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Egyptian court ruling allows Christian reconverts to register faith

Country/Region: Egypt, Middle East and North Africa

Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has made a significant and welcome ruling that will allow Christian reconverts to have their religious registration officially changed back to “Christian”.

The ruling applies to those who were registered – on their birth certificates and/or national ID cards – as “Christian” but whose religious identity was changed to “Muslim”, either because they converted to Islam as adults, or as a consequence of a parent changing their registration, or because of a clerical error. It means that those who return to Christianity having converted to Islam will be officially identified as Christians rather than Muslims. But it does not apply to converts to Christianity from Muslim backgrounds.

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These Christian twins were registered as Muslims when their father converted to Islam

Religious registration affects many important areas of life including marriage, inheritance, education and church attendance. ID cards must be presented in order to perform everyday acts such as travel or registering a complaint at a police station.

Egyptian Christians have been campaigning for this court ruling since 2004; several similar verdicts, issued in 2008, have not been implemented. One more recent ruling was blocked by the State Council’s fatwa committee, which said that each case must be reviewed individually by the court.

The latest verdict, made on 3 July, ruled that the presentation of a birth certificate stating religious registration as “Christian” with a current confirmation of faith from the church would be sufficient for the change to be made automatically.

Lawyer Peter El-Naggar was optimistic that the court order would be executed this time. But a senior Church leader was more sceptical. He said,

The problem is with the authorities who refuse to implement the court orders issued in our favour.

Identity crisis

There is a double standard in Egypt regarding the registration of converts. A senior Church leader explained:

When Christians decide to convert to Islam, they receive support from everyone including the authorities and their ID cards are changed to include their new religion in no time.

When its the other way round, Christians face obstacles and difficulties that obstruct their freedom of belief and the lifestyle they choose to have.

Attempts by converts to have their conversions formally recognised or their ID cards altered have repeatedly failed. Maher el-Gohary, a convert from Islam to Christianity, was forced into hiding with his daughter Dina, also a Christian, after he tried to have the religion on his ID card changed in May 2009 to reflect his faith. They tried to leave the country when the court refused his request but were stopped at the airport and their passports were confiscated. More than one attempt was made on Maher’s life, and Dina was attacked with acid. They were able to escape Egypt earlier this year and are hoping to establish a new life in America.

There are problems also for Christian children whose parent(s) converts to Islam; they are reckoned to be Muslims also and the religion on their birth certificates can be changed to Islam. But when one or both Muslim parents convert to Christianity, their children are still considered to be Muslims. In March 2010 a court rejected a lawsuit from a Christian mother asking for the Christian identity of her twin sons, Mario and Andrew Lufti, whose father converted to Islam, to be reinstated before their identity cards were issued at the age of 16.

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