Rights group tackles freedom of religion in latest report

Safaa Abdoun
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Sectarian rifts in six governorates in Egypt left four dead and tens injured and detained during the second quarter of 2009, according to a report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) about the freedom of religion and belief in Egypt from April to June this year.

The report was based on observing several areas: trials and court verdicts; violence due to sectarian rifts; the intervention of security forces in matters related to religion; discrimination based on religion or belief; laws, decrees and political development regarding the issues; and reports, publications and activities related to religion.

There have been six different incidents of violence due to sectarian rifts between Muslims and Christians during these months in the governorates of Giza, Alexandria, Gharbeya, Daqahleya, Beni Suef and Qena. According to the report, the majority of these incidents started out as a dispute between individuals and then quickly developed into clashes between the two groups. For example, the clashes in Gharbeya were triggered by a relationship between a Christian woman and a Muslim man.

On the other hand, there was an increase in the number of deaths due to clashes between Muslims and Christians in the second quarter of 2009.

In Alexandria, a fight ended with the death of a Muslim man last April. Two Christians were killed by Muslims in Qena and a 17-year-old Muslim was also killed in a fight in Daqahleya.

Regarding the intervention of security forces in matters related to religion, EIPR’s report states that “the security forces continue to randomly arrest and illegally detain people based on emergency law during violent sectarian rifts as a way of pressuring the two parties to solve their disputes.

Regarding discrimination based on religion, the report says that there has been a security crackdown on Christians practicing their religious rituals as they have shut down two unlicensed buildings in October which Christians have been using to hold mass.

In addition, as stated in the report, a building under construction was brought down by the police “as they feared it may be turned into a church.

There were three major related legal battles on which the court has ruled. First was the case of Ibdaa’ (or Innovation) Magazine whose publishing license was revoked by an administrative court for printing a “blasphemous poem which insults the divine entity. The verdict was later reversed.

Moreover, an administrative court ruled that Maher El-Gohary, a Christian convert, cannot be issued official documents as a Christian.

Furthermore, the five-year long custody battle of Kamilia Lotfy came to a close when the Court of Cassation granted her custody of her sons Mario and Andrew Ramsis after their father converted to Islam.

EIPR’s president, Hossam Bahgat, urged the government to address the issue of religious conversion in amendments to the Personal Status Law that is scheduled to be brought before parliament later this year.

In relation to Lotfy’s case, Bahgat says that while the ruling is a positive step forward, it fell short of striking down the discriminatory policy of forcibly changing the religious affiliation of Christian children in official documents when their father converts to Islam.

It is regrettable, however, that the highest court of the country chose to treat the symptoms and ignore the root causes of the problem – changing the religious affiliation of Christian children whose parents convert to Islam without the slightest regard for their will or that of their Christian mothers, he said.

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