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Egyptian Archbishop Reflects on The Ecclesiastical Conflict Between Anglicans and the Protestant Church in Egypt

Egyptian Archbishop Reflects on The Ecclesiastical Conflict Between Anglicans and the Protestant Church in Egypt
An exclusive interview with Egyptian Archbishop Mouneer Anis

By David W. Virtue, DD
July 28, 2020

VOL: Thank you, Archbishop for giving of your valuable time to speak with VIRTUEONLINE about the situation in Egypt. First of all, congratulations on the formation of a new African & Middle Eastern Province. I am sure that it is a thrilling historical moment in the life of Christianity in the Middle East, particularly for the Anglican Communion and for yourself personally.

ANIS: Thank you so much. Indeed, it is a historical moment and a great encouragement to us here. We are hoping and praying that the new Anglican Province of Alexandria may be faithful to the Triune God, as the early Alexandrian church which was founded on the blood of the saints. We also pray so that we faithfully continue Christ's mission in our region, in Africa and in the Anglican Communion.

VOL: The Middle East is, and always has been, a turbulent place both politically and spiritually with the possibility of war breaking out at any time. It is equally a turbulent spiritual place where Christianity, Judaism and Islam vie for center stage. Based on the most recent figures, Christians now make up approximately 5% of the total Middle Eastern population, down from 20% in the early 20th century. Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against. Do you think the situation will get worse or do you seeing it getting better over time?

ANIS: I would say it is getting better. The majority of Middle Eastern people, Christians and Muslims, can't tolerate exclusion and discrimination. The best example is the revolution of the Egyptians on the 30th of June 2013, when the people rejected the Muslim Brotherhood ruling which discriminated against the moderate Muslims and Christians. The same is happening now in Tunisia, Libya and Sudan. I would say that we are moving towards inclusive citizenship, but it is not an easy road. I am sad that Christians emigrate. I wish they would stay and make a difference.

VOL: In 2014, the Egyptian government drafted a new constitution which guaranteed churches freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians. How has that worked out for you?

ANIS: The 2014 constitution is a great achievement and guarantees inclusive citizenship. However, each article needs to be activated and translated into laws and policies, and this takes time. Article 3 of this constitution is really wonderful because it gives full freedom to Egyptian Christians and Jews, as it says: "The principles of Christian and Jewish Sharia of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislations that regulate their respective personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders". We currently appeal for this to be applied on us as an Anglican community in Egypt because we are perceived as part of the Protestant Churches in Egypt (PCE).

VOL: As I understand it, the Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria is the newest province of the Anglican Communion and was formed from the former Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa in the Episcopal Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Is that correct?

ANIS: Yes, correct.

VOL: As I understand it, the province is the Communion's 41st, bringing together congregations in four dioceses spread across nine countries in North Africa and the Horn of Africa. Is that correct?

ANIS: It is spread over ten countries, Egypt and nine countries.

VOL: According to official records, the Anglican presence in Egypt began in 1819 with clergy sent by the Church Missionary Society who worked in partnership with the Coptic Orthodox Church. The first Anglican Church building -- St Mark's Church in Alexandria -- was consecrated in 1839. What began as a small parish church in 1876 became the Episcopal/Anglican Cathedral in Cairo. Is that a correct version of your history?

ANIS: Yes.

VOL: The announcement recently of the formation of a new Anglican Province of Alexandria, the 41st, while a giant step forward for the Anglican Communion, is fraught with controversy provoking an ecclesiastical firestorm. Can you detail what this controversy is about?

ANIS: The Protestant Church in Egypt (PCE) likes to think that the Diocese of Egypt is one of its members. Now the Diocese of Egypt is formally part of the Province of Alexandria which spreads over Egypt and nine countries outside Egypt. The PCE is trying to block the recognized independent status of the Diocese of Egypt for various reasons.

VOL: Have Anglicans and Presbyterians always been at loggerheads with each other over property ownership?

ANIS: No, we used to have wonderful relations. However, in the seventies they asked Bishop Ishak Mossad, the Diocesan Bishop then, to allow them to use our churches in Suez and in Ismailia. Bishop Ishak agreed and they signed an agreement. Sadly, they confiscated the two churches. My predecessor, Bishop Ghais tried for three years to sort this out, but had no success. At the advice of the Late Rev. Dr. Samuel Habib, Bishop Ghais raised a court case and was able to restore the church in Suez. When I became the Bishop in 2000, I was keen to sort out the problem of the church property in Ismailia in a friendly Christian way, but they claimed that we are under the PCE so it is their right to take over the church. This was the beginning of the conflict.

VOL: You outright reject the Protestant Church in Egypt, a mostly Presbyterian denomination emanating from the United States controlling the Anglican Church in Egypt. What right do they say they have, demanding that you come under their authority?

ANIS: In 1980, the Egyptian Government confiscated our Anglican School in Menouf (in the Delta), with the claim that this school belonged to the British Colonial Government. Our lawyer in this case, who was also the Vice-President of the PCE, suggested to the then Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt to join, only on paper, the PCE, in order to produce a document that can be presented to the Court with the hope of getting the school back. The then Bishop followed this advice without consulting the Diocesan Synod or the Provincial Synod nor obtained the approval of these two bodies. Nonetheless, the school was subsequently returned to the Diocese, not because of the letter which was presented, but because of the Egyptian Constitution which protects private property ownership. The PCE now claims that we are under them to control as they did when we wanted our property in Ismailia back.

VOL: You have been engaged in a series of court cases over the years. A statement by Andrea Zaki, President of the PCE, says The Episcopal Church (of Egypt) cannot be separated from the Protestant Churches of Egypt, and that you have initiated some 11 court cases, including one dated 26/10/2013, in which you demand the implementation of the decision which stated the inadmissibility of separating the Episcopal Church from the Protestant Churches of Egypt be stopped and that you have refused to recognize the final verdict issued by the Administrative court on 16/11/2013 in which your lawyer advocated that the you had changed your title and position to a new one from "Archbishop of the provinces of Egypt and North Africa" to "Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East." Can you speak to this?

ANIS: I cannot change my title. I was the Bishop of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa and in 2007, I was Elected Primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East until 2017, when I stepped down as Primate. Then this year I became the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Alexandria. Unfortunately, he convinced the court that I am playing with titles to deceive the court. None of the court cases he mentioned was raised against the PCE.
The truth is that in every case we raised against the authorities, the PCE applied to the court to be an intervening party.

VOL: Do you think a time will come when you can assert fully the independence of the Anglican Church in Egypt from the PCE and be as separate as the Coptic Church of Egypt, or do you see this litigation going on for some time without resolution?

ANIS: I am confident in the Lord of Justice. I wish Rev. Andrea had accepted our attempt to sort this out without going to public courts and through a MOU. I was also hoping that a peacemaker may emerge and intervene. It is very rare to find peace makers now. Having said that, I want to affirm that we love and respect our Presbyterian brothers and sisters and we long to work with them to fulfill Christ's Mission.

VOL: Thank you for your time, Archbishop. We pray God's blessings on you and your ministry. We pray that at a time when Christianity is under assault in the Middle East, that God will continue to bless you with gospel growth as your new province experiences his blessing.


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