, “The Second Article of the Constitution is Behind the Persecution of Copts.”

 

 

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