Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pope Shenouda asks for constitutional changes

(AINA) - The head of the Egyptian Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III, suggested an addition to Article 2 of the Constitution, which stipulates Islamic law as the main source of Egypt's legislation.

Shenouda asked the deputy prime minister, Yehia al-Gamal, to add a clause to the article for other non-Muslim denominations. His request came during a Sunday meeting with al-Gamal at the papal residence at Abbassiya Cathedral. The meeting was attended by members from the holy synod, as well as public Coptic figures.

Al-Gamal promised to study the request, saying that he visited the cathedral to check on Shenouda's health. Shenouda was just back from a 18-day trip to the US where he regularly goes for medical treatment.

The majority of Egyptians are Sunni Muslims, but in addition to Coptic Christians, there are other minorities such as Jews, Baha'is and Shia Muslims.

A referendum on a package of constitutional changes on Saturday showed that more than 77.2 percent of Egyptians supported the amendments, which included limiting presidencies to two four-year terms and imposing restrictions on declaring a state of emergency.

But the changes do not tackle Article 2, which states that Islam is the country's official religion. The article has been in place since the Constitution was applied in 1971. It also says that Arabic is the official language of Egypt and that Islam is the main source of legislation.

Last February Ahmed al-Tayyib, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the highest religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, said changing Article 2 may "provoke sedition," describing the article as an established principle for the state.

But the church's rejection of al-Tayyib's statements has been circulated among several Coptic internet websites, saying they entrench the idea of an Islamic state. The websites also highlight suggestions by liberal Copts and Muslims, as well as rights activists, to amend the article, proposing a different text saying that "the principles of divine religions and human rights agreements are the main sources of legislation."

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