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Right to Convert Spotlighted Again in Egypt

ICC Note

Egyptian authorities don’t recognize conversion of Muslims to Christianity. On the other hand, they encourage Christians to convert to Islam. The international community should put pressure on Egypt in order to stop it pursuing such discriminatory policy.

By Joseph Mayton

05/04/2009 Egypt (The Media Line)-Conversion is always a contentious issue in Egypt . Twenty-one-year-old Samar Mohamed’s conversion to Coptic Christianity in order to marry Tharwat Riad has left her on the run from police and her family.

The case has once again sparked tensions between the minority Coptic population and Muslims across the country.

Now, Riad and his wife, who has changed her name to Rahel, are on the run from Egyptian authorities and are currently in hiding outside Cairo .

Their story began a couple of weeks ago when Mohamed, who works at a local hair salon in the middle-class Shobra area of Cairo, was stopped by police on the street and whisked away to the local police station for questioning over her marriage to Riad.

According to Riad, who spoke with The Media Line (TML) shortly after the initial incident, his wife was abused in order to extract information from her before she was taken to her family’s house and was accused of having married 38-year-old Riad when she was a minor.

“I want my wife back, no matter what the price is,” Riad said before the couple’s successful escape last Tuesday.

Speaking through her husband, Mohamed told TML that she was taken to the Shobra police station where officers abused and electrocuted her and threatened to rape her if she did not tell them her husband’s whereabouts, which she refused.

Police then transferred her to her family’s home in accordance with the law. Any minor who gets married is removed from her husband and immediately taken to her parents’ house.

He says that whenever he meets a group of Copts he tells them to stop complaining about the discrimination they receive at the hands of the government and “start to move.” This, Ishaq argues, is the best means of creating a society that will breathe life into the stale religious dialogue that is persisting in Egypt .

“Copts and Christians need to get out there and make the country a part of their life. They cannot live separated from society like what happens in Lebanon because that leads to tension and violence. To say that Copts are the only people under threat is to avoid the truth,” he says.

“We live in a country where the government doesn’t give anyone their rights, so people need to be realistic.”

Ironically, Riad does not shy away from the fact that at his church he volunteered for many years helping Christian girls who had converted to Islam as part of the church’s “bring them back” efforts.

“Some of them did it to get divorced or for financial reasons, but most of all they do it because they fall in love with a Muslim man,” he says, while admitting that the church often offers monetary compensation to the girls in order to bring them back.

An Egyptian court is expected to hear the case of Maher Al Gohary, 56, who claims to have converted to Christianity over 30 years ago and now wants to have “Muslim” changed to “Christian” on his ID card. He filed his case in August last year and is appealing an earlier court’s denial.

The case will be a litmus test for the Egyptian judiciary which continues to walk a fine line between the increasingly conservative Islamists and Copts and the liberal activists who continue to stream onto the streets in anti-government demonstrations.

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