A Christian Child Taken from His Parents, and the Fate of Modern Egypt

In 1858, papal authorities in Bologna kidnapped a seven-year-old Jewish boy named Edgardo Mortara, on the grounds that—since a Catholic nanny had baptized him—he was, according to canon law, a Catholic. Not very different is the case of Shenouda Farouk Bolous, who was found as an infant in an Egyptian church in 2018, and given by a Coptic priest to a childless couple in his congregation. Samuel Tadros explains what followed:

Official adoption was never an option. It is illegal in Islam and hence illegal in Egypt, even for Christians. [The adoptive father’s] niece Mariam was unhappy with the situation. Under Shariah inheritance laws, imposed on Copts as well as Muslims, she would inherit her childless uncle’s estate. Now Shenouda stood in the way. She made her way to the police station in February 2022 and filed a complaint. The parents were quickly summoned and a DNA test was administered. The public prosecutor’s decision was swift. Shenouda was to be taken from them and placed in an orphanage. But it didn’t stop there. Since the child’s parents couldn’t be ascertained, the child was to be automatically considered a Muslim.

Unlike the case of Mortara—who remained a ward of the Vatican until he became an adult—public outcry and a ruling by senior Islamic jurists led to a happy ending in the case of Shenouda, who was returned to his family. But, Tadros writes, the episode says much about the nature of modern-day Egypt, and of the status of dhimmi, or tolerated minority, assigned to its Christians (and, when they remained, to its Jews).

On the one hand, the state authorities had decided that [Shenouda] was Muslim by virtue of having unknown parents, and took him from the only parents he had known. On the other hand, the outcome of the case showcases a state able to make accommodations for the Coptic minority. Which of these is Egypt? The country with a constitution enshrining equality for all its citizens, regardless of their religion? Or the one whose same constitution declares Islam as the religion of the state and the principles of Shariah as the principal source of legislation? The answer is both and neither.

Read more at Compact

More about: Edgaro Mortara, Egypt, Middle East Christianity

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount