June 8, 2010 / 2:46 PM / in 7 years

Egyptian pope rejects ruling letting Copts remarry

* Court ruling had said divorced Copts could remarry

* Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Pope rejects remarriage ruling

* Coptic leader’s most outspoken remarks so far

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO, June 8 (Reuters) - The head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church rejected on Tuesday a court ruling that Coptic men could remarry, saying the decision was against the church’s principles and reflected interference in its affairs.

A court upheld a ruling last week that two Coptic men had the right to remarry even though divorced, a move seen as undermining the church’s efforts to maintain authority over Christians in Muslim-majority Egypt.

The court decision was prompted by a rare intervention by Coptic Pope Shenouda who had launched an appeal on behalf of the church to overturn a similar court ruling made in March 2008.

Shenouda and 90 other officials in Egypt’s Orthodox church had signed a document against the verdict, the pope said.

“This statement expresses our rejection of the ruling,” Shenouda told a news conference, showing reporters the document.

Analysts say the ruling challenges the church’s efforts to hold sway over its flock and guard Coptic values in Egypt, where conservative Islamic trends have gained ground.

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 78 million people. Many Christians grumble about discrimination, although some Christians have risen to ministerial rank or are top business executives. “We should examine the issue, otherwise it would suggest Copts are exhausted and (can be put) under pressure in their religion,” the pope said, saying he was discussing further legal steps, even though the latest ruling followed a final appeal.

After the ruling last month, Pope Shenouda said the church would still not allow remarriage after divorce, except in cases of separation following adultery. Tuesday’s comments were his most outspoken rejection of the ruling.

“I am announcing that the church respects the law but it does not accept rules except from the bible,” the pope said.

Under Egypt’s personal laws, marriage and divorce proceedings are based on the couple’s religion. But in any marriage between a Muslim and non-Muslim, Islamic law prevails. Divorce is an accepted practice in the Muslim community.

Relations between Egypt’s Christian and Muslim communities are generally calm, but can sometimes erupt into violence over issues such as land or inter-faith marriages and relationships.

In another case in 2002, a court ruled that a Coptic woman, the well-known Egyptian actress Hala Sidki, could divorce her Coptic husband. But she only won her case after years spent in in court and after the church relented and backed her divorce. (Editing by Edmund Blair)

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