Problems on hold
In its issue of 14 October 2018, Watani printed a report on the legislative agenda of the House of Representatives in its new round which started earlier this month. The parliamentary committees of Foreign Relations, Work Force, Planning and Budgeting, Housing, Human Rights, Small and Medium Enterprises, Social Solidarity, and Legislative and Constitutional Affairs, all announced their agendas. The Secretary of Committee of the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs said that the committee was currently waiting for the reply of the authorities concerned with the Family draft law in order for the committee to study and approve it then refer it to the House’s plenary session.
The draft law the Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee was referring to is the general Family Law—officially known as the Personal Status Law—that concerns all Egyptians, not the long-awaited Family Law for Christians. The Constitution stipulates the right of Christians to apply their own doctrines to their family concerns, hence the need for a special law.
The stipulation of a family law for Christians in no way annuls the fact that Christians follow the general family law except in what goes against their doctrine concerning marriage and its annulment or divorce and, we hope, rules that govern inheritance. All these matters personally concern Christians but do not annul their subordination to the general Family Law in other personal status aspects.
Besides being a Constitutional requirement, the Family Law for Christians should draw the curtain on a long, distressful legacy of conflict between the Church and congregation on one side, and the courts of law on the other. The conflict is the outcome of the fact that current legislation governing marriage and divorce, known as the 1938 Bylaws, was drafted by a Coptic lay council and passed in 1938 despite serious Church objections to it. The Church insists it violates the teaching of the Bible regarding divorce; consequently, it does not recognise rulings in cases where they contradict Christian doctrine.
With this conflict in mind, the 2014 Constitution granted Christians the right to apply their doctrine in matters related to personal status. Yet no new legislation is in sight to replace the 1938 Bylaws.
Does it look like the Family Law for Christians has been placed on hold? I have been on a close lookout for any news of it, but found and heard none. Yet I have written on whichever details I got to know concerning it, and repeatedly called upon all concerned with drafting the law to include in it provisions for inheritance according to the Christian doctrine which gives men and women equal inheritance shares as opposed to Muslim sharia which gives a man double the share of a woman. I got to know that the final draft law was ready—minus inheritance provisions. And I learned that the draft law was to be sent to the Cabinet for revision and approval, in order for the government to refer it to parliament. Yet I look for the Family Law for Christians on the agenda of every new legislative round, but it has never been there.
The question that irks me is: where exactly is the draft Family Law for Christians now? Is it still with the Church? If so, why? If it is with the Cabinet, why wasn’t it referred to parliament? If it is with parliament, why doesn’t it find its way to the floor in order to see light? I am not alone in seeking answers to these questions; millions of Christians are.