In Egypt, Religious Freedom or Shariah?

Catholics Struggle With Conflicts in Law

CAIRO, Egypt, SEPT. 27, 2007 ( The patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church says that the contradiction in the legal system embodied in the Egyptian Constitution makes life difficult for the faithful.

Patriarch Antonios Naguib explained the difficulties of the Egyptian legal situation to the Germany-based group Aid to the Church in Need.

The patriarch said that on the one hand, the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and conscience while, on the other, it enforces Islam as the state religion and makes Shariah, Islamic law, the "fundamental source of the legal system."

A grave problem for the Church in Egypt, resulting from the unclear legal situation, is difficulty in obtaining permission to build churches, he said.

Patriarch Naguib expressed the hope that things might soon change, as there are some voices calling for the equality of all citizens.


In the meantime, decisions are very arbitrary and a great deal depends on the particular individual in office, he said.

Occasionally one is fortunate, encountering a person with decision-making power who attended a Catholic school -- in which case, one can generally expect a measure of good will, explained Patriarch Naguib.

This also shows the great importance of Church schools, attended by many Muslims, he added.

Generally, the favorable experience Muslims have of the Catholic Church leads them to a better understanding of and coexistence with Christians later in life, he explained.

Egypt's Catholic Copts number about 250,000, a small minority in a country of 74 million inhabitants, 94% of whom are Muslim. Most of the rest are Orthodox Copts. The Catholic Church is divided into seven dioceses and has 11 bishops and 150 priests.

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