Church threatens to withdraw from Constituent Assembly over Sharia article

The Coptic Orthodox Church threatened to withdraw its Constituent Assembly representatives Wednesday over concerns the new constitution will not represent minorities.

Church leaders discussed the potential withdrawal Wednesday in an all-day meeting, according to Bishop Benjamin of Monufiya. At the heart of the discussion was ongoing debate within the assembly over whether Article 2 of the 1971 Constitution should be changed.

Some conservative Islamists have advocated that language stipulating "the principles of Sharia," as the primary source of legislation be changed to "the commandments of Sharia," which could allow for a more literal application of Islamic law.

Coptic leaders want the original language preserved with an additional clause allowing non-Muslims to follow their own religious laws in personal affairs, the appointment of religious leaders and religious rituals, Benjamin said during a press conference following the Wednesday meeting.

The Church adheres to rights and freedoms enshrined in previous constitutions as well as in international agreements signed by Egypt, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said. It also supports a modern, constitutional state based on citizenship, human rights and non-discrimination on the basis of belief or opinion.

"The Church is concerned over the vote ratios included in the regulations of the Constituent Assembly, which would make the point of view of one class supersede the view of the rest of people. We reject discrimination on the basis of gender, origin or language, and the church is keen that everyone enjoys the same rights and duties," a statement read, alluding to the Islamist domination of the assembly.

Earlier this week, the Salafi-led Nour Party rejected describing the state as “civil” in the new constitution and insisted that the basis for legislation should be “Sharia” rather than “the principles of Sharia.”

Party leaders claimed Wednesday that they had reached an agreement with prominent Brotherhood and FJP figures over Article 2 before the presidential runoff and accused them of backtracking on their promise.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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