Egypt court overturns Coptic marriage law

Cairo, Egypt - A controversial Egyptian court ruling in May that had forced the Coptic Church to allow its members to remarry was overturned by Egypt’s highest judicial body on Wednesday, much to the anger and frustration of a handful of Coptic Christians.

Maria Sadek was one of those Christians who had hoped the court would uphold the May decision that would have forced the Coptic Church to end centuries of forbidding its members from remarrying.

The Church was pleased with the decision, which if upheld would have forced the institution to issue a second marriage permit to divorced Copts.

For Sadek it ends little more than one month of hope that she might be able to get remarried. Her husband of two years had run out on her when she was 24-years-old and according to Church doctrine, she is forbidden from remarrying.

Ahead of the court ruling, angry Copts had gathered in Cairo protesting the earlier ruling, saying it was against the Bible and that the government was interfering in religious matters.

Civil marriage is not recognized in Egypt.

Wednesday’s ruling “has relieved Coptic church leaders who trust and respect the Egyptian judiciary and believe in its justness and its ability to correct any contradictions in rulings,” Hani Aziz Amin, a church representative, told MENA.

After the High Administrative Court’s ruling in May, Pope Shenouda III had urged the court to review its decision.

“The decision must be reviewed,” he said. “The church respects the law but it does not accept judgments that go against the Gospels and against religious freedom, which is guaranteed by the constitution.”

“Marriage for us is sacred and a religious act, not a simple administrative act,” he continued, adding that the church could “absolutely not apply” the court’s decision.

“By law, a Christian can remarry and the constitution guarantees his rights to have a (new) family. The appeal by Pope Shenuda III to prevent Copts from remarrying is rejected,” Egypt’s High Administrative Court said in its judgment last May.

The case was an Egyptian Coptic man Hani Wasfi, who had complained against the church’s refusal to allow him to remarry after divorcing.

Wasfi won a lower court decision, but the Coptic Church appealed, only to lose again on Sunday, local media reported.

Like the Medieval Europe and the Catholic Church today, only a handful of actions can allow a divorce in the Coptic Church. Adultery and conversion to another religion or sect of Christianity are the only means of being allowed to remarry.

Christians in Egypt make up approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people. The vast majority of the country’s Christians are Coptic and it is the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.

“We all look forward to the day when we can live our lives under God’s supervision and that the Coptic Church will grant us more freedoms to do that,” added Sadek.