The Vatican has approved the provisions that apply to Catholic Copts in the draft family law for Christians in Egypt.
Anba Bakhoum, Patriarchal Vicar for Catholic Copts in Egypt, told Watani that the Vatican’s approval means the draft law can be finalised to find its way to the House of Representatives, Egypt’s parliament.
Copts in Egypt have been eagerly awaiting a family law that would accord with their Christian doctrine, a prerogative granted them by the 2014 Constitution in its third article.
Egypt’s major Churches: the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical, were engaged in the process of preparing a draft for a unified family law for Christians in Egypt for some three years now. Whereas the Orthodox and Evangelical Churches decided on the provisions of the law, the Catholic Coptic Church had to seek the Vatican’s approval.
Now that approval has been granted, the heads of the three Churches in Egypt will set a date to meet and sign the final draft of the unified family law for Christians in Egypt. This should then be handed to the Ministry of Justice for legal revision, and from there to the House of Representatives for discussion, after which it can be passed as a law.
Unique to each Church
Watani has been closely following up on the much-awaited law.
Egypt’s Christians at large are eager to learn details of the draft law, aspiring for a new Family Law that would work as a lifeline to many Christian families who live through harsh dilemmas. Major among these are problems that pertain to unsustainable marriages, with many demanding that the new law would make divorce more lenient.
Councillor Monsef Soliman, member of the committee and legal advisor to the Coptic Orthodox Church, told Watani that the draft law was approved by the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod when it convened at the Western Desert Monastery of Anba Bishoy in June 2019.
The draft includes provisions that apply uniquely to each of the Churches, since they do not all apply the same rules. Hence, Mr Soliman told Watani, the draft law stipulates that a marriage contract is the basis upon which any dispute should be resolved. This closes the door before a practice that had spread among Christians who wished to end a marriage but their Church law did not allow it: the man or wife would change his or her sect, which would make them before the law persons of different ‘religions’, meaning that no specific law applied to their marriage. In such a case, Egyptian law says that the Family Law for Muslims would apply, meaning a man could unilaterally divorce his wife. The Christian marriage ends, and the man or woman could remarry according to the new sect they adopted.
Not any more, according to the draft Family Law for Christians. With the marriage contract applying to any dispute concerning the marriage, no change of sect can resolve problem marriages.
More lenient divorce
However, the Orthodox Church’s provisions for marriage annulment and divorce have been made more lenient.
Mr Soliman explained that the draft law allows divorce in case a spouse abandons the other for a period of three years if the couple have no children, or five years if they have. In addition, the concept of adultery, a key reason that allows divorce, has been broadened to include not only actual but also virtual adultery.
As for reasons for marriage annulment, Mr Soliman told Watani that the draft law has expanded these to include any kind of pre-marriage deception. “Any crucial matter that was concealed by one of the spouses before the marriage would automatically lead to the annulment of that marriage,” he said.
Mr Soliman also mentioned that the draft law includes articles that regulate engagement, its dissolution, and arrangements that concern setting up the marital home, and the rights of each spouse in case of marriage annulment or divorce.
Mr Youssef Talaat, member of the committee charged with drafting the law and legal advisor to the Evangelical Church in Egypt, confirmed that the new law would put an end to the manipulation practised by some Christians who wish to get a divorce and resort to changing sects in order to get it. He explained that once the law is passed, the provisions that apply to divorce would be those of the Church that had united the couple in marriage.
Gender equality in inheritance
Mr Talaat said the draft law has included a complete chapter on inheritance, which he expects would make a huge difference for Egyptian Christians. It stipulates equality between men and women in inheritance shares on all levels, a cause that Watani’s Editor-in-Chief Youssef Sidhom has for years called for. Mr Talaat said that the representatives of the three Churches all endorsed gender equality in inheritance.
Mr Talaat said that the draft law presented by the three Churches is totally straightforward and gives way to no ambiguity.
17 February 2020