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Egypt Christians barred from Jerusalem
Published in Bikya Masr on 05 - 02 - 2010

CAIRO: In a new step that could raise the ire of Coptic activists and human rights organizations in Egypt, the Administrative Court headed by Adel Farghali, Vice-President of the Council of State, issued a ruling Wednesday to ban all Christians from traveling to visit the holy lands in Israel, including Jerusalem. The court also rejected lawsuits filed by a number of Copts against the Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly, demanding the non-implementation of the decision.
Traveling to Israel for Egyptians has always been a controversial matter in a country that maintains somewhat warm political ties with the Jewish state, but it is even harder in Egypt when it comes to Christians, as Coptic Pope Shenouda also prohibits traveling to Israel, even for worshiping and pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which is home to many holy places and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and any Christian, especially Orthdox who visits Israel is prohibited from service and mass, as the Pope considers a move towards normalization with Israel. However, Catholics travel regularly to Israel upon the approval of security agencies.
This time, it may be different and could even effect Catholics and Protestants in the country, as the Court said in its decision that the authorities “work in the interest of the citizen and protect the security of citizens and ensure their safety and have the right to refuse giving permission to any of those who wish to visit a state or a region plagued by violence and murder, as well as falling under the control of the Israeli occupation.”
The verdict caused mixed reactions within the Coptic Community in Egypt, as a number of Copts considered the ruling “politicized.”
Mamdouh Nakhla, Director of the al-Kelma Center for Human Rights, said that Jerusalem is a holy city to the Copts, “especially as it is the birthplace of Jesus,” adding that around 5,000 Egyptian Copts make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem annually. He wondered how the court could prevent them from “performing the rituals of their religion.”
He continued: “is it reasonable to prevent Egyptians from pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, if ever both countries had political differences?”
For his part, Naguib Gabriel, a human rights lawyer and Coptic advocate, considered the verdict an endorsement of the general direction of the state and upholding the principle of obedience. “Pope Shenouda asked Copts not to visit Jerusalem until it is back to the Palestinian Sovereignty [and] Coptic masses agree on that verdict,” adding that not committing to the instructions of the Pope which were supported by the court is a departure from the traditions of the Church.

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