Egypt court rejects ex-Muslim convert's case

Christian wanted new religion recorded on Egypt ID


An Egyptian court refused Saturday a request by an ex-Muslim convert to Christianity to officially recognize his conversion and change his religious affiliation and name on his identity card.

Cairo's Administrative Court dismissed Maher al-Moatassem Bellah al-Gohary's request for a new national identification card listing his new religious affiliation and his new name, Peter Ethnasios. The court also ordered him to pay all legal fees.

Ethnasios, 57, converted to Christianity 34 years ago and has unofficially changed his name to match his new religious identity. He filed the request for official recognition in August of 2008 when his defense attorney presented to the court a baptism certificate issued by Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church as proof of his client's conversion.

"This certificate resolves the entire problem and proves beyond doubt that my client converted to Christianity," the attorney told the court. "It thus gives him the right to change his religion in official documents."

Ethnasios first presented in April a certificate from the Roman Orthodox Church in Cyprus, where he was baptized, but the court asked for one issued by the Egyptian Coptic church to prove its endorsement of his conversion.

The Coptic Church complied with the court request and granted Ethnasios a certificate, adding that it could not reject anyone wanting to convert to Christianity.

There is no Egyptian law against converting from Islam to Christianity, but neither is there any legal precedence for officially recognizing such conversions. Converting from Islam to another religioun is considered apostasy under many interpretations of Islamic law, but Egypt has never prosecuted ex-Muslims on grounds of apostasy.

And while there is no legal precedence for officially recognizing Muslims who convert to Christianity, in the past the administrative court has recognized the re-conversion of Coptic Christians who revert back to Christianity after converting to Islam for a period of time.

Ethnasios is the second Christian convert to demand official recognition. In 2008 Mohamed Hegazy, who changed his name to Bishoy, filed a similar request and was also rejected.

Despite the unfavorable precedent, Ethnasios insisted on filing for official recognition, stressing that he would never give up Christianity "even if the Church itself ordered him to do so."

Gohary claimed his conversion has been the cause of much harassment, vandalism and death threats he received from strangers and family members alike, and that he plans to leave Egypt but only after he is officially recognized as a Christian.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)

This certificate resolves the entire problem and proves beyond doubt that my client converted to Christianity

Attorney of Ethnasios