Coptic Church tries to cope with rising divorce demands

August 27, 2017
Women’s lives. An Egyptian Christian woman attends Egypt’s Coptic Christmas Eve mass in a church of the Samaan el-Kharaz Monastery in the Mokattam Mountain area of Cairo, last January.

Cairo - The Coptic Orthodox Church is offering pre-marriage courses to con­front the growing number of divorce requests from Christian couples.
“We only want to help those about to get married to be able to choose the right partners and then know how to protect their mar­riage by overcoming problems on the road in a wise manner,” said the Reverend Polis Halim, official spokesman of the church. “This can contribute to reducing divorce rates.”
Divorce rates among Coptic Christians are not rising but ap­parently only because the church applies stringent rules on divorce. Analysts said many Coptic Chris­tian couples have separated but cannot secure a divorce from the church.
Rising divorce rates are an is­sue in Egypt. In 2015, there were 250,000 divorces in the country, the Egyptian cabinet said, com­pared to 89,000 in 2014. The figure for 2016 was 200,000, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said, and many analysts predict a similar fig­ure for 2017.
There is a particularly high di­vorce rate among those recently married. CAMPAS said 40% of those divorced in 2016 had been married less than five years.
The Coptic Church only recog­nises adultery or apostasy as rea­sons for divorce. The Roman Cath­olic and Anglican churches, which have strong presences in Egypt, have similarly stringent rules re­garding divorce.
Church figures indicate that the Coptic Orthodox Church is con­sidering 3,000 divorce requests, most of which are expected to be rejected.
“These rules are outdated and contribute to fomenting anger within the Christian community, especially among those who can­not live together for other reasons,” said Christian activist Kamal Zakh­ir. “Christians are badly in need of a civil, not church law, to regulate marriage and divorce.”
Zakhir said some Christians have waited 15 years for church approval on divorce requests. Others, he said, changed religious denomina­tion to find less strict divorce rules.
Several Christians who received church approval for divorce and re­marriage participated in a celebra­tion in Cairo in early August, invit­ing media to examine the church’s tough line on divorce.
The Coptic Orthodox Church said it would establish pre-marriage courses, which would include in­formation about an understand­ing of marriage. The “Consultation Course” is to be conducted at all churches over a three-month peri­od. People who want to get married must attend at least three-quarters of the lectures.
“Otherwise, these people’s mar­riages will not be approved by the church,” Halim said.
People completing the course will be given a certificate confirm­ing that they attended the course and passed subsequent tests, which makes them eligible for a marriage licence.
The courses include lectures and workshops on how to choose a spouse, healthy communication in marriage, ways to solve marriage problems and financial manage­ment.
Legal representatives of the three main Christian churches in Egypt are debating a new divorce bill that aims to better address divorce and remarriage.
The draft bill proposes that the “impossibility of continuing mar­ried life” should serve as a basis for divorce. However, couples with children could only apply on this basis after being separated for five years. Childless couples would have to wait three years to be di­vorced.
If enacted, the bill would be Egypt’s first civil legal document regulating marriage and divorce for Christians. Marriage and divorce for Egypt’s predominantly Muslim population are regulated by Islam.
Difficulties in securing church approval for divorce requests led many couples to fabricate evi­dence of adultery. Many Christians strongly criticised their inability to get divorced or remarried.
Egyptian activist Hany Ezzat, a well-known campaigner regard­ing Christian divorce, said the pre-marriage courses expose the extent to which the church interferes with its members’ lives.
“Instead of forcing these adher­ents to attend the courses and dic­tating to them what their partners should be like, the church would rather simplify marriage and di­vorce,” said Ezzat, the head of the self-styled Personal Status Affairs Victims’ Union. “It should then leave people to choose whoever they want to live with and let them live the way they want.”