Egyptian Court Gives Christian Copt Civil Servants a Month's Paid Leave to Visit Jerusalem

The court said the Egyptian constitution guarantees the group the same rights as Muslim civil servants who get a month off once in a lifetime to undertake the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Christian Orthodox worshippers hold candles lit from the "Holy Fire" as thousands gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City on April 30, 2016.
Gali Tibbon, AFP

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court has granted the same right to the country's Christian Copt civil servants to take a one-month's paid leave from work to visit Jerusalem that Egyptian Muslim civil servants get to take the pilgrimage to Mecca, the Egypt Independent news website reported Sunday.

Islam generally requires Muslims to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, and Saturday's ruling now provides civil servants from Egypt's Coptic Christian minority the same paid time off from work for a Jerusalem pilgrimage. The court based its ruling on the country's constitutional guarantees.  

The Coptic presence in Egypt is said to date to the early period of Christianity. In recent years, Copts have been targeted by Islamic extremists.

In December a terrorist attack at Cairo's Coptic cathedral killed 25 people following which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi declared three days of national mourning. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Coptic Orthodox Church has a permanent presence at Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christian tradition holds is the sight of Jesus' crucifixion. The head of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church visited Jerusalem in 2015, in the first such visit in 35 years.

The trip by Pope Tawadros II, who came to take part in the funeral of a local Coptic bishop, aroused great controversy in Egypt. Some critics argued that the visit violated the ban on pilgrimages to Israel that was imposed in 1980 by Tawadros’ predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, following the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.