Egypt recognizes Christian converts

Verdict overturns 2007 ruling which forbade the conversion on the ground that it would be apostasy.

copts church egypt (photo credit: Courtesy)
copts church egypt
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Twelve Egyptian converts to Christianity have had their conversions officially recognized by an Egyptian court. The 12 who were born Copts, converted to Islam and then converted back to their original faith. The recognition of their new faith by the highest civil court in Egypt overturns an April 2007 ruling by a lower court forbidding them to convert to Christianity on the grounds that it would be apostasy. The ruling is seen as a small victory for human rights advocates in Egypt. "This is a very good step towards freedom of religion in Egypt," Ramsis Raouf El-Naggar, a lawyer representing most of the defendants, told The Media Line. Many Muslims see abandoning Islam as an act of apostasy, which is punishable by death. Under the new ruling, the Egyptian Ministry of Interior will update the religious status on their identity cards and register them as Christians. The ID cards will say they adopted Islam for a brief period. Valid ID cards are essential in Egypt for such routine matters as children's schooling, job applications, and marriage. One of the 12 converts, who asked not to be named, told The Media Line that he was "very happy" with the ruling which would allow his son to be officially recognized as a Christian too. He originally converted to marry a Muslim woman, but later divorced her. El-Naggar said there are usually three reasons for converting from Christianity to Islam in Egypt - divorcing a woman, marrying a Muslim, or for the monetary incentives offered to impoverished Christians. Egypt does not execute Muslims for becoming Christians, but converts often face harassment and even death at the hands of the community or family members. Most converts in Egypt practice their new religion in secret or leave the country. The judge ruled that the 12 would not be considered apostates because they were born Christian. However, the ruling does not set a sweeping precedent, because it does not apply to converts who were born Muslim. El-Naggar said there is still along way to go before born Muslims who converted will have their rights recognized, but he is working on it. The lawyer is also defending Muhammad Al-Hegazi, a born Muslim who converted to Christianity and is filing suit against the Egyptian government for refusing to recognize his new religion. Last year Hegazi was briefly forced into hiding following threats on his life. "We're working on his case to establish his rights because we want to have freedom of religion in Egypt," El-Naggar said. Egypt's Christians who are mostly Copts make up around 10 percent of the country's 80 million inhabitants.