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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.

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