Not just the Hajj: Egypt's Christians granted equal leave for Jerusalem pilgrimage

Published February 6th, 2017 - 11:00 GMT
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site of Jesus' tomb (Wikimedia Commons)
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site of Jesus' tomb (Wikimedia Commons)

Egypt’s Muslim civil servants have long had the right to take a one-off paid vacation to perform the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Until now, however, the country’s Christian minority has enjoyed no such accommodation.

That all changed on Saturday when the nation’s Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that Coptic government employees should be allowed an equivalent month-long holiday to visit Jerusalem.

Lawyer Naguib Gabriel successfully argued that the 1978 law granting Muslims paid leave for the Hajj was unconstitutional, as it excluded Egypt’s Coptic community, which represents around 10 per cent of the population.

The case follows the refusal of the government to allow a number of Christian civil servants to take a holiday to visit the historic and contested city.

“The ruling is a major step towards full citizenship rights for Egyptian Christians,” Gabriel told local newspaper Ahram.

Some expressed similar praise online:

Enlightened approaches [moving us closer] to gaining equality... between all citizens.

This is justice.

Performing a pilgrimage to Mecca is a religious duty for all Muslims who are able to do so. While pilgrimage has a less central place in Christian practice, Jerusalem is nonetheless a holy and revered site. The Coptic Orthodox Church has a permanent presence at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be the site of Jesus' tomb.

However, visiting Jerusalem remains controversial for Egyptian Copts, whose previous leader Pope Shenouda III banned Christians from travelling there in 1980, in protest against Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

A visit to the “Holy Land” by the current Pope, Tawadros II, stirred controversy in 2015.

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