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Freedom of religion in Egypt

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Freedom of religion in Egypt

Constitutionally, the freedom of belief is "absolute" and the practice of religious rites is provided in Egypt, although the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice.[1] Islam is the official state religion, and Shari'a (Islamic law) is the primary source of legislation.[2]

Although there were some positive steps in support of religious freedom, the status of respect for religious freedom by the Government declined overall during the period covered by this report. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the Government generally worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries. However, members of religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, experience personal and collective hardship. See Egyptian identification card controversy.

A lower court ruling interpreted the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom as inapplicable to Muslim citizens who wish to convert to another religion. This ruling is under appeal. Separate court rulings provided for 13 Christian born converts to Islam to obtain identity documents indicating their conversion back to Christianity and allowed some Baha'is to obtain civil documents. However, the courts included requirements effectively identifying the Christian converts and Baha'is as apostates, potentially exposing them, if implemented, to risk of significant discrimination by both governmental and societal agents. In addition, a lower court held that the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion does not apply to Baha'is.

Furthermore, governmental authorities detained some converts from Islam to Christianity, some religious freedom advocates, and some Christian children of parents who converted to Islam. The Government again failed to redress laws and governmental practices that discriminate against Christians, effectively allowing their discriminatory effects and their modeling effect on society to become further entrenched. According to some observers, police responses to some incidents of sectarian violence were slow.

There continued to be religious discrimination and sectarian tension in society during the period covered by this report. There were several violent incidents in Upper Egypt, including an attack by Bedouins on the Abu Fana monastery, arson attacks on Christian-owned shops in Armant, and an attack on a Coptic Church and Coptic-owned shops in Esna. Muhammad Higazy, who converted from Islam to Christianity, received death threats and went into hiding with his wife after his case received wide attention in the Arabic language media.

Religious demography

The country has an area of 370,308 square miles (959,090 km2) and a population of over 80 million, of whom almost 90 percent were estimated to be Sunni Muslims. Shi'a Muslims constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Estimates of the percentage of Christians range from 10 to 20 percent,[3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] or between 8 and 15 million (though estimates vary), the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Other Christian communities include the Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman, and Syrian Catholic), Maronite, and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) churches. An evangelical Protestant community, established in the middle of the 19th century, included 16 Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal/Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Open Brethren, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), Faith (Al-Eyman), Church of God, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal al-Masihi), Apostolic, Grace (An-Ni'ma), Pentecostal, Apostolic Grace, Church of Christ, Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), and the Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala)). There are also followers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was granted legal status in the 1960s. There are small numbers of Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but the Government does not recognize either group. The non-Muslim, non-Christian communities ranged in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The number of Baha'is estimated at 2,000 persons. The Jewish community numbers fewer than 200 persons.

Christians are dispersed throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians is higher in Upper Egypt (the southern part of the country) and some sections of Cairo and Alexandria.

There are many foreign religious groups, especially Roman Catholics and Protestants who have had a presence in the country for almost a century. These groups engaged in education, social, and development work.

Status of religious freedom

Legal and policy framework

The Constitution, under Article 46, provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government restricts these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and Shari'a is the primary source of legislation.

The Government does not recognize conversions of Muslims to Christianity or other religions, and resistance to such conversions by local officials—through refusal to legally recognize conversions—constitutes a prohibition in practice. January 2008 rulings by the Cairo Administrative Court stated that freedom to convert does not extend to Muslim citizens. This was under appeal at the end of the reporting period. It also ruled that constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion do not apply to Baha'is. Conversion is not illegal under civil law, but, in practice the Government does not recognize conversions of Muslim-born citizens to other religions. However, in January 2008 the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Ministry of Interior (MOI) must issue identity documents indicating the conversion back to Christianity of some Christian-born converts to Islam.

While there is no legal ban on proselytizing Muslims, the Government restricts such efforts. Neither the Constitution nor the Civil and Penal Codes prohibit proselytizing, but police have harassed those accused of proselytizing on charges of ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife.

For a religious group to be officially recognized, it must submit a request to the Religious Affairs Department of the MOI, which determines whether the group would, in its view, pose a threat or upset national unity or social peace. The Department also consults the leading religious figures, particularly the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the sheikh of Al-Azhar. The registration is then referred to the president, who, if he concurs, issues a decree recognizing the new group, according to Law 15 of 1927. If a religious group bypasses the official registration process, participants are subject to detention and could also face prosecution and punishment under Article 98(F) of the Penal Code, which forbids the "denigration of religions." The Government last recognized a new religious group in 1990.

All mosques must be licensed by the Ministry of Islamic Endowments (Awqaf). The Government appoints and pays the salaries of the imams who lead prayers in mosques and monitors their sermons. It does not contribute to the funding of Christian churches. The Ministry of Awqaf reported that there were 100,006 mosques and small dedicated prayer areas called "zawayas" nationwide as of April 2008. A 2004 decree by the Minister of Awqaf removed from governors the authority to issue permits to build mosques and placed private mosques under Awqaf administrative control. However, approximately 5,000 mosques and zawayas remain unsupervised by the Ministry.

The contemporary interpretation of the 1856 Ottoman Hamayouni Decree, partially still in force, requires non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree to build new churches and synagogues. In addition, MOI regulations, issued in 1934 under the Al-Ezabi decree, specify a set of ten conditions that the Government must consider before a presidential decree for construction of a new non-Muslim place of worship can be issued. The conditions include the requirement that the distance between a church and a mosque not be less than 100 meters (340 feet) and that approval of the neighboring Muslim community be obtained before a permit to build a new church may be issued.

In 2005 President Mubarak issued Decree 291/2005, which delegated authority to the country's 26 governors to grant permits to Christian denominations that seek to expand or rebuild existing churches. The decree also stated that churches could undertake basic repairs and maintenance subject only to the provision of written notification to the local authorities. Decree 291 noted that the governors must examine all applications for rebuilding or expansion, which must be supported by unspecified supporting documents, within thirty days of submission. According to the new decree, "permits may not be refused except with a justified ruling." Decree 291 also cancelled a 1999 decree aimed at improving the permit process for church repair. (Presidential Decree 453 of 1999 had made the repair of all places of worship subject to a 1976 civil construction code. Although this decree made mosque and church repairs technically subject to the same laws, authorities enforced the laws more strictly for churches.)

Two and a half years after promulgation of Decree 291/2005, church and lay leaders complained that the permit process remains susceptible to delay by local officials. They charged that some local authorities refused to process applications without certain "supporting documents" that were virtually impossible to obtain (e.g., a presidential decree authorizing the existence of a church that had been established during the country's monarchical era). Others complain that some local authorities categorize routine repairs and maintenance (e.g., painting of walls and plumbing repairs) as expansion/reconstruction projects, thus requiring formal permits versus simple notification. They also maintain that security forces blocked them from using permits that had been issued, and at times denied them permits, for repairs to church buildings and the supply of water and electricity to existing church facilities. Such incidents often depended on the attitude of local security officials and the governorate leadership toward the church and on their personal relationships with representatives of the churches. As a result, congregations have experienced lengthy delays—years in many cases—while waiting for new building permits.

Local authorities have closed down unlicensed places of worship. As a result of restrictions, some communities use private buildings and apartments for religious services or build without permits.

Constitutional amendments, approved by referendum on March 27, 2007, have unclear implications for religious freedom. The amended Article 1 of the Constitution states that the country's political system is based on the principle of citizenship. The amended Article 5 prohibits the formation of political parties or the conduct of political activities on a religious basis. Government supporters argued that these changes would separate religion from politics. Some critics argued, however, that the amendments are incompatible with Article 2, which continues to state that Shari'a is the basis for legislation.

The application of family law, including marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, and burial, is based on an individual's religion. In the practice of family law, the Government recognizes only the three "heavenly religions," Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Muslim families are subject to Shari'a, Christian families to canon law, and Jewish families to Jewish law. In cases of family law disputes involving a marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man, the courts apply Shari'a. The Government does not recognize the marriages of citizens adhering to religions other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.

Under Shari'a as practiced in the country, non-Muslim males must convert to Islam to marry Muslim women, but non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Muslim women are prohibited from marrying Christian men.

Under Shari'a as interpreted by the Government, a non-Muslim wife who converts to Islam must divorce her "apostate," non-Muslim husband. Upon the wife's conversion, local security authorities ask the non-Muslim husband if he is willing to convert to Islam; if he chooses not to, divorce proceedings begin immediately and custody of children is awarded to the mother.

Inheritance laws for all citizens are based on the Government's interpretation of Shari'a. Muslim female heirs receive half the amount of a male heir's inheritance. Christian widows of Muslims have no automatic inheritance rights but may be provided for in testamentary documents.

Under Shari'a, converts from Islam lose all rights of inheritance. However, because the Government offers no legal means for converts from Islam to Christianity to amend their civil records to reflect their new religious status, the converts' loss of inheritance rights may not be indicated on civil documents.

In the absence of legal means to register their change in religious status, some converts resort to soliciting illicit identity papers, often by submitting fraudulent supporting documents or bribing government clerks who process the documents. In such cases, authorities periodically charge converts with violating laws prohibiting the falsification of documents.

The law prescribes administrative steps pursuant to the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam. The minor children of such converts, and in some cases adult children, may automatically become classified as Muslims by the Government irrespective of the religion of the other parent. This practice is in accordance with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a, which dictates "no jurisdiction of a non-Muslim over a Muslim."

Government authorities sometimes fail to uphold the law in sensitive conversion cases. Local authorities sometimes allow custody of a minor Christian female who converts to Islam to be transferred to a Muslim custodian, who is likely to grant approval for a marriage opposed by the girl's Christian parents. (Although the minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, girls who are at least 16 but not yet 18 may marry if they have the approval of their parents, or, in cases where the girl asserts that she has converted to Islam, with the approval of a Muslim guardian.)

According to the Government's Instructions for Notaries Public, which implement Law 114 of 1947, persons age 16 and above may convert to Islam without parental consent. Christian activists assert that ignorance of the law and social pressure, including the centrality of marriage to a woman's identity, often affect a girl's decision to convert. Family conflict and financial pressure also are cited as factors.

The Government reportedly halted the practice of requiring religious "advice and guidance sessions" in the case of Christian-born converts to Islam in 2006 without any prior notice or discussion. For many years, those guidance sessions had been instrumental in resolving disputed conversion cases; in many instances, Christian girls returned to their original faith and families.

Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities and strips Baha'is of legal recognition. During the Nasser era, the Government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries. The Government has asserted that national identity cards require all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews. The MOI has reportedly, on rare occasions, issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other" or simply do not mention religion; however, it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups not associated with any of the three "heavenly religions" have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or go without valid identity documents.

Those without valid identity cards also encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Baha'is at age 16 face additional problems under Law 143/1994, which makes it mandatory for all citizens to obtain a new identification card featuring a new national identification number. Police occasionally conduct random inspections of identity papers and those found without identity cards can be detained until the document is provided. Some Baha'is without identity cards reportedly stay home to avoid police scrutiny and possible arrest.

The law provides for "khul'" divorce, which allows a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband's consent, provided that she is willing to forego all of her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. Many women have complained that after being granted khul', the required child support is not paid.

The Coptic Orthodox Church excommunicates female members who marry Muslim men and requires that other Christians convert to Coptic Orthodoxy to marry a member of the church. Coptic males are prevented from marrying Muslim women by both civil and religious laws. A civil marriage abroad is an option should a Christian male and a Muslim female citizen decide to marry; however, their marriage would not be legally recognized in the country. Additionally, the woman could be arrested and charged with apostasy, and any children from such a marriage could be taken and assigned to the physical custody of a male Muslim guardian, as determined by the Government's interpretation of Shari'a. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in specific circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion.

The Government banned Jehovah's Witnesses in 1960 since which time it has, to varying degrees, subjected them to harassment and surveillance. The Witnesses were legally registered in Cairo in 1951 and Alexandria in 1956 and their presence in the country dates to the 1930s. The Government attributes its refusal to grant the Jehovah's Witnesses registration to the opposition of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which has condemned the group as heretical, as well as to its lingering Nasser-era suspicion of links between Witnesses and the State of Israel.

Various ministries are legally authorized to ban or confiscate books and works of art upon obtaining a court order. The Council of Ministers may order the banning of works that it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace. The Islamic Research Center (IRC) at Al-Azhar University has legal authority to censor and, since 2004, confiscate, any publications dealing with the Qur'an and the authoritative Islamic traditions (Hadith). In recent years, the IRC has also passed judgment on the suitability of nonreligious books and artistic productions. Al-Azhar has the legal right to recommend confiscations, but must obtain a court order to do so.

The Government granted confiscatory authority to Al-Azhar University and acted on its recommendations. In 2003 the Ministry of Justice issued a decree authorizing Al-Azhar sheikhs to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches, and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law. There were no reports of the exercise of this authority during the reporting period.

The Government has not granted legal recognition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), or Mormons, in Cairo. The LDS Church has maintained an organized congregation in the country for more than 30 years. The Government has raised no objection. Some members, particularly those who have converted to the LDS Church overseas and then returned to the country, complain of excessive surveillance from State Security and sometimes avoid meetings from fear of harassment.

The Government outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, which operates missionary, charitable, and political activities, in 1954 but has tolerated its operations with varying levels of interference. Muslim Brothers speak openly and publicly about their views and identify themselves as members of the organization, although they remain subject to arbitrary detention and pressure from the Government.

The Government at times prosecutes members of religious groups whose practices are deemed to deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs and whose activities are alleged to jeopardize communal harmony.

The Government has advised journalists and cartoonists to avoid anti-Semitism. Government officials insist that anti-Semitic statements in the media are a reaction to Israeli government actions against Palestinians and do not reflect historical anti-Semitism; however, there are few public attempts to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment.

The quasi governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) is charged with furthering protections, raising awareness, and ensuring the observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom. It is also charged with monitoring enforcement and application of international agreements. Five of its 25 reappointed members, as well as its president, are Copts.

The NCHR, in its fourth report, issued in March 2008, reported that it received 35 complaints from Christian families alleging that their daughters were missing. The NCHR referred these complaints to the MOI, which in most cases replied that the women had eloped with Muslim men, converted to Islam of their free will, and had chosen to leave their families without prior notice because they feared reprisal on the part of their families. The report also stated that the NCHR had received 29 formal complaints pertaining to religious freedom, which it sent to relevant authorities for action. The NCHR received an additional 21 complaints from Baha'is who were denied government identification documents. In its report, the NCHR called on the Government to permit the designation "Baha'i" on government identification documents (see Restrictions on Religious Freedom).

The local media, including state television and newspapers, give prominence to Islamic programming. Christian television programs are aired weekly on state-owned Nile Cultural TV. The weekly religion page of the prominent daily Al-Ahram often reports on conversions to Islam and claims that converts improved their lives and found peace and moral stability.

The Ministry of Education bans wearing the hijab (Islamic head veil) in primary schools and allows it only in preparatory and secondary schools upon written request from a girl's parent.

In January 2008, continuing a practice that resumed in 2005, Jewish pilgrims (mostly visitors from Israel) celebrated the Abu Hasira festival despite a 2004 Supreme Administrative Court decision banning the annual festival at the tomb of Rabbi Abu Hasira in a village in the Nile Delta.

Abuses of religious freedom

On March, 2014, Alexandria Security Directorate chief Amin Ezz El-Din announced in a televised telephone interview that a special police taskforce will be formed to arrest a group of Alexandria-based atheists who declared their beliefs on Facebook, the talk show also interviewed an activist who says he is an atheist, the talk show host said that "atheism is a foreign plot at a critical time for Egypt, as the country continues to experience political, economic and social instability"; he also called for the arrest and execution of that activist (named Mostafa Zakareya) on account of him being atheist.[12]

On May 31, 2008, police located within 1 mile of the Abu Fana Monastery in Upper Egypt reportedly took 3 hours to respond to a request for help when a monk's cell at the monastery was under attack. The armed assault resulted in the death of one Muslim Bedouin villager, multiple injuries, including gunshot wounds, to monks, the kidnapping and abuse of several monks, and looting and damages estimated at more than 1,000,000 Egyptian pounds. Three monks abducted from the monastery were reportedly rescued by security services (see societal abuses or discrimination).

On January 29, 2008, the Cairo Administrative Court, a court of first impression, ruled that the administrative agency of the Civil Status Department was not bound to examine the request of Muhammad Ahmad Abduh Higazy to have his new religion, Christianity, recorded on his national identity card as so doing would conflict with public order. In its ruling, the court wrote that Muslims are forbidden from converting away from Islam based on principles of Islamic law, and because such conversion would constitute a disparagement of the official state religion and an enticement for other Muslims to convert. The court asserted its duty to protect public order from the crime of apostasy from Islam and to protect public morals, especially if the apostate petitions the administration to condone his misdeed and his corrupt caprice. In August 2007 Mohamed Ahmed Higazy and his wife Zeinab had publicly announced that they had converted to Christianity and wished to be legally recognized as such. The ruling maintained a government policy not to provide a legal means for converts from Islam to Christianity to amend their civil records to reflect their new religious status. Higazy's attorney appealed the case in March 2008, and it remained under appeal at the end of the reporting period.

The Government continued to deny civil documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community. However, on January 29, 2008, the Cairo Administrative Court ruled that the MOI must issue identification documents to Baha'is, with the religious affiliation space filled with a dash. While the ruling was not applied to other Baha'is, members of the Baha'i community reported anecdotally that the ruling was assisting them in obtaining some civil documents (see Introduction and Legal/Policy Framework).

The newspaper Al-Badeel reported March 16, 2008, that school officials prevented student Kholoud Hafez Abdou from sitting for her final graduating examinations because she identified herself as a Baha'i on her examination admission application. Students are required to enter their religion on the application form necessary for admission to the examination. This case generated extensive media coverage, and the Ministry of Education overruled the administrator's decision. The Ministry of Education resolved the matter by asking Kholoud to fill out another application form with dashes entered in the religion field of the application.

On July 15, 2007, a female convert from Islam to Christianity, Shaimaa Muhammad al-Sayed, was rescued by police while being beaten in public by attackers and arrested following police verification that she was the daughter of one of the attackers who claimed that she was a convert to Christianity and that he had previously filed a missing persons report on her. She was found to be in possession of a falsified identity card listing her religion as Christianity and reportedly held on charges of falsifying a government document. The Office of Prosecutor General, Supreme State Security Prosecution, in Cairo ordered her release on July 22, 2007, and confiscated both her original identity card and the counterfeit one. According to credible reports, after her release, her father beat her in front of the police station.

On May 29, 2007, State Security agents arrested three men affiliated with the Qurani movement, a small group of Muslims who rely largely if not exclusively on the Qur'an as authoritative for Islam, to the exclusion of the prophetic traditions (Hadith) and other sources of Islamic law. On May 31 and June 17, 2007, they arrested two additional Quranis. One detainee reported to a lawyer with an independent human rights organization that prior to June 30, 2007, he had been beaten and threatened with rape by a State Security investigator. On October 5, 2007, authorities released the five men.

In December 2007 the authorities arrested 25 members of the Islamic Al-Ahbash sect, including three Lebanese and a Kazakh, on charges of membership in an illegal organization and contempt for religion. In February, the Public Prosecutor ordered the release of the men, without charges. The non-Egyptians were reportedly deported.

On March 12, 2007, the Alexandria Court of Appeal upheld the conviction of 22-year-old student blogger Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman. On February 22, 2007, the Alexandria Criminal Court convicted him of "denigrating" Islam and insulting President Mubarak through his blog entries and sentenced him to 4 years in prison (3 for denigrating Islam and 1 for insulting the president). On November 6, 2006, Alexandria security forces arrested Abdel Karim, whose blog entries had contained strongly worded critiques of the practice of Islam and Al-Azhar's Sunni Muslim orthodoxy. Abdel Karim had previously been detained on account of his writings for 18 days in October 2005. He had been expelled and reported to the authorities by Al-Azhar University for criticizing Islamic authority. He remained in prison at the end of the reporting period.

On August 8, 2007, police detained Adel Fawzi Faltas Hanna, a retired doctor and president of the Middle East Christian Association's (MECA) Egyptian branch, and Peter Ezzat Hanna, a photographer for MECA and the Copts United Web site. The authorities investigated the two men's activities, on charges including allegedly denigrating Islam and disturbing the public order. On July 7, 2007, Nader Fawzi, in his capacity as president of MECA, had filed a lawsuit naming President Mubarak and five senior ministers as defendants, accusing the Government of failing to properly investigate the al-Kosheh incident of January 1–3, 2000, in which 21 Copts were killed, others wounded, and Copt properties destroyed, and concerning which the perpetrators were not brought to justice and no indemnity to the victims or their families was paid. Also, near the time of the arrests, the MECA had publicly indicated its support of Muhammad Higazy, who had announced that he was suing the Government for the right to have his conversion to Christianity indicated on his civil documents.

The police also raided the Cairo homes of Adel Fawzi and Peter Ezzat and reportedly confiscated several copies of a MECA publication, The Persecuted: The Story of the Coptic Nation. On November 4, authorities released Adel Fawzi and Peter Ezzat following 3 months in detention. On November 5, authorities arrested three other MECA affiliates, whom authorities also investigated for a variety of charges, including denigrating Islam. On December 26, 2007, authorities released the three men without charges.

During the reporting period, State Security agents reportedly detained at least two Jehovah's Witnesses and, during interrogations, threatened them and their families with ongoing harassment unless they agreed to become informants on the Witness community. Witness leadership also reported that authorities monitored the homes, telephones, and meeting places of Jehovah's Witnesses and interrogated them in some cases. International Witness leadership reported that at least three Witnesses were beaten while in police custody in 2007, 2006, and 2005. While Witnesses have reported varying degrees of harassment and surveillance by government agents since 1960, senior international Witness leadership believed that their engagement of the Government over the past 2 years concerning their request for official recognition had resulted in a diminishment of the policy of harassment and hostile surveillance.

The Government continued to try citizens for unorthodox religious beliefs. In 2005 the Maadi misdemeanor court issued a verdict in a blasphemy case involving Ibrahim Ahmad Abu Shusha and 11 of his followers, who had been detained absent an arrest warrant since 2004. The court sentenced Abu Shusha to 3 years' imprisonment for claiming to be divine and denigrating Islam. The court sentenced the 11 other defendants (including 3 women, 2 of whom are Abu Shusha's wives) to 1 year of imprisonment and ordered the confiscation of the leaflets and writings that propagated the group's ideology. In its reasoning, the court stated that there was sufficient evidence that Abu Shusha embraced beliefs that are contrary to and derogatory of Islam and that he tried to propagate those beliefs by attempting to show that he possessed divine powers. The court also asserted that freedom of belief does not include permission to deny the principles of heavenly religions. An appeals court reaffirmed the Abu Shusha sentences in July 2005. At the end of the reporting period, Abu Shusha's lawyers were seeking to appeal his case to the Court of Cassation and his case remained pending.

While there are no legal restrictions on the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, there were occasional reports that police persecuted converts from Islam to Christianity.

In April 2005 State Security authorities detained Bahaa Al-Accad, a citizen who was born Muslim but who reportedly converted to Christianity. Accad was initially held at Tora Prison, south of Cairo. After a court ordered Accad's release from detention in August 2006, State Security authorities deliberately ignored the ruling, eventually transferring him to Wadi el-Natroun Prison, located 60 miles north of Cairo along the highway to Alexandria. On April 28, 2007, the authorities released Accad after he had spent almost 2 years in prison without being formally charged with any crime.

The security services reportedly maintain regular and sometimes hostile surveillance of Muslim-born citizens who are suspected of having converted to Christianity.

In May 2006 public prosecutor Maher Abdul Wahid ordered two Azharites, Abdul Sabur al-Kashef and Mohammed Radwan, to be tried by a low-level criminal court on charges of blaspheming Islam. Kashef was prosecuted for claiming to have seen God while Radwan was prosecuted for denying the existence of heaven and hell. Al-Kashef was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment while Radwan received 3 years. In mid-January 2007 El-Gamaleya Misdemeanor Court of Appeals reduced Kashef's sentence to 6 years' imprisonment and upheld the earlier ruling of 3 years for Radwan. At the end of the reporting period, they remained in prison.

On November 21, 2007, Shadia Nagy Ibrahim, 47, was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly falsely claiming to be Christian, a charge arising from her father's brief conversion to Islam in 1962. She had listed her religion as Christian on her marriage certificate in 1982, not knowing that her father's brief conversion to Islam in 1962 made her official religion Islam, according to the country's interpretation of Islamic law. On January 13, 2008, the Public Prosecutor ordered her release. On May 5, 2008, her sister, Bahya Nagy Ibrahim, was reportedly arrested on similar charges. She remained in custody at the end of the reporting period.

There were reports that the Government began harassing some Christian clergy and other Christian leaders at the international airport in Cairo while passing through immigration for flights, and that they confiscated address books, written materials and various forms of recordable media.

On November 22, 2007, police detained Siham Ibrahim Muhammad Hassan al-Sharqawi, a Muslim convert to Christianity, on the outskirts of Qena, 300 miles south of Cairo, who had been in hiding since 2003. She was interrogated for 4 days and released.

In August 2007 authorities investigated seven Copt employees of the MOI in fraud and bribery cases in connection with re-converts to Christianity. The investigation was reportedly ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

An estimated several thousand persons were imprisoned during the reporting period because of alleged support for—or membership in—Islamist groups seeking to overthrow the Government. The Government stated that these persons were in detention because of membership in or activities on behalf of violent extremist groups, without regard to their religious affiliation. Internal security services monitor groups and individuals suspected of involvement in or planning for extremist activity. Internal security agencies regularly detain such persons, and the state of emergency allows them to renew periods of administrative detention indefinitely.

In October 2012, an Egyptian teacher cut the hair of two 12-year-old students because they didn't wear a Muslim headscarf.[13]

Forced religious conversion

Legal opinion on apostasy by the Fatwa committee at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the highest Islamic institution in the world,[14][15] concerning the case of a man who converted to Christianity: "Since he left the Islam, he will be invited to express his regret. If he does not regret, he will be killed pertaining to rights and obligations of the Islamic law." The Fatwa also mentions that the same applies to his children after they reach maturity.

There were no reports of forced religious conversion carried out by the Government; however, there were again reports of forced conversions of Coptic women and girls to return to Christianity by Coptic men. Reports of such cases are disputed and often include inflammatory allegations and categorical denials of kidnapping and rape. Observers, including human rights groups, find it extremely difficult to determine whether compulsion was used, as most cases involve a female Copt who converts to Islam when she marries a Muslim male. Reports of such cases almost never appear in the local media.

Divorce is not allowed to Coptic women, so many of them try to leave their men by converting to Islam.

Wafaa Constantin, a Christian woman whose alleged conversion to Islam in December 2004 sparked significant protests in Cairo, remained in seclusion in a Coptic church facility. During the reporting period, the Administrative Judicial Court of the State Council considered a lawsuit filed by Islamist Yusuf al-Badri and 10 attorneys demanding that Wafaa Constantin be handed over to Al-Azhar, on the strength of her declaration that she had embraced Islam. As a Muslim citizen, he argued, the Church has no jurisdiction over her in accordance with Article Two of the Constitution. On April 24, 2007, the State Council ruled that Constantin had chosen to remain Christian. At the end of the reporting period she remained in seclusion in a Church facility.

In February 2007 Muslim citizens set fire to Christian-owned shops in the village of Armant, Qena Governorate, after reports of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man. Security forces deployed in the town, closed shops under a security decree, and detained eight Muslims and one Copt. Member of Parliament Mohamed al-Nubi and village leaders initiated a national conference on inter-religious dialogue to address the sectarian divide and reportedly brought together some 2,000 Muslims and Christians from across the country.

There are reports of government authorities failing to uphold the law in sensitive conversion cases. Local authorities sometimes allow custody of a minor Christian female who "converts" to Islam to be transferred to a Muslim custodian, who is likely to grant approval for a marriage opposed by the girl's Christian parents. (Although the minimum age for marriage is 18 for both men and women, girls who are at least 16 but not yet 18 may marry if they have the approval of their parents, or, in cases where the girl asserts that she has converted to Islam, with the approval of a Muslim guardian.)

According to the Government's Instructions for Notaries Public, which implement Law 114 of 1947, persons age 16 and above may convert to Islam without parental consent. Christian activists assert that ignorance of the law and social pressure, including the centrality of marriage to a woman's identity, often affect a girl's decision to convert. Family conflict and financial pressure also are cited as factors.

According to Watani newspaper editor and publisher, Youssef Sidhom, and Christian lawyer Naguib Gabriel, the reporting period witnessed the apparent cessation of the required religious "advice and guidance sessions" in the case of Christian-born converts to Islam. According to Sidhom, the advice and guidance sessions had proved repeatedly to be instrumental in resolving disputed conversion cases, returning many Christian girls to their original faith and families. Sidhom complained that the decision to annul the advice and guidance sessions was taken by the Interior Ministry without any prior notice or discussion. Gabriel filed a lawsuit before the administrative court to restore the "advice and guidance sessions," but the court issued no judgment by the end of the reporting period.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who may have been abducted or illegally removed from the United States.

According to the survey in 2010 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 84% of Egyptians polled supported the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion. [16]


The country's Jewish community numbers 200, most of them senior citizens. Anti-Semitic sentiments appeared in both the government-owned and opposition press; however, there have been no violent anti-Semitic incidents in recent years. Anti-Semitic articles and opinion pieces appeared in the print media, and editorial cartoons appeared in the press and electronic media. Anti-Semitism in the media was common, but less prevalent than in recent years, and anti-Semitic editorial cartoons and articles depicting demonic images of Jews and Israeli leaders, stereotypical images of Jews along with Jewish symbols, and comparisons of Israeli leaders to Hitler and the Nazis were published throughout the year. These expressions occurred primarily in the government-sponsored daily newspapers, Al-Gumhuriyya, Akhbar Al-Yawm, and Al-Ahram, but elicited no government response. For example, on August 7, 2006, in an article in the government-controlled daily newspaper Al-Ahram, the Grand Mufti Ali Gom'a criticized recent Israeli military action in Lebanon and wrote that Israeli "lies have exposed the true and hideous face of the blood suckers who...planned [to prepare] a matzo [unleavened Passover bread] using human blood."

On August 24, 2006, a Muslim cleric, Safwat Higazi, appeared on Dream TV to discuss recent media reports that he had issued a ruling (on the Islamic Al-Nas channel) that permitted the killing of Israeli Jews in Egypt. Higazi opined that killing of certain Israeli Jews (specifically adults who are serving in the Israeli Defense Forces reserves) in the country was permissible. On September 13, 2006, Al-Ahram published an opinion column entitled "Who is the Nazi Now" and stated that "The war that Hitler led against the Jews was an excuse through which the Zionists justified their colonizing of Palestine ... But the Jews, who escaped from oppression, oppressed the Palestinians… and thus, the victims of the old Nazis became the new Nazis...Who is the Nazi now? Günther Grass, who admitted the mistake he made when he was an adolescent? Or David Ben Gurion, Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Olmert, and people of their kind?"

The Government has advised journalists and cartoonists to avoid anti-Semitism. Government officials insist that anti-Semitic statements in the media are a reaction to Israeli government actions against Palestinians and do not reflect historical anti-Semitism; however, there are few public attempts to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment.

Coptic Christians

Laws concerning Coptic Christians which place restrictions on church building and open worship have been recently eased, but major construction still requires Government approval, while sporadic attacks on Christians and churches continue.[17]

Coptic Christians face discrimination at multiple levels of the government, ranging from a disproportional representation in government ministries to laws that limit their ability to build or repair churches.[18] The Pew Forum ranks Egypt among the 12 worst countries in the world in terms of religious violence against religious minorities and in terms of social hostilities against Christians.[19]

Coptic Christians are minimally represented in law enforcement, state security, and public office, and are being discriminated against in the workforce on the basis of their religion.[18][20] The Coptic community, as well as several human rights activists and intellectuals, maintain that the number of Christians occupying government posts is not proportional to the number of Copts in Egypt. They are also the victims of discriminatory religious laws, anti-Christian judges, and anti-Christian state police. Anti-Christian laws include laws governing repairing old churches or constructing new ones, which are usually impossible tasks, requiring presidential permission to build a new church, and a governor’s permission to renovate even the bathroom in an already-built church.[18] Anti-Christian judges tend to "legislate from the bench". An example includes an Egyptian court's refusal to grant Muslim Egyptians who convert to Christianity identity cards that display their new religion.[18][21]

According to Magdi Khalil, since Mubarak took office in 1981, Copts have suffered over 1,500 attacks and have lost millions of dollars worth of property.[22][23] After the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, violent incidents have continued. The Weekly Standard magazine has noted six cases of anti-Christian sentiment and violence by extremist Salafist groups, some of which have gone unpunished.[24] On 7 May 2011, a church was burnt down in Cairo.[25]

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

According to the Minister for Awqaf, Hamdy Zaqzouq, in a December 2006 press statement, the Government has appointed 50 women to roles as preachers (murshidat) to address gatherings of Muslim women in mosques, for the first time in the country's history.

A Coptic Christian woman was among 30 women judges appointed to the bench in early April.

Courts have normally not prosecuted officials suspected of responsibility for personal injuries or damages due to sectarian-based violence. However, the Government took positive steps in response to an April 2006 sectarian attack in Alexandria that led to mob violence the following day resulting in injuries to Copts and the burning and looting of Christian-owned shops. A parliamentary inquiry investigated the incidents and in January 2007 a police military tribunal in Cairo convicted 5 of 10 accused police officers on charges of dereliction of duty for failing to appear at their respective duty stations. The court also ratified previous penalties imposed on a group of police captains by an internal police review board, ruling that the captains should be excluded from service in the future. The tribunal also dismissed one brigadier general from service on grounds that he was incapable of performing the duties assigned to him, and fined a colonel and a major $250 (LE 1500) each. Final rulings had not been handed down against the remaining 5 officers by the end of the reporting period.

During the reporting period Al-Azhar held a small number of interfaith discussions both inside the country and abroad, most of them in connection to the controversy surrounding Pope Benedict XVI's comments on the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Tantawi, a government appointee, and Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, participated in joint public events during Ramadan and Easter and in a Christian-Muslim dialogue in June 2006.

In January 2007 the NCHR released its third annual report, in which it recommended a solution for official recognition of Baha'is, discussed the complaints of Jehovah's Witnesses, and criticized both religious textbooks in schools and the curriculum taught in the Imams' Institution affiliated with the Ministry of Higher Education for failing to address human rights topics. The report also encouraged the Government to pass a law for all religious groups addressing the construction of new places of worship.

An Islamic-Christian conference on September 7, 2006, in Al-Alamein called for the urgent development of religious discourse in order to "entrench nationalism and sense of belonging among all categories of the society." The meeting was organized by the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS) and attended by Islamic and Christian scholars along with university professors, media representatives, and prominent figures. The conference called for rallying efforts to disseminate the moderate religious trends of both Islam and Christianity.

During the reporting period more than 170 political and human rights activists, Muslim and Christian intellectuals, and academics launched an initiative ("Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination") to promote religious tolerance and combat discrimination against non-Muslims. The idea originated in April 2006 after the attacks on Alexandria churches. Their aim is to achieve equal treatment for all citizens and enhance freedom of religion. On March 5, 2007, the movement issued a statement criticizing security service refusal to allow them to hold meetings to discuss Article Two of the Constitution.

Societal abuses and discrimination

Christians and Muslims share a common culture and live as neighbors throughout the country. However, religious tensions exist and individual acts of prejudice and violence occur.

On May 11, 2007, following Friday prayers in the village of Bamha, near Cairo, a group of Muslim citizens attacked Christian villagers, reportedly because they believed that the Christians were planning to build or enlarge a church without having obtained a license. The ensuing violence led to the arson or looting of 27 Christian-owned shops and homes, and injuries to 12 Christians, one seriously. Police responded quickly to contain the violence and detained approximately 60 mostly Muslim villagers. By the end of the reporting period, most detainees had been released, and the local authorities sought to arrange several reconciliation meetings in Bamha but had not pursued formal charges against those responsible for the violence.

In Awlad Azaz village, Sohag governorate, Muslim and Christian villagers clashed on September 16, 2006, over 14.5 acres (14 feddans) of land located outside the formal boundary fence of the Monastery of Saint Shenouda ("the White Monastery"). Although Christians had traditionally claimed the land, local authorities designated a portion of it as a cemetery for Muslims in 2003. After the monk who heads the monastery encouraged Christian villagers to cultivate the land, Muslim protestors used nearby mosque loudspeakers to call upon Muslims to defend the land against Christian "encroachment." Despite the rapid deployment of security forces in the area, the ensuing clashes resulted in minor injuries. Security officials, members of Parliament, and local officials in the governorate worked quickly to resolve the problem. A SSIS official reportedly brokered a deal that resulted in the land being equally divided between Christians and Muslims.

In a talk show aired by Dream TV in March 2007, noted television personality Mona al-Shazli hosted Muslim judges Magdi al-Garhi and Noha al-Zeini, who expressed their personal objections to Christians being appointed as judges. They asserted that judges are 'patrons' who are charged with authority and that Islam was explicit in rejecting the patronage of non-Muslims over Muslims. A number of Christian judges of the State Council, the highest administrative court in the country, held a meeting at the Egyptian Judges' Club (a professional association) in which they demanded an apology from Garhi, with some demanding Garhi's resignation as secretary of the club.

Pope Shenouda III has banned travel of Copts to Jerusalem since the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. However, press reports, citing Israeli Interior Ministry statistics, indicated that an estimated 735 Copts visited Israel in 2004 for pilgrimage. There were no statistics available for subsequent periods. According to Al-Ahram on September 4, 2006, Pope Shenouda III forbade Copts to go to Jerusalem and stated that anyone who visits Jerusalem while it is still under the Israeli occupation would be subject to "ecclesiastical punishment," including the deprivation of communion.

See also


  • United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Egypt: International Religious Freedom Report 2007. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  • United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Egypt: International Religious Freedom Report 2008. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.

Notes and references

  1. ^ article 64 of the 2014 Constitution
  2. ^ article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution (starting from Constitution of 1971, and all following ones (2007, 2012 and 2014))
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ IPS News (retrieved 09-27-2008)
  6. ^ [1]. The Washington Post. "Estimates of the size of Egypt's Christian population vary from the low government figures of 6 to 7 million to the 12 million reported by some Christian leaders. The actual numbers may be in the 9 to 9.5 million range, out of an Egyptian population of more than 60 million." Retrieved 10-10-2008
  7. ^ [2]. The New York Times. Retrieved 10-10-2008.
  8. ^ [3] The Christian Post. Accessed 28 September 2008.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ NLG Solutions . Egypt. Accessed 28 September 2008.
  12. ^ Mada Masr - Police vow to arrest Alexandria-based atheists
  13. ^
  14. ^ Mohamad Bazzi, Welcome to the Counter-Jihad, New York Times, ,The contemporary debates on Islam, modernity and nationalism began with two 19th-century scholars, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, who taught at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the seat of Sunni learning
  15. ^ The Egyptian Gazette, Egypt Azhar meeting seeks unity on document, The Egyptian Gazette,
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  • United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Egypt: International Religious Freedom Report 2007. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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