Egypt: Persecution, Challenge and Debate

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Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 441 | Wed 08 Aug 2007

Article 2 of Egypt's Constitution states that Islamic Law is the
principal source of legislation. Islamic (Sharia) Law thus defines
the rest of the Constitution, including 'Article 46: The State
shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice
of religious rites.' But because freedom of religion is defined by
Sharia, Muslims are not at liberty to leave Islam.

The Copts are the indigenous, historically Christian peoples of
Egypt. Last April, 45 Copts who had converted to Islam for various
reasons - some against their will - but later reverted to
Christianity went to court to have their Christian identities
legally recognised. In less radical times the courts have been
lenient towards converted Copts wishing to return to their 'birth
religion'. This time however the court refused the request on the
grounds that Islamic Law forbids apostasy. They successfully
appealed and their case will be re-heard before the Supreme
Administrative Court on 1 September. This has sparked a heated
debate on apostasy and religious liberty.

Whilst converting to Islam is simply done, there is no way for
someone born Muslim to legally convert to Christianity. But as
Compass Direct (CD) reports, one courageous young man is
challenging the system. When Egypt's Interior Ministry rejected
Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy's application to replace Islam with
Christianity on his personal identification papers, Hegazy (24, who
converted when he was 16) launched legal action against the
Interior Ministry. His wife is pregnant and the Christian couple
want their child to be born with Christian identity papers and so
have the freedom to live as a Christian. (The child of a Muslim
father is automatically deemed Muslim.) Hegazy is fighting for
religious liberty for all converts like himself and for a future in
Egypt for his unborn child.

Advocate Mamdouh Nakhla of the Kalema Centre for Human Rights will
represent Hegazy in court. Both men have been receiving death
threats. According to Nakhla, 'This is the first such case in the
history of Egyptian justice.' Hegazy told CD that he believes Egypt
has 'thousands of converts'. While Hegazy is urging converts to
organise to defend their rights, history bears out the reality that
challenges to the Islamic order elicit violent responses. Academics
at Cairo's Al-Azhar (Islamic University) have declared that while
religion is a private matter, the state may intervene when it
becomes a public matter, which it does if the apostasy poses a
threat to the public order and to society. They claim an apostate
may 'constitute the head of the arrow in inciting civil war'.
Therefore 'he must be treated according to Islamic religious law,
and the safety of the national community must be protected -
because in such a case the murtadd [apostate] is like anyone spying
for the enemy.' (MEMRI, 8 August)

Egypt under Islamic Law is appallingly cruel to those who are born
Muslim but leave Islam for Christianity. CD reports that on 16 July
police in Alexandria arrested Shaymaa (Eman) Muhammad el-Sayed
(26). Initially they were rescuing her from murderous relatives who
had snatched her from her Christian husband and were vowing to kill
her. However the police imprisoned Shaymaa when they learnt she was
a convert to Christianity, with identity papers forged to permit
her, a legally Muslim woman, to marry a Christian man. They shamed
her by stripping her naked and photographing her, interrogated and
harassed her and tortured her by electrocuting the most sensitive
parts of her body. On 23 July the police handed Shaymaa back to her
father, uncle and brother who have openly expressed their intention
to kill her. They beat Shaymaa severely behind the police station
before dragging her away.


* protect and empower Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy and his family,
honouring their courage and giving them great wisdom, strength
and peace.

* protect and empower advocates Mamdouh Nakhla (representing
Hegazy) and Mamdouh Ramzi, Ramses el-Nagar and Mamdouh Nakhla
(representing the Copts on 1 September). 'On my account you will
be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them . .
.' (Matthew 10:18-20 NIV); may the Spirit provide the words in
accordance with God's promise.

* sustain and deliver Shaymaa (Eman) Muhammad el-Sayed and all
other converts in similar dire and violent situations. (Isaiah
40:10,11; 59:15b-19)

* use Egypt's religious liberty debate to awaken the hearts and
minds of Egyptians to truth and draw them to their Saviour. 'See
the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. . . The
Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my
people. . ."' (Isaiah 19 - prophecy concerning Egypt, first and
last verse)




Though Egypt's Constitution guarantees freedom of belief, Egyptian
Muslims are not at liberty to leave Islam because Islamic Law which
forbids apostasy is used to interpret Egyptian law. The
historically Christian Copts have generally been treated leniently
if, after converting to Islam, they later seek to revert to their
'birth religion'. However the mood is changing. On 1 September
Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court will re-hear the recently
refused request of 45 Copts to have their identity papers changed
from Muslim to Christian. The case has sparked heated debate.
Furthermore, a Muslim convert to Christianity, Mohammed Ahmed
Hegazy (24), is taking legal action against Egypt's Interior
Ministry for refusing to recognise his conversion. A long, painful
but wonderful spiritual battle is just beginning. Please pray. (See
Isaiah 19).

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Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.

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