Saturday, May 12, 2007

Egyptian Christians And Religious Intolerance

UPDATE: Check out the new blog covering the Mid East: Outsider On The Inside

A law passed last month by an administrative court in Egypt has made it illegal under Egyptian law to officially change your religion from Islam to Christianity, if you've already made the switch once before. Meaning former Christians who wish to be recognized by the state as Christians again must stick with Islam, for which the rules of membership have apparently changed:
Christian clergy and intellectuals in the country have expressed resentment toward the ruling, calling it a "step backward" and contradictory to Egypt's citizenship laws. They argue that the court's decision undoubtedly moves Egypt nearer to being a theocratic state.

In Egypt, Christians have been known to convert to Islam in order to marry Muslims - non-Muslim men must convert on paper to Islam before being allowed to marry Muslim women. The new law, the government argues, is an attempt to maintain religious integrity, but many Egyptians believe it is a move to ensure that Muslim numbers are maintained.

"As a Muslim, I say that there is no limit to the freedom of religion and, without it, heaven and hell would be ... meaningless as the Koran assures the individual freedom of belief and disbelief [and] in return [people] are responsible for their choice," Mohammed Munir Mogahed, a founding member of Egyptians Against Religious Segregation, said recently in the Egyptian daily, Al Masry Al Youm.

Mogahed added that the Muslim holy text did not give rules concerning apostasy, arguing that religious scholars' opinions on the matter had been controversial.

"We can compare this issue to citizenship, as every Egyptian has the right to give up his or her citizenship and take on a different one, and there is nothing against him or her" for doing so, he pointed out.

The case began in 2005 when 45 Christians wishing to convert back to Christianity from Islam asked Egypt's ministry of interior for new identification papers and birth certificates that stated they were Christians.

The interior ministry refused to issue the papers saying it didn't see a legal reason for doing so, regarding the petitioners' request as playing with religion to suit their needs.
From the Egyptian Constitution (Article 46):

The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites.

Update: Unrelated violence between Muslim and Christian villagers south of Cairo, resulting in a street fight and 59 arrests:

CAIRO, May 12 (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces have arrested 59 Muslims who took part in clashes with Coptic Christians over church construction in a village south of Cairo, security sources said on Saturday. They said prosecutors ordered the arrests after taking the testimony of 10 Christians who were hurt in the clashes on Friday in which hundreds of villagers from both faiths fought with sticks and hurled bricks and firebombs at one another.

The sources said at least 10 Christian houses and five shops were gutted by fire during the clashes in the village of Behma, about 60 km (40 miles) from the Egyptian capital. Egyptian authorities were still assessing the damage. Relations between Muslims and minority Coptic Christians in Egypt are generally peaceful despite sporadic violence, but restrictions on building churches have been one of the main grievances of Egypt's mainly Coptic Christian community.

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