The Higher Administrative Court Saturday ordered Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church to allow divorced Christians to remarry, confirming that it is unconstitutional and against the law to prevent second marriage for Egyptian Copts.
"A Christian can remarry according to Egyptian Law and the Constitution secures the right to form a family. An appeal by Pope Shenouda to prevent Copts remarrying has been rejected," Judge Mohamed el-Husseini said in Saturday’s ruling.
He added that the court respects religious feelings. "However, we have to respect the law also," el-Husseini argued. The verdict cannot be appealed.
Hani Wasfi, a divorced Copt, had filed a lawsuit against Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Pope, to allow him remarry after divorcing his wife.
The Administrative Court ruled in Wasfi’s favour, but the Church appealed.
The Coptic Orthodox Church only allows its members to divorce in case of one party committing adultery (which has to be proved by the other party) or one of the two parties converting to another Christian denomination or another faith.
Defied by an increasing number of disgruntled Orthodox Copts and human rights organisations in Egypt and abroad, the Coptic Orthodox Church is under pressure to adopt a more liberal approach and let divorced men and women remarry.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights group, has taken the lead in advocating the right of Orthodox Copts to divorce and remarry.
It has called on the Egyptian authorities to take immediate steps towards establishing an optional family law system.
"State officials have no right to wash their hands of the problems, needs and sufferings of thousands of Coptic Orthodox citizens who are demanding no more than their basic right to marry and create a family," argues Hossam Bahgat, director of the EIPR.
"The Coptic Orthodox Church is entitled to its interpretation of religious texts, but the State has the right - indeed, the duty - to provide an alternative for those Orthodox Copts who disagree with the interpretation.”