CAIRO: The Administrative Court at the State Council has turned down a Muslim convert to Christianity’s request to change his religious affiliation on his national ID and birth certificate.
Furthermore, Maher Ahmed Moatasem’s request for LE 10 million in compensation from the Religions Affairs Authority was also rejected.
The court justified its decision by stating that the Republic of Egypt is not a completely civil state but a civil democracy, in accordance with Article 2 of the constitution which stipulates that “Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.
The judge explained that even though Egypt has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which outlines the freedom of religion and belief, it doesn’t implement all its articles because Sharia takes precedence, according to Egypt’s official news agency MENA.
A similar case occurred in the summer of 2007 when Mohamed Hegazy became the first Egyptian to file a court petition to have his religious affiliation changed from Muslim to Christian on his national ID.
Court battles to change religious affiliations in official documents aren’t new to Egypt.
Last April, followers of the Bahai faith celebrated a legal victory when the country’s Interior Ministry allowed them to obtain national identity cards without falsely listing their faith as one of the only three recognized by the state (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Instead they were allowed to leave the religious affiliation slot blank.
But conversion remains a contested issue, especially if a Muslim converts to Christianity.
The latest ruling in Moatasem’s case elicited condemnation from rights activists. Although they were expecting it, activists pointed out that the verdict is in violation of the basic human right to freedom of religion and belief.
“The [court] decision is disappointing but not surprising; it doesn’t represent a new legal movement because the court gave the same ruling in Mohamed Hegazy’s case in January 2008, said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who had filed a lawsuit against the Interior Ministry’s Civil Status Department on behalf of Bahai citizens.
“That’s why we didn’t think that it was wise for the same lawyers to initiate a similar case before the same court.
The Supreme Constitutional Court is currently examining the concept of religious conversion.
Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and Hegazy’s lawyer, said that cases like these cover two issues. First, the citizen’s right to abandon Islam and second his right to choose whichever faith he wants, be it Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion, or even no religion at all.