CAIRO: Dozens of Copts protested Thursday outside the Ministry of Justice headquarters in downtown Cairo against Pope Shenouda III’s refusal to allow Copts to remarry.
The protesters called for ending the controversy raised recently after Pope Shenouda, head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, rejected a court ruling that obliged the Church to issue second marriage licenses to divorced Copts.
A number of Muslim activists took part in the protest in solidarity with the Copts.
One protester held a banner on which he wrote: “I’m Muslim and I support the Christians’ right to divorce.”
“This is a community issue that concerns all Egyptians not just Copts,” Fouad Fawaz, a Muslim sociology researcher, told Daily News Egypt.
“It is the right of any woman [regardless of her religion] to decide who to marry and whether to go on or have a divorce,” Iman Selim, a Muslim psychiatrist, noted.
The joint Muslim-Coptic protest called on the Justice Ministry to authorize marriages through the registration office rather than the Church.
“What harm will come to the Church if a Christian gets married or gets a divorce,” Amira Gamal, a Coptic writer, told Daily News Egypt.
“It is a cultural dilemma that considers divorce a sin before being a legal crisis,” she added.
“This [cultural concept] has been used to mobilize the Copts against divorce … though the Orthodox Church allows the divorce of Egyptians who hold US passports.”
According to Gamal, Copts can get divorce in the US within 60 days, while in Egypt a similar case would take years in court.
The protesters called for applying the 1938 regulation when the Coptic Ecclesiastical 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).
Gamal believes that social problems are likely to recur due to the fact that many Copts found no way to secure a divorce other than by converting to Islam.
“But I’m against the idea of changing one’s religion to be divorced,” she argued.
“You can say that the advocates of divorce are against the norms of the Church and Pope Shenouda. But still they don’t want to change their religion,” she added.
Protesters, however, refused to offer information on their marital status.
Last week, Pope Shenouda assigned the Church’s legal committee to file a lawsuit at the Supreme Constitutional Court to settle the legal debate surrounding an Administrative Court ruling compelling the church to allow divorced Orthodox Copts to remarry.
Pope Shenouda had previously announced that the church would not implement the court order, which he considered a violation of the teachings of the holy Bible and an intervention in religious freedom.
The orthodox Coptic Church allows divorce only in cases of adultery. The Church does not grant a remarriage license to individuals found guilty.
“There is no verse in the Bible that supports the [Church’s claim],” Gamal argued.
“On the contrary, Jesus Christ himself said ‘he that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her’ [in response to an adultery case]” she added.