CAIRO: The Cairo Administrative Court yesterday refused to rule on the case of Muslim convert to Christianity Mohamed Hegazy, who is demanding his new religion be recognized by the Egyptian government.
The court refused to issue a decision regarding the case, saying that there was no official decree from the Interior Ministry that had banned Hegazy from changing his name and his religion on his national ID card.
“What happened represents a violation of my most basic rights of freedom of belief, I don’t understand what the country has to do with the religion that I choose to believe in, said Hegazy, who promised to take his case to the Higher Administrative Court.
According to Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, international law and the constitution protect freedom of belief – which includes the right to convert to any religion. Bahgat clarified that his organization is not involved with Hegazy’s case
“While the judge expressed his views on the matter of conversion, the ruling issued was procedural but not substantive, he added.
Gamal Eid, Hegazy’s lawyer and head of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said that the defendant was not given an opportunity to express his viewpoint and his requests were completely ignored.
Bahgat added, however, that the case was “inadequately prepared, drawing on the lawyers’ decision to withdraw the case a week early.
Hegazy’s case is the first of its kind in the Egyptian courts, addressing issues that have not yet been decided on by the Egyptian law.
“The administrative judiciary system is considering the issue. Until it is settled, it is too premature to expect courts to decide on converts, said Bahgat.
Hegazy, 25, took the unprecedented step in Egypt despite admonishment from his family, public censure and even reported death threats.
Shortly after his 1998 conversion was discovered, he was detained for three days and later alleged police tortured him. When pictures of him posing with a poster of the Virgin Mary were published in newspapers last summer, an Islamist cleric vowed to have him executed as an apostate.
Under a widespread interpretation of Islamic law, converting from Islam is apostasy, which is punishable by death, though killings are rare and the state has never ordered or carried out an execution on those grounds.
Most Muslims who convert usually practice their new religion quietly or leave the country.
Christians who become Muslim can get their new religion entered on their IDs and face less trouble from officials, though they too are usually ostracized by their families and the Christian community. – Additional reporting by Magdy Samaan and AP