YEAREND SPECIAL: Egypt’s judicial system challenges the church

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By Heba Fahmy

In May, the High Administrative Court issued a ruling giving two Coptic men permission to remarry, in a rare challenge to Church rules, which only awards such permission to divorces it sanctions.

That ruling sparked demonstrations in Cairo, with angry protesters saying it went against the Bible and claiming state interference in religious affairs.

Pope Shenouda III, along with 90 members of the Holy Synod condemned the ruling and issued a statement criticizing it for opposing the teachings of Christianity.

The Orthodox Church allows divorce in only three cases: adultery, conversion to Islam or change of denomination.

There is no civil marriage in Egypt, so marriages get registered with the government through a priest — and to divorce, couples must go through the Church first.

“Marriage for us is sacred and a religious act, not a simple administrative act,” Shenouda said in May following the court ruling, adding that the church “absolutely could not apply” the court’s decision.

In July, the Supreme Constitutional Court overturned the May verdict issued by the High Administrative Court.

“The church is committed to the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling, because it is legally higher than the Administrative Court,” Monsef Naguib Soliman, a member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church, told Daily News Egypt in December.

However, the Higher Administrative Court recently declined two requests to override its previous court ruling that allows Orthodox Copts to remarry, upholding the ruling it issued last May.

The two requests were made by Coptic lawyer and Head of Al-Kalema Center for Human Rights Mamdouh Nakhla, and lawyer Sameer Sabry.

The court stressed that final court rulings must be executed according to the law and the constitution.

Soliman said that the ruling is legally unbinding since it was filed by lawyers who do not represent the church.

The Ministry of Justice is currently working on a draft of a unified personal status law for Coptic Christians after it received drafts from several organizations. One of the drafts was provided by the Secular Copts Organization, and another was presented as a collective effort from the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical Churches.


Read more: YEAREND SPECIAL: Sectarian tension surges in 2010

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