Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Coptic Church has threatened to reject Egypt’s new draft constitution over the terminology used to describe Christians and Jews, Asharq Al-Awsat has learned.
A member of the 50-member constitution drafting committee, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the differences revolve around an article that uses the term “People of the Book” to refer to Christians and Jews, which some from the two minority groups find offensive.
A Church official on the constitution-drafting committee, also speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, said that the Coptic Church may call on Egyptians to vote against the new constitution, which is expected to go to a public referendum in December, citing violations by the Salafist Al-Nour Party.
The committee member said: “The Salafist Al-Nour Party, together with Al-Azhar, have led the argument to keep the text of Article 3 which keeps the 2012 constitution reference to the People of the Book.”
Article 3 of the suspended constitution stipulates that “The canon principles of the People of the Book are the main source of legislation for their personal status laws, religious affairs and the selection of their spiritual leaders.”
Egypt’s Christians have rejected the term “People of the Book,” preferring the article refer specifically to “non-Muslims.” Initial reports revealed that representatives of the three Egyptian churches—Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical—had initially reached an agreement with the rest of the constitution-drafting committee to replace the original term with “Christians and Jews”; however, further disagreements have now emerged.
Egyptian Christians make up between 10 and 15 percent of Egypt’s total population of 80 million.
The Christian committee member added that the committee also rejected a request by the churches to add an article about establishing an independent council of churches. This comes after the committee agreed to insert an article in the constitution to guarantee the independence of Al-Azhar.
The source added that another request calling for a quota for Copts in parliament was also rejected.
“Christians were optimistic about the new constitution, but the articles that have been rejected have raised their anger, leading some to declare that they would vote against the constitution in the referendum,” he added.
Egyptian Christians suffered from discrimination during former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, as well as under the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the presence of constitutional articles and legislation guaranteeing freedom of belief and criminalizing religious discrimination.
Sectarian tensions in Egypt were raised further this year following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, with some Muslim Brotherhood supporters taking out their anger on Egypt’s Christian minority.