[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Bishop of Egypt, Dr Mouneer Anis, has called on Anglicans to pray and advocate with their local Egyptian consulates and embassies after a court ruling effectively subsumed the diocese into a separate denominational body. Dr Anis, who is also the Archbishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, told ACNS that the Evangelical Church Association (ECA) has been laying claim to the Anglican Episcopal Diocese of Egypt for several years. Now, after a 14-year legal battle, a court has ruled that the Anglican Church in Egypt belongs to the ECA and can only be represented by the ECA President.
“This preposterous claim did not just stop there,” Dr Anis said. “They further claimed that they can take possession of all of the Episcopal/Anglican Church properties as their own. They are now forcing us to take their approval before we notarise any document in the government. Moreover, we need to receive the approval of the ECA before we ask immigration to grant or renew visas to our workers. This is causing us a great deal of trouble.”
The diocese is appealing against the court’s decision and a new hearing will be held on Tuesday (1 November).
The secretary general of the Anglican Communion, Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, said 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.”
The court judgment, which was issued in June, ruled that the Episcopal / Anglican Church of Egypt cannot be independent from ECA. This month, when the diocese applied to the immigration department for a visa for one of its workers, they were told they needed a recommendation from the ECA before the visa could be granted. “This has never happened before, at least in my time as a Bishop from 2000,” Dr Anis said.
In a prayer letter to supporters, Dr Anis said that the diocese was “under heavy attack” from the ECA, which is a Presbyterian denomination. “For more than two hundred years, the government recognised us as an independent denomination, but now the ECA is asking the different governmental offices not to deal with us directly but through them.”
The standing committee of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, of which the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa is a part, and the bishops of the province are united in opposing the ECA’s actions. They “rejected the idea of having one diocese in the Province to be under another denomination,” Dr Anis said. A letter from the Province has been sent to the President of Egypt and to Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, in a bid to resolve the issue.
There has been an Anglican / Episcopalian presence in Egypt since the beginning of the 1800s. The first Anglican church in the country was built in Alexandria in 1839 on land donated by Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Wāli, or Governor, of Egypt. What was originally seen as a foreign church for the English-speaking community in the country, it has grown into an indigenous church where most services are conducted in Arabic for Egyptian congregations. Until this judgment, it was recognised as an independent church denomination.
Through ACNS, Dr Anis is asking for Anglicans and Episcopalians to pray for the Church in Egypt. “we feel deprived from our legal rights and our role as a church, and our freedom, may be compromised,” he said.
In particular, he asked for prayer for a fair judgment in the current court case; and for prayers for people in the church, “who are sad about this situation.”
Dr Anis is also asking for people to write to the Egyptian ambassador in their country to express their concerns and to “convey your desire to see the Episcopal / Anglican Diocese in Egypt recognised as another national denomination.” But he urges that people use “kind and persuasive language.”
“The Anglican Church in Egypt conducts worship services in many languages and is, indeed, a house of prayer for all nations and an integral part of the worldwide Anglican Communion,” he said. “The Anglican Church in Egypt has a strong social welfare programme to help and support the disadvantaged in our diocese regardless of their nationality or religion. Our hope is to continue this programme without problems.”