A judge in Cairo recently rejected a request by a Muslim background believer in Egypt to legally change his religious status, marking the second time such a request was turned down in the predominantly Muslim country.
Like Mohammed Ahmed Hegazy, Maher El-Gohary said he has received death threats and has been forced into hiding because of the threats against his life.
Despite El-Gohary’s plea, however, the judge ruled last Saturday that the convert to Christianity cannot legally become Christian.
“I am disappointed with what happened and shocked with the decision, because I went to great lengths and through a great deal of hardship,” El-Gohary told Compass Direct News after the ruling.
According to reports, El-Gohary had submitted to the judge’s demand that he provide a baptism certificate and a letter of acceptance into the Coptic Orthodox Church. He had to obtain the baptism certificate from Cyprus and get a letter of acceptance from the Egyptian Coptic church.
But the judge who demanded the documents refused to accept them, saying that the church deals with Christians not with Muslims who convert to Christianity, according to one of El-Gohary’s lawyer.
“The judge asked for letters of acceptance and baptism,” El-Gohary told Compass. “It was really not easy to get them, in fact it was very hard, but if he was not going to use these things, why did he ask for them in the first place? We complied with everything and got it for him, and then it was refused. What was the point of all this?”
In Egypt, a child’s official religion is based on the father’s legally recognized religion. And an officially Muslim child cannot take Christian classes in school or openly attend church service on Sunday. When the child grows up, they cannot have a Christian wedding unless their religion status is Christian on their identification card.
Last year, the Egyptian Supreme Court had ruled that then 25-year-old Mohammed Hegazy could not legally change his religious status to Christianity so that his newborn daughter could grow up openly as a Christian.
According to the last update on his situation last fall, Hegazy, whose wife is also a convert to Christianity, was still in hiding along with his family even after the case had ended. Though he wants to leave Egypt, Hegazy cannot because if he returns to his hometown to obtain passports for his family he will be killed.
In the case of El-Gohary, the Muslim background believer and his lawyer, Nabil Ghobreyal, say they plan to appeal and take the case to a higher court to fight for El-Gohary’s right to be legally recognized as a Christian.
Egypt’s population of 80 million is about 90 percent Muslim and only about 10 percent Christian. Although the percentage of Christians in Egypt is small, the Christian population there is the largest in the Middle East.