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Egyptian Christian Converts ‘Safe’

By Dan Wooding
10/21/07 EGYPT (ANS) — Two Egyptian converts from Islam to Christianity who went missing last week are said to be in a “good place,” their lawyer said on Sunday.

According to a story written by Rachelle Kliger for www.themedialine.org, the converts, Muhammad Hegazi and his pregnant wife Zeinab, went missing last Monday. They had previously not left their home in a month after receiving numerous death threats.

The lawyer, Ramsis Raouf A-Naggar, told The Media Line that Hegazi was not communicating with anyone at this point. A-Naggar refused to state the reason for the disappearance of Hegazi and his wife.

He talked of “problems with the government and the Muslims in Egypt,” without elaborating.

Hegazi, 24, is engaged in a legal battle with the Egyptian authorities.

Kliger went on to write, “After changing his faith from Islam to Christianity, Hegazi filed suit against the Egyptian government for refusing to recognize his new religion in his national identification card.

“As well as switching religions, Muhammad wanted to change his name to Bechoy and his wife Zeinab wanted her name registered as Christine.

“Hegazi was unable to attend the first hearing at the beginning of October, due to security reasons. His next hearing is scheduled for November 13.

“The couple also wants their unborn child, due in January, to be registered as a Christian. This would enable the child to study in Christian religious classes, marry in a church and practice the faith without facing harassment.”

She went on to write that Christian organizations have been advocating on behalf of the Hegazis to help have their faith and new identities officially recognized.

According to Open Doors, an organization representing persecuted Christians, conversion from one faith to another is permitted in Egypt, but the Interior Ministry refuses to issue new ID cards for Muslims who have converted to Christianity and these converts face persecution. As a result, the organization says many of these converts are forced into hiding.

Nearly 10 percent of the Egypt’s 80 million inhabitants are Christians, mostly Coptic. They say they face discrimination from the Egyptian authorities.

Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, said Christians in Egypt had fewer rights, and attacks on Christians in the past have not been properly addressed by the judicial authorities.

“There’s a failure of justice that’s quite deliberate against Christians,” Shea said.

In addition, she pointed out that Christians in Egypt were refused positions of authority in some sectors of the government, the military and academia.