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US State Department report on Human Rights

ICC Note

According to US State Department report on Egypt , Christians in that country face discrimination and other forms of persecution.

March 12, 2008 Egypt (US Coptic Association)- …

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association; however, the government significantly restricted the exercise of this right. The minister of insurance and social affairs has the authority to dissolve NGOs by decree. The law also requires NGOs to obtain permission from the government before accepting foreign funds. According to officials, donations from foreign governments with established development programs in the country were excluded from this requirement.

On March 29, the Chairman of the City of Naga Hamadi , General al-Sherbeery Hasheesh, ordered the closure of the city’s branch of the Center for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS). On April 10, the governor of El-Gharbiya issued a similar decision to shut down the CTUWS branch in Mahalla. In both instances, government officials alleged CTUWS was responsible for inciting labor strikes.

On July 9, in response to the closure of the CTUWS, 39 domestic NGOs launched a campaign calling for freedom of association. On August 15, the EOHR issued a statement condemning the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s refusal to register CTUWS. Unable to obtain NGO registration from the government, it had registered in 1990 as a civil company under the commercial code.

On September 8, the government ordered the closure of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA), a leading local human rights NGO, for accepting funds from foreign donors without government approval. AHRLA played a role in exposing several cases of torture by security personnel, specifically in a lawsuit against a state security officer who allegedly tortured Mohamed Abdel Kader al-Sayed to death in 2003. Several local and international NGOs, including the Cairo-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), and the HRW, expressed concern over the closing and urged the government to reverse the decision and allow AHRLA to resume activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the government restricted the exercise of these rights. According to the constitution, Islam is the official state religion and Shari’a (Islamic law) the primary source of legislation. Religious practices that conflict with the government’s interpretation of Shari’a are prohibited. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worshiped without harassment and maintained links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of religions that are not recognized by the government, particularly the Baha’i Faith, experienced personal and collective hardship.

Approximately 90 percent of citizens are Sunni Muslims; less than 1 percent are Shi’a Muslims. Estimates of the percentage of Christians ranged from 8 to 12 percent, or between 6 and 10 million, the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church. There are small numbers of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the government does not recognize either group. The non-Muslim, non-Coptic Orthodox communities ranged in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The number of Baha’is is estimated at 2,000 persons.

The law bans Baha’i institutions and community activities and stripped Baha’is of legal recognition. The government continued to deny civil documents, including ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha’i community. The MOI requires identity card applicants to self-identify as Jew, Christian, or Muslim. As a result, Baha’is face great difficulties in conducting civil transactions, including registering births, marriages and deaths, obtaining passports, enrolling children in school, opening bank accounts, and obtaining driver’s licenses. During the year, Baha’is and members of other religious groups were compelled either to misrepresent themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, or go without valid identity documents. Many Baha’is chose the latter course.

By September 30, all citizens had to obtain new computer identification cards or risk detention; however, the government did not enforce this requirement. In December 2006 the Supreme Administrative Court overturned a lower court ruling, deciding that Baha’is may not list their religion in the mandatory religion field on obligatory government identity cards. In May 2006 the MOI successfully appealed an administrative court ruling issued in April 2006, which supported the right of Baha’i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with the Baha’i religion noted on the documents. The government issued passports, which do not indicate the holder’s religion, for Baha’i citizens.

In February the EIPR filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University ’s Higher Institute of Social Work due to his inability to obtain an identity card because he is a Baha’i. Students must produce a military draft postponement to complete their university education without interruption; however, one cannot obtain a military draft number without being issued a national ID number and a national ID card. The case was pending at year’s end.

On September 10, the NCHR organized a workshop to discuss the issue of religious identity on ID cards. General Aly Abdel Mawla, Head of General Administration for Legal Affairs in the MOI, opposed the suggestion that the government allow the religion field to be left blank, asserting that the policy of requiring the indication of religious affiliation aims to protect freedom of religion.

In October Raouf Hindi Halim, a Baha’i convert, filed suit against the government to issue birth certificates for his twin daughters with the religion field left blank or to write (Baha’i) in the field. The case was postponed several times since it was first brought before the administrative court in 2004. Halim obtained birth certificates for the children when they were born in 1993 which recognized their Baha’i religious affiliation, but new certificates were mandatory, and the children were unable to enroll in public schools without them. The case remained pending at year’s end.

During the year security forces arrested those affiliated with the Koranist movement, a small group of Muslims who rely on the Koran as the sole source for Islam, excluding the prophetic traditions (”hadith”) and other sources of Islamic view. On May 29, SSIS agents arrested three Koranist men. On May 31 and June 17, the SSIS arrested two more Koranists. According to a lawyer with the EIPR, who attended some of the police interrogations of the Koranists, the interrogation of the detainees was focused on their religious views. One detainee told the EIPR and the investigating prosecutor that an SSIS investigator previously beat and threatened him with rape. On October 5, authorities released the five men.

According to a 2005 presidential decree, churches are permitted to proceed with rebuilding and repair simply by notifying the governorate administration in writing. Permits for construction of new churches remained subject to presidential decree. Despite these decrees, some local security and government officials continued to prevent churches from being renovated, often requiring an exhaustive list of documents to be submitted multiple times between administrative and security departments of governorates, in repeated attempts to preclude final authorization. As a result, congregations experienced lengthy delays–lasting for years in many cases—-waiting for new church building permits to be issued. Authorities refused to issue decrees for restoration, renovation, and expansion of churches, or failed to enforce decrees that had already been approved. Local authorities closed unlicensed buildings used as places of worship.

Government officials previously asserted that the government approves a much larger number of projects for church construction and expansion through informal arrangements between church authorities and local security and administrative officials.

On January 18, the NCHR released its third annual report. The report called for the removal of obstacles that hinder political participation, primarily by Christians and women. The NCHR reported that it had received replies from government ministries and other bodies regarding 36 of the 57 formal complaints regarding religious freedom that it had received between March and December 2006 and sent forward to relevant authorities for action.

In addition to complaints by Christian citizens to the NCHR, there were also 14 complaints from Baha’is, one of which was signed by 51 complainants who sought the right to have their religion listed on official papers.

State-run television refused to comply with a 2005 judicial ruling banning veiled anchorwomen on television programs. In March the court told anchorwomen Hala al-Malki and Ghada al-Tawil that it could do nothing to enforce its ruling. In April al-Malki and al-Tawil appealed the 2005 ruling. On June 21, before any decision on the appeal was made, Hala al-Malki anchored a program on national state television while wearing a hijab. The status of the women’s formal appeal was pending at year’s end.

According to March media reports, officials at the Al-Ayat Government Industrial Secondary School in Giza governorate attempted to require all female students, including Christians, to wear hijabs. The Ministry of Education quickly denied this allegation, noting that it bans wearing the hijab in primary schools and allows it only in preparatory and secondary schools upon written request from a girl’s parent.

Neither the constitution nor the civil and penal codes prohibits proselytizing, but those accused of proselytizing have been harassed by police or arrested on charges of violating Article 98(F) of the penal code, which prohibits citizens from ridiculing or insulting “heavenly religions” or inciting sectarian strife.

While there are no legal restrictions on the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, the conversion of Muslims to any other religion is prohibited by Shari’a. Converts to Christianity sometimes faced harassment. On April 28, authorities released Bahaa Al-Accad, a Christian convert, after he had spent almost 2 years in prison without being formally charged with any crime.

On April 24, the Court of Administrative Justice ruled that the MOI was not obligated to recognize reconversion back to Christianity by Christian-born converts to Islam. The court ruled that such recognition would violate the prohibition against apostasy under Islamic Shari’a and constitute a “manipulation of Islam and Muslims.” This ruling was inconsistent with other court rulings in the last three years ordering the MOI to issue amended identification cards to 32 citizens who sought to reconvert to Christianity.

On August 8, police detained Adel Fawzi Faltas Hanna, a retired doctor and president of the Middle East Christian Association’s (MECA) Egyptian branch, and Peter Ezzat Hanna, a photographer for MECA and the Copts United Web site. The authorities investigated the two men’s activities, based on accusations that they had insulted Islam. The police also raided the Cairo homes of Hanna and Ezzat and confiscated several copies of a MECA publication (”the Persecuted”), which MECA had printed abroad and then distributed in the country. On November 4, authorities released Faltas and Ezzat following three months in detention. On November 5, authorities arrested three other MECA affiliates/activists–Wagih Yaob, Victor George, and Mamdouh Azmeh–whom authorities also investigated for denigrating Islam. On December 26, authorities released the three men without charge.

In the absence of a legal means to register their change in religious status, some converts have resorted to soliciting illicit identity papers, often by submitting fraudulent supporting documents or bribing the government clerks who process the documents. In such cases, authorities periodically charged converts with violating laws prohibiting the falsification of documents.

In August Mohamed Ahmed Hegazi and his wife, Zeinab, publicly announced that they had converted to Christianity and wished to be legally recognized as such to ensure they could raise their children as Christians. However, the Civil Registrar refused to issue Hegazi a new National ID card stating his new religion. On August 2, Hegazi sued the minister of interior. The case remained pending at year’s end.

Rulings concerning marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, and burial are based on an individual’s religion. In the practice of family law, the government recognizes only the three “heavenly religions:” Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Muslim families are subject to Shari’a, Christian families to Canon law, and Jewish families to Jewish law. In cases of family law disputes involving a marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man, the courts apply Shari’a.

The government does not recognize the marriages of citizens adhering to faiths other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. Coptic males are prevented from marrying Muslim women by both civil and religious laws. A civil marriage abroad is an option if a Christian male and a Muslim female citizen decide to marry; however, their marriage would not be legally recognized in the country. A female Muslim citizen in such a situation could be arrested and charged with apostasy, and any children from such a marriage could be taken and assigned to the physical custody of a male Muslim guardian, as determined by the government’s interpretation of Shari’a. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in specific circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion.

On September 3, the Alexandria Administrative Court ruled that the father of Mario Medhat Ramses, 11, and Andrew Medhat Ramses, 13, could convert his sons to Islam, despite their Christian mother’s objections. The estranged father had previously converted from Christianity to Islam. The children’s mother appealed to the Cairo Supreme Administrative Court, and the case remained pending at year’s end.

There were no reports of forced religious conversion carried out by the government; however, there continued to be unsubstantiated reports of forced conversions of Coptic women and girls to Islam by Muslim men. Reports of such cases were disputed and often included allegations and denials of organized seduction, kidnapping and rape. Observers, including human rights groups, found it extremely difficult to determine whether compulsion was used, as most cases involved a Coptic female who converted to Islam when she married a Muslim man. Reports of such cases almost never appear in the local media.

On February 9, Muslim citizens set fire to Christian owned shops in the village of Armant , Qena governorate, after reports surfaced of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man. Security forces deployed in the town closed shops under a security decree and detained eight Muslims and one Copt. Some were released on February 15, and the rest were released shortly thereafter. Member of Parliament (MP) Mohamed al-Nubi and village leaders initiated a national conference on inter-religious dialogue to address the sectarian divide and reportedly brought together some 2,000 Muslims and Christians from across the country.

On September 21, rumors of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man again sparked sectarian clashes in Alexandria . Reportedly dozens of Muslims and Christians fought and hurled bricks at each following Friday evening prayers. Nine people were injured and about nine cars were destroyed in the clashes before security forces were deployed to the area and detained 25 people. The prosecution office ordered their detention for four days pending investigations. All were released without charges.

While there is no legal requirement for a Christian girl or woman to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, conversion to Islam has been used to circumvent the legal prohibition on marriage under the age of 16 or marriage between the ages of 16 and 21 without the approval and presence of the girl’s male guardian (usually her father). The law only recognizes the willing conversion to Islam of any person over age 16. However, there are credible reports of local government authorities failing to uphold the law. Local authorities sometimes allow custody of a minor Christian female who “converts” to Islam to be transferred to a Muslim custodian, who is likely to grant approval for an underage marriage. Some Coptic activists maintain that government officials do not respond effectively to instances of alleged kidnapping. In cases of marriage between an underage Christian girl and a Muslim man, there have been credible reports that government authorities have failed to sufficiently cooperate with Christian families seeking to regain custody of their daughters.

During the year, according to Watani newspaper editor and publisher Youssef Sidhom and Christian lawyer Naguib Gabriel, the MOI ceased to require “advice and guidance sessions” in cases of Christian-born converts to Islam without any prior notice or discussion. According to Sidhom, the advice and guidance sessions repeatedly proved to be instrumental in resolving disputed conversion cases, returning many Christian girls to their original faith and families. Gabriel filed a lawsuit before the administrative court to restore these sessions, but the court had not issued any judgment by year’s end.

The constitution requires elementary and secondary public schools to offer religious instruction. Public and private schools provided religious instruction according to the faith of the student.

The government occasionally prosecuted members of religious groups whose practices deviated from mainstream Islamic beliefs and whose activities were believed to jeopardize communal harmony.

In May 2006 public prosecutor Maher Abdul Wahid ordered two Azharites, Abdul Sabur al-Kashef and Mohammed Radwan, to be tried by a low-level criminal court on charges of blaspheming Islam. Kashef was prosecuted for claiming to have seen God while Radwan was prosecuted for denying the existence of heaven and hell. Al-Kashef was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment while Radwan received three years. In mid-January El-Gamaleya Misdemeanor Court of Appeals reduced Kashef’s sentence to six years’ imprisonment and upheld the earlier ruling of three years for Radwan.

While Jehovah’s Witnesses remained without legal status, the small community in the country reported that hostile treatment from security services diminished significantly. In 2006 a delegation of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Europe and the United States made several visits to meet with government officials in order to explore the prospects for the formal establishment of the faith in the country and to advocate for the human rights and religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Societal religious discrimination and sectarian tension continued during the year. Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha’is.

The constitution provides for equal public rights and duties without discrimination based on religion or creed, and in general the government upheld these protections; however, government discrimination against non-Muslims existed.

On March 27, voters approved 34 constitutional amendments with unclear implications for religious freedom. The amended Article 1 of the constitution states that the country’s political system is based on the principle of citizenship. Government supporters argued that these changes would separate religion from politics. However, some critics argued that the amendments are incompatible with Article 2, which continues to state that Shari’a is the basis for legislation.

The government continued to discriminate against Christians in public sector employment, in staff appointments to public universities, by payment of Muslim imams through public funds (Christian clergy are paid by private church funds), and by refusal to admit Christians to Al-Azhar University (a publicly-funded institution). In general, public university training programs for Arabic language teachers refuse to admit non-Muslims because the curriculum involves the study of the Koran. There have been no reports of Christian graduates since 2001.

Courts have normally not prosecuted officials suspected of causing personal injuries or damages due to sectarian-based violence. However, the government took positive steps in response to an April 2006 sectarian attack in Alexandria that led to mob violence resulting in personal injury to Copts and the burning and looting of Christian-owned shops. A parliamentary inquiry investigated the incidents, and on January 22, a police military tribunal in Cairo convicted five of the 10 accused police officers on charges of dereliction of duty for failing to appear at their respective duty stations. The court had not handed down final rulings against the remaining five officers by year’s end.

On May 11, a group of Muslim citizens attacked Christians in the village of Bamha . In the ensuing violence, Muslims reportedly set fire to or looted 27 Christian shops and homes and injured 11 Christians. The police responded quickly to contain the incident and arrested approximately 60 persons whom they released soon after.

On July 15, in Fayoum, a group of young Muslims attacked the wall that surrounded the land of an Evangelical Church and destroyed and stole the brick and cement supplies that were stored on site. On July 18, a reconciliation meeting took place at which Reverend Ghattas met with Fayoum Governor Magdi Qubeissi, who promised to have the culprits punished, the wall re-built, and the church indemnified for damages. Security officials promised to compensate the church, but the church had not received any compensation by year’s end.

The country’s Jewish community numbered approximately 100; most were senior citizens. Anti-Semitic sentiments appeared in both the progovernment and opposition press. Anti-Semitism in the media was common but less prevalent than in recent years, but anti-Semitic editorial cartoons and articles depicting demonic images of Jews and Israeli leaders, stereotypical images of Jews along with Jewish symbols, and comparisons of Israeli leaders to Hitler and the Nazis were published throughout the year. These expressions occurred primarily in the government-sponsored daily newspaper, Al-Gumhuriyya, Akhbar Al-Yawm, and Al-Ahram, and occurred without government response.

The government advised journalists and cartoonists to avoid anti-Semitism. Government officials insisted that anti-Semitic statements in the media were a reaction to Israeli government actions against Palestinians and did not constitute anti-Semitism.

On July 22, Watani newspaper, a newspaper published by the Coptic Church, reported on a book titled “The Evidence of the Greatness of Mohamed’s Message and Prophesies of it in the books of the People of the Book,” written by Mohamed al-Sadat and published by the state-owned publishing house, the General Egyptian Book Organization (GEBO). The book stated fundamental tenants of Islam but also attacked Christianity and Judaism and derided the concept of the Trinity. Nasser al-Ansari, the chairman of the board of GEBO, later halted its circulation.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2007 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

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Protection of Refugees

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Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

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Elections and Political Participation

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Government Corruption and Transparency

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Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

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Women

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Children

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Trafficking in Persons

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Persons with Disabilities

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Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

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Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

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b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

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c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

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e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

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