Does Egypt really respects freedom of religion? 

Egyptian court refuses to rule in case of Muslim convert to Christianity

The Administrative Court in Cairo justified its decision by saying than no official decree from the Interior Ministry had banned Mohammed Hegazy, born into a Muslim family, from changing his name and his religion on his national ID card.

Hegazy is currently registered as a Muslim on official documents.

"This is a very harsh and unfair ruling, " Hegazy told The Associated Press over the phone. "It's my right, and I will not give up on it." He also promised to take his case to the supreme court.

Hegazy, 25, took the unprecedented step in Egypt despite admonishment from his family, stepped-up hate speech in the public and even reported death threats.

Shortly after his 1998 conversion was discovered, he was detained for three days and later alleged police tortured him. When pictures of him posing with a poster of the Virgin Mary were published in newspapers last summer, an Islamist cleric vowed to have him executed as an apostate.

Hegazy's father told an independent daily last week that he would kill his son if he doesn't renege his conversion. But Hegazy said his feared was likely pressured by Islamic extremists to make those remarks.

Fearing for his life, Hegazy went into hiding with his wife, also a convert to Christianity who informally took the name of Katarin, and baby girl named Mariam, the Arabic version of Mary.

Hegazy says he wants to be known as Beshoy, after a much-loved Egyptian monk. He said his own quest might inspire other converts to follow suit and ensure that offspring of converts would have a Christian upbringing, as well as a right to their name, birth certificate and eventually a church marriage.

In Egypt, a child automatically bears the religion of his or her father.

Although there is no law governing conversions from one religion to another, discrimination occurs in the overwhelmingly Muslim country. When Muslims openly renounce their religion, they often receive death threats from militants or harassment by police, who use laws against "insulting religion" or "disturbing public order" to target them.

Under a widespread interpretation of Islamic law, converting from Islam is apostasy and punishable by death — though killings are rare and the state has never ordered or carried out an execution on those grounds.

Most Muslims who convert usually practice their new religion quietly or leave the country.

Christians who become Muslim can get their new religion entered on their IDs and face less trouble from officials, though they too are usually ostracized by their families.

Only 10 percent of the 77 million population in Egypt is Christian.

Hegazy's case opens questions not addressed by Egyptian law.

Earlier this year, a court rejected an attempt by a group of Christians who had converted to Islam but then returned to Christianity and sought to restore their original religion on their ID cards. The case has since been appealed.


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