(AINA) -- Demands raised this week by Islamists in the Constituent Assembly, which is drafting the new Egyptian constitution, for placing the Church's funds under state financial control were categorically rejected by church leaders and Copts at large. Anba Pakhomious, Acting Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, condemned the action of Salafist groups. "The mere submission of such a proposal is totally unacceptable, and if it is approved, this proposal has only one meaning, that Copts are clearly persecuted." He added that the church will not accept the monitoring of its money or donations by any entity, and should not pay taxes to the state because all its activities fall within the provision of the needs of orphans and needy Copts, and therefore the state cannot claim taxes because they are not investment projects.
Counselor Edward Ghaleb, one of the three Coptic Orthodox Church representatives in the Constituent Assembly, said that if the government does not fund the church in any way, how can it demand monitoring its resources. He said that it was illogical to take permission from Central Auditing Authority to budget for the food for the monks in monasteries, and in the ordination of priests, as well as the numerous services provided by the Coptic Church, which are completely funded by collections from Copts.
Father Matthias Nasr, priest of the Church of the Virgin Ezbet el Nakhl, said the state has never funded churches, unlike mosques, which get funding from the taxpayer money paid by Muslims and Christians. He said this new Salafist proposal is aimed at allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate all institutions and exercised control on churches and Christians.
Khaled Saeed, spokesman for the Salafist Front, said the proposal of state monitoring of church funds came after the "insistence by some people" to monitor funds of the Muslim Brotherhood, stressing that the Salafist front does not interfere in the religious beliefs. "There should be control over church funds," he said during a debate over the issue with Ramses El-Naggar, legal adviser to the Coptic Church, which was aired on the Egyptian independent TV Channel Al Hayat on August 28.
Saeed said the smallest monastery in Egypt is larger than the Vatican or Al-Azhar Mosque, which leads to concerns over the presence of a "church state within the Egyptian civil state."
Although assuring all Copts not to fear state control over the church, as the Copts are "part of the Egyptian people," he said that "still it is necessary to know where does its money go and if it is on the right track or not," pointing out that the new constitution will put rules governing all state institutions.
For his part, Ramses Naggar said that comparing the Church with the Muslim Brotherhood is an error, because the MB has a political aim while the church is a spiritual institution. He added that church charities like orphanages or senior citizen homes are subjected to state control and sees no harm in having limited control over churches, but church donations cannot be monitored, pointing out that mosques and churches are not monitored unless they transgress public order and morality.
Coptic intellectual Kamal Zakher, founder of the Secular Front, said that church funds are already controlled by the Coptic Endowment organization and the Milli Council, explaining that the Islamist proposal is a political message to the church to force it to take certain positions or "to seize its funds to control the imbalance in the state budget," reported El-Watan newspaper.
"They are trying to divert our attention from the public demands which went out demonstrating on 24/25 August to legalize the status of the MB and expose the sources of its funding," said the Free Copts statement. "If you want to control me then fund me from the tax payer as the mosques, then you have the right to monitor me," the statement continued.
The Copts Without Chains organization described calls made by political Islam as attempts of " cheap political blackmail and political thuggery." The movement demanded from them to look instead for ways to investigate suspicious sources of funding of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist groups and the Sharia societies as well as the civil mosques that receive billions of dollars from third parties, which are used in supporting extremism, terrorism and Islamization of Christian minors.
By Mary Abdelmassih