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Interview: Egypt's Bishop Paul tells Copts to give Morsi a chance

Ahram Online speaks to Coptic Church media spokesman Bishop Paul about the fears and concerns of Copts under an Islamist president

Ahram Online, Monday 17 Sep 2012
Bishop Paula
Bishop Paul of the Egyptian Orthodox Church (Photo by: Ahram)
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Bishop Paul, Bishop of the Diocese of Tanta, member of the Holy Synod, Acting President of the Council Seminary for Personal Status, and he is also the representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the Constituent Assembly which is drafting Egypt's new constitution.

Born in 1951 in Kafr El-Sheikh Governorate, Paul graduated with a degree in science before joining a monastic order in 1976. Ordained as a General Bishop in 1980, he became Bishop of Tanta in 1989.

As a member of the Constituent Assembly, what is the final wording of Article 2, the constitutional article related to sharia [Islamic law]?

The final decision is that Article 2 will remain as it was in Egypt's 1971 constitution, which states that "the principles of sharia" should constitute the "principal source" of legislation in Egypt.

But two new articles will be added; one states that Al-Azhar is the exclusive reference for sharia and the other one states that believers from other religions, Christianity and Judaism, refer to their own [religious] legislation in their personal status laws, religious affairs and for choosing their spiritual and religious figures.

Are you satisfied with the representative ratio of Copts in the government and among the assistants of the president?

Of course, Copts are not satisfied with this ratio but I think Copts will be representative in a better way in the next government and that Mr. President should prove that he is a president for all Egyptians and not for the 25 per cent of Egyptians who give him their vote in the presidential elections.

What are the needs and priorities of Copts, following the success of the Islamist trend in ruling and controlling all the higher positions in the country?

The priorities of Copts can be specified in two matters; firstly the problem of building churches and adding a law solving it in the general laws of building in Egypt. Secondly, studying the draft of the unified law for personal status for Copts hidden in the drawers of those responsible.

What do you feel about the future of Copts with this Islamist control; are you optimistic?

There are no doubts that we have fears about the Islamists, especially as for long time a lot of the fanatic Islamists used to speak in a militant way about the church and Copts; but we see that only Mr. President is able to remove all the fears of Copts inside and outside of Egypt.

You ask me about optimism; the current misty phase doesn't depend only on internal Egyptians, but also on complex regional and international variables, so in the middle of such a stage it is difficult to decide whether you are optimistic or pessimistic.

Do you have analytic figures for the number for Copts who are emigrating now that President Morsi is ruling; and what do you say to other Copts who are thinking of leaving Egypt, especially as some people claim that this is Israel’s plan to empty Egypt of Christians, as in Iraq and Lebanon?

Why do we talk about Israel in that matter? It has no effect on Egyptian Christians, and I am sorry to tell you that the rate of emigration of Copts increased in the last period. A lot of Copts intend to emigrate from Egypt, and unfortunately a lot of businessmen succeeded in transferring their money outside and emigrating.

I want to say to each Egyptian Copt; maintain your presence in your country and help to save it. Egypt is a homeland for all Egyptians, Christians and Muslims, and she needs us all to be by her side in this critical phase. We should give the new regime the whole opportunity, not rush to leave the country and withdraw money from Egyptian banks.

According to your position as the Acting President of the Council Seminary for Personal Status, are there any steps to solve the problems of divorce and second marriage for Copts?

The problem is the duplication of laws of divorce and second marriage of Copts. Church divorces only because of adultery, while the Egyptian courts use the list from 1938 [a extended list of grounds for divorce] for personal status for Copts, which permit divorce for several reasons.

The only solution is the unified law of personal status for non-Muslims, which President Morsi promised to approve soon in a meeting with Christian religious figures.

Is it true that you will commit the candidates for the papal chair to amending the list of rules for papal elections in their first year in office?

Yes, the Holy Synod decided that the three candidates that get the highest number of votes before running in the altar lottery [the process in which a blindfolded child selects the winning candidates name from a bag containing the three highest scoring candidates' names placed on the altar] will sign an agreement to amend the rules of papal elections, as all the members see that the present rules don't fit with the current time.

Is there a possibility for reconsidering the late Pope Shenouda III's decision to prevent Copts from visiting Jerusalem, unless with Muslims, after solving the Palestinian issue?

There is no problem in re-discussing any decision according to the political changes but I think nothing has changed to discuss this matter now.

For whom will the church bells ring?

After elections, for God's choice through the altar lottery.

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Aladdin
20-09-2012 12:22am
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Religious Tolerance
I am good muslim and have deep respect to Ibrahamic religons. It was injust for Copts to be discrimanted against a two decades ago that let to mass migration to US; the land of religious freedom. In response to unwarrented discrimination--that is prohibited in Islam-- some copts vented their anger against muslims as we witnessed in some silly internet vidoes. We all know that the Prophet (SAWS) advocated for peace, slave freedom, human values and women rights. These are facts known to everyone. May ALlah (SWT) bless egypt and its people--not the fanatics or criminals. Amen. FYI, PR Morsi is not Islamist ; but mechanical engineer practicing muslim values only in his personal life.
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Mohammad Masoud, Mansourah
18-09-2012 07:44pm
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Thanks my Father
Pr. Mursi is a mechanical engineer by education and experience. He happened to be muslims; but has no education or community service based on religion. Grow up and seprate religion from politics. To be muslim, you must beleive in Judism and Christianity. Muslims need to be educated about tolerant and merciful Islam.
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ak
18-09-2012 02:54pm
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I salute and congratulate Abouna Bishop Paul
He is having the interests of this country in his heart. Yes, all Copts must maintain their presence in their country and help to save it. Yes, Egypt is the homeland for all Egyptians, Muslims, Christians and all other non-religious people. Yes, all Egyptians should give the new democratic administration (the 2nd republic of Egypt) the whole opportunity and support to govern for all Egyptians. Finally, as a private matter, I am a muslim and I sincerly love my next door christian neighbours as much as I love my own family; we love them for who they are and for their support. We respect them as religious people and respect their religion, and they reciprocate these feelings and values with us. You would expect less from any Egyptian who loves Egypt.
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Sam Boulis
18-09-2012 03:50am
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Papal election
Your Holiness, proceed with the election as you see fit, God grants you many years.
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Karim Mansour Mohammad, Tanta
18-09-2012 02:18am
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Voice of wisdom
Thanks Aboona. egypt for all Egyptians and we appriciate your advice. We need to work together to protect Egypt from fanatics and criminals who falsly claim to be religious. It is hsitorical lie.
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Aly Afendi
17-09-2012 09:53pm
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Non-Islamists
He is mechanical engineer not like the other criminals who claim to be Islamists. I am electronic engineer and muslim; thank you abouna for your good deeds. Egypt for all egyptians.
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Ansari
18-09-2012 03:03am
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To Aly
I think you are not a Muslim, that is why your calling other Muslims criminals. Get your facts straight, if you are an electronis engineer, this does not suffices your good Muslim, and others are not.
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