• 03:03
  • Sunday ,13 June 2010

Open season on the Church

Youseef Sidhom



Sunday ,13 June 2010

Open season on the Church

 In the wake of the recent court ruling obliging the Coptic Church to issue remarriage permits for divorced couples—the Church currently issues such permits to the wronged party alone; the other party is given a permit only conditionally—and the church’s refusal to abide by the ruling, it was open season on the Church. Many in the Egyptian media went on a verbal rampage against the Church, accusing it of being “above the law” and “a State within a State”. Despite a show of false patriotism, the rhetoric used reeked of malice and poor awareness.    The loudest and most hysterical criticism came from the Islamists. These are the same Islamists who claim that religious identity should take precedence over national identity and who regularly attack the civil State. Yet when the Church dared to object to a court ruling on grounds that it contradicted its doctrine, it became the target of scathing criticism. Mind you, the Church never claimed it was above the law or behaved as a State within a State; it never claimed Dar al-Christianity, along the same line as Dar al-Islam—literally the Home of Islam, an expression used to indicate Islam as a worldwide fatherland—warranted loyalty above the Egyptian motherland. All it did was to announce that, in matters of marriage, divorce, and family; it had to exclusively adhere to the teachings of the Bible. It drew attention to the fact that the State, represented in the government, represented by the Justice Minister, have failed to place the bill for a unified law for personal status affairs for Christians on Parliament’s agenda. The bill was drafted by the leaderships of all the Christian sects in Egypt in 1968, submitted to the authorities in 1980 and again in 1998, and has not been discussed by Parliament to date.     The recent court ruling is not the first of its kind. Other rulings which contradicted Christian doctrine were issued before. The Church rejected them at the time, was heavily criticised, was questioned by the media on the matter, and explained its reasons for rejecting the rulings. We imagined that the problem would be resolved and the long-awaited law would see light, but this was not to be. As has become customary in Egypt and for some unfathomable reason the government did nothing, the status quo was allowed to linger on, the problem augmented, and the recent ruling and its aftermath induced a sense of dejà vu. No-one knows whether the State will, for the sake of saving face, rush to do something about the matter; or will obstinately hold its ground on the pretext that it allows no-one to twist its arm.    The same questions posed by the media in cases of the previous rulings were again aroused. The same answers were given. Our media appeared to be suffering a fit of memory loss. The same criticism was levelled at the Church. No-one thought of criticising the Justice Ministry or the MPs for failing to pass the law.    Amid all the controversy, one minor incident reported in the papers caught my attention. The title “A husband’s order bars official assignment” introduced a news item to the effect that the Disciplinary Court acquitted a nurse that had been charged with failing to execute an official assignment to the Health Ministry—a matter equivalent to desertion—because her husband refused to allow her to work. The court said that Islamic sharia dictated that a woman must above all obey her husband, and that sharia rules had priority over civil law.     I was stunned; I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Since Islamic sharia preceded civil law, why was it so difficult to fathom that Christian doctrine would take precedence over the civil rules that contradict it? Why should the Church be considered outlaw if it declines to execute rulings that contradict its doctrine? While it has been calling for appropriate legislation for some four decades now? Have we reached the point where it is not possible for the Church to obtain the same sort of justice that is granted to any ordinary Egyptian woman? Shame on you, Egypt!