By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO, EGYPT (BosNewsLife)– For the second time, an Egyptian court has rejected a Christian convert’s request to change his religious affiliation on his identity card in a ruling described by critics as “a severe blow” to freedom of religion of ex-Muslims.
Judge Hamdi Yaseen reportedly rejected the application of Maher Ahmed Al-Mo’tasem Bellah Al-Gohari to change his religious affiliation from Muslim to Christian, citing Islamic and public order concerns. Egyptian identity cards must report the faith of the holder.
Al-Gohari, whose last name has also been spelled as El-Gohary, and his daughter Dina 12, live in hiding and “in continuous fear” since “radical Islamists” incited mobs to kill Al-Gohari for his apostasy, Coptic Christians said.
“The disappointing verdict [Saturday, June 13] by the High Administrative Court in Cairo…dealt a severe blow to freedom of religion to Muslims who would like to come out of Islam and convert to Christianity,” said United Copts of Great Britain in a statement seen by BosNewsLife Wednesday June 17.
The group, which has close ties to Egyptian Christians, most of them known as Copts, said the ruling was a setback “in a country that persistently and relentlessly claims to be secular and to apply ‘civil Laws’.”
“I am disappointed with what happened and shocked with the decision, because I went to great lengths and through a great deal of hardship,” Al-Gohari said in published remarks.
Judge Yaseen’s verdict was based on the Islamic law, Shari’a, which prohibits conversion of Muslims to any other religion and “disruption to public order,” according to trial observers.
Complicating the legal procedure was that Egypt’s constitution has two “paradoxical statements”, United Copts of Great Britain said. “Article two stipulates that Islamic Shari’a, which prohibits conversions to any other religion is the main source of legislation…” But Article 46 of the constitution says “the state guarantees ‘freedom of religion’,” the group explained.
“In today’s court case, again, the converts to Christianity in Egypt have fallen victims to the Egyptian government appeasement to Islamist radicals to say the least,” it added.
Al-Gohari’s defense team said they would appeal the ruling. His case follows Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy the only other Muslim-born convert in Egypt known to have requested such the religious affiliation change on his identity card.
The Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo rejected Hegazy,’s request last year saying he had not followed “proper legal” procedures and that he could not convert “to an older religion.”
Hegazy had said he wanted to raise his future child as a Christian.
Christians comprise at least 10 percent of Egypt’s mainly Muslim population of over 83 million, according to United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimates, although Coptic groups suggest that number may be higher.