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Egypt diocese embroiled in independence dispute

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 11 Nov 2016 @ 12:23

REUTERS

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Greeting: the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, meets the head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, Tawadros II, at the presidential palace in Cairo, on 28 July

Credit: REUTERS

Greeting: the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, meets the head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, Tawadros II, at the presidential palace in Cairo, on 28 July

THE Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East are challenging a court ruling that states that the diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa is part of the Council of Evangelical Churches in Egypt.

A court ruled in June that the Anglican Church in Egypt belongs to the Evangelical Church Association (ECA), and can be represented only by the ECA President.

The President-Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis, reported last month that, after applying to the Immigration Office for a visa for a worker, the diocese was asked to obtain a recommendation from the ECA — something that had never happened since his appointment as Bishop in 2000. The diocese had also been told by the Ministry of the Interior that a document submitted for approval would first have to be signed by the ECA.

The four diocesan bishops of the Province — the Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis; the Bishop of the diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani; the Bishop of lran, the Rt Revd Azad Marshall; and Dr Anis, as Bishop of the diocese of Jerusalem — have signed a letter refusing to recognise that the diocese is part of the Council. It is “impossible” that a diocese in the Province, which covers 22 countries, should be part of a local body, they write. “This is against our Provincial Constitution and would make the administrative and financial issues within the Province absolutely impossible to deal with.”

An appeal brought by the diocese is to be heard on 13 December. A letter from the Province has been sent to the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and to the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, in an effort to resolve the issue.

The history of the relationship between the diocese and the Council is contested. A statement from the Central Office of Protestant Churches (another title for ECA) argues that it has “implicitly considered” the Anglican Church to be a member since the 1940s, when the Anglican Church asked to approve the registration of marriage contracts and death certificates.

In 1980, the statement says, the Anglican Bishop, the Rt Revd Ishaq Mossad, requested that the diocese be part of the Protestant Churches of Egypt, a request that was accepted. To date, it says, the Church has been “officially under the umbrella” of the Central Office.

The Council says that it is Dr Anis who has pressed for the diocese to be independent. It says that, after the June ruling, it “welcomed the return of the Episcopal Church to work with us as one of our member Churches”.

In a statement of response, Dr Anis argues that the diocese now registers all marriages independently, with the approval of the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Interior recognised his signature and seal on his appointment of Bishop, he says, and every document he has produced has been ratified by it, until three weeks ago. He has called on Anglicans to pray and advocate with their local Egyptian consulates and embassies.

The dispute is complicated by a conflict over ownership of properties.

The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said last month that he was “greatly saddened” by the current situation.

“There is a very long tradition of Anglicanism in Egypt,” he said. “We simply cannot lose our identity as Anglicans there. We hope and pray that the Egyptian government and the legal authorities will recognise that we are an independent denomination.”

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