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EGYPT : COURT DELAYS RULING ON ‘RECONVERSION’

ICC Note

Egypt is a country where converting to Christianity is difficult or almost impossible in some cases. 12 Egyptian who wanted to revert to Christianity after adopting Islam are having hard time to do so as revealed in this story.

Thursday September 06, 2007 Egypt (Compass Direct News) – An Egyptian court has delayed ruling in the appeal of converts to Islam who wish to return Christianity.

At a hearing on Saturday (September 1), Egypt ’s Supreme Administrative Court set the date for a ruling at November 17.

Much is at stake in conflicts over religious identity in Egypt , where religious status legally determines whom one can marry, custody of children, inheritance, the type of religious education required and where one can be buried.

The punishment for “apostasy” from Islam is death, according to most mainstream Egyptian interpretations of Islamic law, enshrined in Egypt ’s constitution. No converts have been tried for “apostasy,” but conversion away from Islam remains difficult, while hundreds become Muslim every year.

In April, a lower court overturned previous rulings allowing converts to Islam to revert to their original faith, claiming the group of at least 12 was “manipulating” religion.

Interior Minister Habib al-Adly spoke out in support of the lower court ruling the following week, insisting that any Muslim who abandons his faith must be killed, according to Egyptian weekly Sout al Oma.

But Hossam Baghat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said that many conservative scholars have not labeled the group of “re-converts” as apostates, creating some hope that their appeal may succeed.

“They converted to Islam briefly to get out of a bad marriage, to get a second wife, or to get divorced, things that the Coptic Church in Egypt does not allow,” Baghat said. “Once they solved their urgent problems, they wanted to convert back to Christianity.”

In July, Egypt ’s Supreme Administrative Court had agreed to accept the appeal, setting the first hearing for September 1.

Affect on Hegazy

Baghat said he hoped that the case of the group of Muslim converts returning to Christianity might help the case of Mohammed Hegazy, a Muslim-born Egyptian who is suing the government to have his conversion to Christianity officially recognized.

“We think of course that a favorable decision in this case of re-conversion will serve the other category of people who are born Muslim and want to convert to Christianity or to any other religion,” said Baghat. He added that the two still remained separate legal issues.

In recent years, Christian converts to Islam have won the right to convert back to Christianity, specifically because courts have not viewed the change as an issue of “apostasy,” according to Baghat.

In July, Egypt ’s second highest religious authority told The Washington Post that “apostates” should not receive any earthly punishment. Dr. Ali Gomaa’s statement created outcry among conservative Muslims in Egypt but prompted Hegazy to sue for the change to be officially recognized.

The unprecedented move drew harsh public condemnation, with Islamic scholars almost unanimously calling for the death of the Hegazy. He was forced into hiding with his pregnant wife after both he and his lawyer (who eventually withdrew from the case) received death threats.

Hundreds of converts to Christianity in Egypt are forced to live double lives in order to escape torture and harassment at the hands of family members and security police.

Though no convert has ever been tried for “apostasy,” they are often charged with the crime of “insulting a heavenly religion [Islam]” and held indefinitely under Egypt ’s emergency law.

As to whether he thought Hegazy’s case had heightened sensitivities toward the issue of conversion, endangering the chances of converts to Islam who wished to revert to Christianity, Baghat said, “We were worried, but it didn’t really come up at all – nothing was raised about apostasy per se.”