Egyptian women’s legal center demands personal status law for Copts

The Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance (CEWLA) announced support for Copts' demand for a personal status law for non-Muslims. Such a law would deal with issues of marriage and divorce separately from church regulations.

The center said such as law is necessary in light of sectarian violence triggered when Copts do not get divorced and convert to Islam.

Azza Suleiman, head of CEWLA, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the center will submit a legal memorandum to the Ministry of Justice next Thursday, when a number of Coptic activists plan to protest in front of the ministry. She said that both the memorandum and the protest demand such a law, which would help end sectarian tension.
Suleiman revealed details of a draft law prepared by CEWLA which would provide multiple forms of divorce for Christians.
According to Suleiman the draft law says fathers who converts to Islam may not change their children's religion, and the latter will have the right to change religion when they reach adulthood.
It tackles the issue of custody for children who have Christian mothers and Muslim fathers, and the issue of inheritance. It states that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man has the right to inherit from her husband, and likewise a Muslim husband has the right to inherit from his Christian wife, according to Suleiman.
A number of Coptic activists have started a Facebook campaign demanding a personal status civil law. Fady Karim, the coordinator, said they want Christians' civil laws to be separated from the regulations of the church.
He attributed the problem of divorce among Copts to the modification of the 1938 Code carried out by Pope Shenouda. He said the code put nine possible reasons for divorce but Shenouda limited reduced the list to adultery only. He said Coptic activists seek to address the state, and not the Coptic Orthodox Church.
He cited the example of Russia, which also has an Orthodox church but separates church regulations and civil law so couples are free to choose between civil marriage and marriage at church.
Georgette Qelliny, a former MP, rejected the idea of a civil law for Copts as unconstitutional because it would violate equality.
She said any civil law for marriage will be strongly challenged by Muslims and Christians because of the religious nature of marriage in Egypt, and that laws should not be issued in the absence of a parliament except in "cases of urgent necessity".
She said the only form of civil marriage accepted in Egypt is in cases of marriage with foreigners.
Translated from the Arabic Edition

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