June 13, 2010 / 3:12 PM / 9 years ago

Egypt prepares new law for non-Muslims

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt will draft a law to govern marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, a state newspaper reported, a move analysts see as an attempt to contain anger after a court overruled the Coptic Orthodox Church last month.

Egypt’s Coptic church has long called for changes to the country’s personal status laws, which say Islamic rules on marriage and divorce prevail except in cases where both husband and wife are non-Muslims and from the same sect.

Under the current law, for instance, a Catholic husband with a Coptic wife could be subject to Islamic law.

“The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marie has decided to form a committee to prepare a personal draft law for Christians and non-Muslims, state-run al-Akhbar newspaper reported, adding it would take 30 days.

Analysts said the announcement was timed to calm anger after a court ruled that two Coptic men were allowed to remarry, challenging the church’s efforts to hold sway over its flock in Muslim-majority Egypt.

The court’s decision drew resistance from Pope Shenouda, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who had appealed against the court’s earlier ruling in March 2008.

Divorce is an accepted practice in Egypt’s Muslim community but is prohibited by the Coptic Orthodox Church except in cases of adultery.

“The latest crisis is behind this statement,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies in Cairo. “The Egyptian state is trying to contain the current dispute.”

Coptic lawyer and activist Mamdouh Ramzi said the church has proposed a unified personal law since the 1980s. “We don’t need a new law, we need to put the old (proposed) one into practice,” he said.

Relations between Muslims and Christians in Egypt are generally calm, but have occasionally turned violent over issues such as land and interfaith marriages.

Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 78 million people. Many Christians grumble about discrimination, although some have risen to ministerial rank or are top business executives.

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