Egypt's Pope Tawadros II demands amendments to constitution

Ahram Online , Thursday 12 Sep 2013

Constitution committee head Amr Moussa meets with Pope Tawadros II following Coptic Nayrouz celebrations to discuss amending Article Three of 2012 constitution

Tawadros and Moussa
Amr Moussa, longtime Egyptian diplomat and former presidential contender in a meeting with Pope Tawadros II, the 118th pope of the Coptic Church of Egypt. (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt's Coptic Pope Tawadros II requested an amendment to the constitution's third article – which deals with "Christian and Jewish Egyptians" – in a meeting with constitution committee head Amr Moussa late on Wednesday, state news agency MENA reported.

Article Three of the temporarily-suspended constitution, currently pending amendments, says that the "canon principles of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders."

The Pope asked Moussa that "Egyptian Christians and Jews" be replaced with "non-Muslims," MENA said.

Critics of the 2012 constitution charge that Article Three leaves the door open to discrimination against other minorities, such as Egyptian Shias and Bahai's.

The Church has repeatedly made public that it wishes to preserve the language of Article Two of the 1971 constitution, which states "Islam is the religion of the state and… the principles of Islamic Sharia are the principal source of legislation."

Moreover, Church representatives in the 2012 constituent assembly have opposed Article 219, which serves as a more detailed version of Article Two.

Article 219 states: "The principles of Islamic Sharia include its commonly accepted interpretations, its fundamental and jurisprudential rules and its widely considered sources, as stated by the schools of Sunna and Gamaa."

Critics of Article 219 charge that its language paves the way for a Sunni theocratic state.

The meeting between Moussa and Pope Tawadros II took place at St Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbasiya, Cairo, following celebrations of the Nayrouz, the Coptic New Year. Other Church figures were also in attendance.

During the meeting, Moussa said that the amended constitution will be "one-hundred percent civil," adding that he hopes all articles will pass with a sizeable majority by committee members.

Article Three was introduced to Egypt's currently-suspended 2012 constitution by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly under former president Mohamed Morsi's rule.

The 2012 constitution was suspended following Morsi's ouster in July. A 10-member committee of legal experts was then formed to amend the constitution, and the 50-member committee headed by Moussa is tasked with approving these amendments. The Committee of 50 is expected to produce the constitution's final draft within 60 days.

The constitution will be put to a national referendum within 30 days of the final draft's submission.

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