Egypt Detains Christian Rights Advocates  

Group leader helped Christian convert, who has new lawyer for conversion case.

by Peter Lamprecht 

ISTANBUL, August 9 (Compass Direct News) – Egyptian police detained the head of a Christian rights group yesterday after he held a high-publicity, online chat session with a controversial Muslim convert to Christianity, the group’s international leader said.

The convert, Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, has filed suit to legally change his identification card from Muslim to Christian. Hegazy’s lawyer withdrew from the case this week amid death threats and public outrage in Egypt, but a new lawyer has stepped in to represent him.

The Egyptian head of the Christian rights group who chatted online with the convert, Dr. Adel Fawzy Faltas, 61, was arrested from his Cairo home yesterday afternoon at 2:40 p.m., said Nader Fawzy, head of the Canada-based Middle East Christian Association (MECA).

Nader Fawzy said he began receiving phone calls from various leaders of MECA’s Egyptian branch on Tuesday night (August 7) reporting that police were following them.

Officials stormed Faltas’ home in Cairo’s Zamalek neighborhood the following day, confiscating two laptops and a desktop computer. Fawzy said that little was known about the separate arrest of another group member, Peter Ezzat.

“They cut up the mattresses, tore everything up and took all the books as well,” said Fawzy, referring to Faltas’ home. He said that the doctor had been blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back.

Police called in one priest involved with the organization to answer questions at 9 p.m. last night, but released him soon afterward, according to Fawzy. He said the rest of the group’s leaders were still in hiding.

State Security Investigation (SSI) officials, Egypt’s security police, held Faltas and Ezzat in New Cairo’s fifth district today, but transferred them to SSI headquarters in Lazoghly tonight. They will be held their over the Muslim weekend tomorrow until their investigation can continue on Saturday.

“I am now the advocate for these men,” lawyer Ramses Raouf el-Nagar told Compass from New Cairo today. The lawyer was waiting to see clients at the public prosecutor’s office.

After speaking with El-Nagar, Fawzy said that the prosecutor was considering five charges against Faltas, including converting Muslims to Christianity, destroying the reputation of Egypt and insulting Islam. Faltas could also be accused of having contact with a foreign organization, Fawzy said. No charges will be made until the prosecutor’s office completes its investigation.

Though conversion away from Islam is not specifically outlawed, it goes against Islamic principles, which are enshrined as the basis of Egyptian law in Article 2 of the constitution. Egyptian converts usually hide their identity to avoid harassment from police and family members.

“That he converted Muslims is a complete lie,” Fawzey said.

El-Nagar confirmed to Compass that he has decided to represent Hegazy, the convert from Islam to Christianity who hopes to have the change officially recognized.

Hegazy’s initial lawyer, Mamdouh Nakhla, quit the case Tuesday (August 7) after being threatened by Egypt’s security police. At a press conference he told reporters he was backing out in order to avoid offending Muslims and to protect Egypt’s “national unity.”

The case has drawn intense criticism in Egyptian media, with many papers giving it front page coverage.   

Faltas, president of MECA in Egypt, had hosted Hegazy in his home this past weekend, Fawzy said. Last Saturday and Sunday (August 4 -5), the two held online question-and- answer sessions in MECA’s chat room, publicizing the details of Hegazy’s case.

But Fawzy said it was not only MECA’s work with Hegazy that had angered police.

El-Kosheh Revived

Last month MECA lawyers filed suit against the government on behalf of Christians whose village was destroyed in a three -day rampage in January 2000. At least 21 Copts were killed, 18 injured and several hundred homes destroyed when Muslims attacked Christians in the upper Egyptian town of el-Kosheh.

On July 26, MECA demanded that the government compensate el-Kosheh villagers for the losses.

The North Cairo preliminary court postponed ruling on the case until September 6.

MECA members were also involved in helping the Muslim family of a man who fell from his balcony during a police raid on Tuesday (August 7). The man’s family has accused police of murdering him.

‘They just happened to be neighbors to one of our members, so we helped them go to the police and file a case,’ Fawzy said.

 MECA is still waiting to receive recognition as a registered non-governmental organization after submitting its application in June.