EGYPT: A Christian denied identity by court

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In the eyes of Egypt, Maher El Gohary is not a Christian. An administrative court has ruled that the convert cannot be issued identity papers as a Christian -- another reminder of the legal and social pressures faced by those who stray from Islam.

El Gohary, who converted to Christianity in 1973, has been living with Muslim identity papers. But he claims that persecution over the years prompted him to demand the right to officially change his religion. He also sought to change his name to Peter Athnasios, as well as to seek 10 million Egyptian pounds, or $1.7 million, in compensation for damages.


In his mission to obtain such a right, El Gohary provided the court with documents stating that he was baptized by the Orthodox Church in Cyprus in 2005, as well as by the Shebin Al Qanater archbishop in Qalyoub, a governorate in Egypt.

The administrative court ruled that both documents were ‘legally invalid’ because the Cypriot certificates were written in Greek and did not include any ‘clear evidence’ that El Gohary was actually baptized. The court considered the Shebin Al Qanater documents to be similarly unfounded because the request to be baptized there was made on the Cypriot certificates.

El Gohary’s lawyer, Nabil Ghobrial, said: “The Egyptian Civil Law issued in 1994 grants citizens the right to convert to and from Christianity and obtain the official papers proving it. The main problem is that such law is always disregarded by judges, who sometimes only rule according to their personal religious beliefs.”

Conservative Muslim clerics consider abandoning Islam for Christianity or any religion as treason and punishable by death. Converts have for years faced persecution and harassment in Egypt, and some have fled the country. El Gohary has recently filed a complaint to the attorney general against cleric Youssef Al Badry, who reportedly called El Gohary a conspirator.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo