Most discussions about the Middle East assume the Muslim religion is the center of most lives, but at least 10% of the Egyptian population are members of the Coptic Church which predates the arrival of a Muslim religion. As a minority, most Coptics accept strict control of the Church by its hierarchy. Divorce is not regarded as being very Christian so it is frequently difficult for a men and women to end their marriage. Irini Ibrahim was trapped in a marriage with an abusive husband. She raised the issue of securing a divorce with her parents who were shocked and insisted Irini and her husband seek”reconciliation sessions” under the guidance of a priest. After several such meetings, the priest anointed Irini and told her things were Ok and the two of them should head off to a second honeymoon. Hours later, the battered body of Irini was found in a hotel room and evidence indicated she was strangled and had her head battered into a wall. Her husband, who also held US citizenship fled the country.
The case created a furor among many Coptics who regard their conservative clergy as exerting too much control over their private lives. Church law only allows divorce on grounds of adultery, conversion to another religion or changing one’s Christian denomination. There is some evidence Coptics have converted to Catholicism or become Protestants.Of course, there is always the option to convert to the Muslim religion. Unfortunately, Muslim leaders of Egypt prefer Coptics to be ruled by conservative priests who apparently will not disturb the status quo.