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Interview: Egypt's Bishop Paul tells Copts to give Morsi a chance

By-Ahram | 18 September 2012

 Bishop Paul, Bishop of the Diocese of Tanta, member of the Holy Synod, Acting President of the Council Seminary for Personal Status, and he is also the representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Constituent Assembly which is drafting Egypt's new constitution.

Born in 1951 in Kafr El-Sheikh Governorate, Paul graduated with a degree in science before joining a monastic order in 1976. Ordained as a General Bishop in 1980, he became Bishop of Tanta in 1989.
 
As a member of the Constituent Assembly, what is the final wording of Article 2, the constitutional article related to sharia [Islamic law]?
 
The final decision is that Article 2 will remain as it was in Egypt's 1971 constitution, which states that "the principles of sharia" should constitute the "principal source" of legislation in Egypt.
 
But two new articles will be added; one states that Al-Azhar is the exclusive reference for sharia and the other one states that believers from other religions, Christianity and Judaism, refer to their own [religious] legislation in their personal status laws, religious affairs and for choosing their spiritual and religious figures.
 
Are you satisfied with the representative ratio of Copts in the government and among the assistants of the president?
 
Of course, Copts are not satisfied with this ratio but I think Copts will be representative in a better way in the next government and that Mr. President should prove that he is a president for all Egyptians and not for the 25 per cent of Egyptians who give him their vote in the presidential elections.
 
What are the needs and priorities of Copts, following the success of the Islamist trend in ruling and controlling all the higher positions in the country?
 
The priorities of Copts can be specified in two matters; firstly the problem of building churches and adding a law solving it in the general laws of building in Egypt. Secondly, studying the draft of the unified law for personal status for Copts hidden in the drawers of those responsible.
 
What do you feel about the future of Copts with this Islamist control; are you optimistic?
 
There are no doubts that we have fears about the Islamists, especially as for long time a lot of the fanatic Islamists used to speak in a militant way about the church and Copts; but we see that only Mr. President is able to remove all the fears of Copts inside and outside of Egypt.
 
You ask me about optimism; the current misty phase doesn't depend only on internal Egyptians, but also on complex regional and international variables, so in the middle of such a stage it is difficult to decide whether you are optimistic or pessimistic.
 
Do you have analytic figures for the number for Copts who are emigrating now that President Morsi is ruling; and what do you say to other Copts who are thinking of leaving Egypt, especially as some people claim that this is Israel’s plan to empty Egypt of Christians, as in Iraq and Lebanon?
 
Why do we talk about Israel in that matter? It has no effect on Egyptian Christians, and I am sorry to tell you that the rate of emigration of Copts increased in the last period. A lot of Copts intend to emigrate from Egypt, and unfortunately a lot of businessmen succeeded in transferring their money outside and emigrating.
 
I want to say to each Egyptian Copt; maintain your presence in your country and help to save it. Egypt is a homeland for all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims, and she needs us all to be by her side in this critical phase. We should give the new regime the whole opportunity, not rush to leave the country and withdraw money from Egyptian banks.
 
According to your position as the Acting President of the Council Seminary for Personal Status, are there any steps to solve the problems of divorce and second marriage for Copts?
 
The problem is the duplication of laws of divorce and second marriage of Copts. Church divorces only because of adultery, while the Egyptian courts use the list from 1938 [a extended list of grounds for divorce] for personal status for Copts, which permit divorce for several reasons.
 
The only solution is the unified law of personal status for non-Muslims, which President Morsi promised to approve soon in a meeting with Christian religious figures.
 
Is it true that you will commit the candidates for the papal chair to amending the list of rules for papal elections in their first year in office?
 
Yes, the Holy Synod decided that the three candidates that get the highest number of votes before running in the altar lottery [the process in which a blindfolded child selects the winning candidates name from a bag containing the three highest scoring candidates' names placed on the altar] will sign an agreement to amend the rules of papal elections, as all the members see that the present rules don't fit with the current time.
 
Is there a possibility for reconsidering the late Pope Shenouda III's decision to prevent Copts from visiting Jerusalem, unless with Muslims, after solving the Palestinian issue?
 
There is no problem in re-discussing any decision according to the political changes but I think nothing has changed to discuss this matter now.
 
For whom will the church bells ring?
 
After elections, for God's choice through the altar lottery.
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