Article 46 of the constitution and article 11 of the Constitutional Declaration of 2011, the new provisional fundamental law of the country adopted on March 30 by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), provide for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites. On October 16, the SCAF issued a decree to amend provisions of the Penal Code to explicitly prohibit religious and other forms of discrimination. However, some laws, government restrictions, and court rulings limit freedom of religion, and courts ruled in previous years that the constitution’s provisions for freedom of religion do not apply to Baha’is. Islam is the official state religion, and Sharia (Islamic law) is the primary source of legislation.
In its January 2008 decision in the case of Muhammad Ahmad Abduh Higazy v. the Minister of Interior et al., the Cairo administrative court noted that the country ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) with a reservation that the covenant shall be ratified to the extent that it does not conflict with Islamic law, including the covenant’s article 18, which provides for freedom of religion.
The government interprets Sharia as forbidding Muslims from converting to another religion. Although there are no statutory prohibitions on conversion, the government does not recognize conversions to Christianity or other religions of citizens born as Muslims. This policy, along with the refusal of local officials to recognize such conversions legally, constituted a prohibition in practice. Moreover, in January 2008 the Cairo administrative court ruled that freedom to convert does not extend to Muslim citizens. The court stated that the freedom to practice religious rites is subject to limits, especially those entailed by the maintenance of public order, public morals, and conformity to the provisions and principles of Islam, which forbid Muslims to convert. The court stated that “public order” is defined as the official religion being Islam, that most of the population professes Islam, and that Islamic law is the primary source of legislation. The ruling is not binding in other courts.
The supreme administrative court ruled on February 12 to allow reconverts to Christianity (i.e., persons born as Christians who converted to Islam, and then later sought to convert back to Christianity) to amend their national identification cards to reflect their chosen faith, overturning a previous lower court ruling and a Ministry of Interior decision that prohibited such changes. On July 3, the supreme administrative court reaffirmed its previous ruling and criticized the Ministry of Interior for delaying the issuance of the amended identity cards to reconverts. The court ordered the minister of interior to issue a decree, which he did on September 5, directing all civil affairs administrations to enforce the court rulings and article 47 of the Civil Affairs Law. The decree specifies that failing to abide by the rulings is punishable under article 127 of the Penal Code. Many Christian reconverts succeeded in obtaining their new national identification cards by year’s end.
Neither the constitution nor the civil and penal codes prohibit proselytizing, but police have in the past detained or otherwise harassed those accused of proselytizing on charges of ridiculing or insulting the three “heavenly religions”--Islam, Christianity, or Judaism--or inciting sectarian strife. There were no reports of such incidents during the year. The government generally tolerates foreign religious workers on condition that they do not proselytize Muslims. For more than 15 years the government has refused reentry, denied residency renewal requests, or expelled expatriates they suspected of engaging in unapproved religious activities.
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 Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Muslim families are subject to Islamic law, 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 Islamic law. The government does not recognize the marriages of citizens adhering to religions other than Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
Under Islamic law as practiced in the country, Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslim men. A non-Muslim male must therefore convert to Islam to marry a Muslim woman, although non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Also, a non-Muslim woman who converts to Islam must divorce if her husband is not Muslim. In some cases upon the wife’s conversion, local security authorities reportedly have asked the non-Muslim husband if he is willing to convert to Islam; if he chooses not to convert, divorce proceedings may begin immediately, and custody of children is awarded to the mother.
Inheritance laws for all citizens are based on the government’s interpretation of Islamic law. 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. Converts from Islam to Christianity lose all rights of inheritance. Because the government offers no legal means for such converts to amend their civil records to reflect their new religious status, apart from the recent exception of reconverts, a convert’s 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 have resorted to soliciting illicit identity papers. During past years, authorities detained and charged converts and those assisting them with violating laws that prohibit the falsification of documents. The minor children of such converts to Christianity, and in some cases adult children who were minors when their parents converted, 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 Islamic law, which dictates that there be “no jurisdiction of a non-Muslim over a Muslim.”
Religious laws, both Islamic and Coptic, prevent Coptic men and Muslim women from marrying each other. When a male Christian and a female Muslim marry outside the country, their marriage is not 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 Islamic law.
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 forgo all of her financial rights, including alimony, dowry, and other benefits. Many women have complained that after being granted khul, the required child support was not paid.
In July 2010 the Supreme Constitutional Court suspended the implementation of a May 2010 supreme administrative court ruling that the Coptic Orthodox Church must permit divorced adherents to remarry. The Coptic Orthodox Church characterized the May decision as an infringement on its authority. Execution of the ruling remained suspended at year’s end.
The Ministry of Education bans wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf) in primary schools and allows it only in preparatory and secondary schools upon written request from a girl’s parent. During the year a court upheld a ban on women wearing the niqab (Islamic full face veil) during exams.
In November the administrative court of Alexandria reversed a decision by the former minister of information that banned female television presenters from wearing the veil. In its ruling the court stated that it considered the ban on wearing a veil an encroachment on personal freedom and the freedom of belief.
Article 1 of the constitution and the Constitutional Declaration of 2011 stipulate that the country’s political system is based on the principle of citizenship. Article 5 of the constitution and article 4 of the Constitutional Declaration prohibit the formation of political parties or the conduct of political activities on a religious basis. However, political parties of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis were allowed to register and operate during the year, while a Shia-oriented party was denied registration.
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 it deems offensive to public morals, detrimental to religion, or likely to cause a breach of the peace. The Islamic Research Center (IRC) of Al-Azhar has the legal authority to censor and, since 2004, to confiscate any publications dealing with the Qur’an and the authoritative Islamic traditions (Hadith). A 2003 Ministry of Justice decree authorizes Al-Azhar to confiscate publications, tapes, speeches, and artistic materials deemed inconsistent with Islamic law. There were no reports of such confiscations during the year.
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. In practice, however, the proportion of mosques operating outside of government supervision increased markedly during the year. The government does not contribute to the funding of Christian churches. The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics reported in March that there were 108,395 mosques and 2,869 churches in the country.
The contemporary interpretation of the 1856 Ottoman Hamayouni Decree, still partially in force, requires non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree to build new churches and synagogues. In addition, Ministry of Interior (MOI) regulations, issued in 1934 under the Al-Ezabi Decree, specify a set of 10 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 a church may be no closer than 100 meters (340 feet) from a mosque and that approval of the neighboring Muslim community must be obtained before a permit to build a new church may be issued.
In 2005 the president 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 local authorities. Decree 291 noted that governors must examine all applications for rebuilding or expansion, which must be supported by unspecified documents, within 30 days of submission. According to the decree, “permits may not be refused except with a justified ruling.”
Some communities, faced with refusal of their requests for permits, use private buildings and apartments for religious services or build without permits. This has led to extortion or attempted extortion of worshipers by local authorities who have the power to close down such unlicensed places of worship.
To obtain official recognition, a religious group must submit a request to the MOI’s Religious Affairs Department, which determines whether the group would, in its view, pose a threat or upset national unity or social peace. The department also consults leading religious institutions, particularly the Coptic Orthodox Church and 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 potentially subject to detention and also could face prosecution and punishment under article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which forbids the “denigration of religions.” There were no reports, however, that the government prosecuted unregistered religious groups under these provisions. The government last recognized a new religious group in 1990.
The government indicates only Judaism, Christianity, or Islam on national identity cards, and for several years denied identity cards to anyone who would not use one of those designations. Muslim-born citizens who convert to another religion, including Christianity, may not change the religion field on their identity cards. After a court battle that lasted many years, some members of the marginalized Baha’i community were able to obtain identity cards with a “dash” in the religion field in 2009. This decision was reinforced in April in the case of Hosni Naguib v the Ministry of the Interior when the administrative court of the state council ordered the MOI to issue a new identity card to the plaintiff’s son.
Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha’i institutions and community activities and strips Baha’is of legal recognition. Despite the ban Baha’is are able to engage in community activities such as Naw-Ruz, the Baha’i new year’s celebration. During the Nasser era, the government confiscated all Baha’i community properties, including Baha’i centers, libraries, and cemeteries. During the year Baha’is generally were able to secure new identity cards with a dash, but in several cases authorities refused to issue identity cards that state the correct marital status of married Baha'is on the grounds that Baha’i marriages are not recognized by Egyptian law. Baha’is reported that, in other cases, the government issued national identity papers indicating the correct marital status of married Baha’is on the basis of civil marriage documents obtained outside of the country. The lack of formal recognition for the Baha’i Faith also continued to present obstacles in registering births and inheritance. Baha’is without valid identity cards have reported difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Moreover, even those with identity cards can find the “dash” to be detrimental, given that a 2008 court ruling noted that one purpose of filling the religion field with a dash or other distinctive mark was to protect members of the “revealed religions” (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) from Baha’i “infiltration” and to avoid potential dangers from such persons’ conduct and relations with them. The ruling stated that anyone who adopts the Baha’i Faith is an apostate and that the religion cannot be recorded in any civil status or other official document because it would conflict with public order.
The government has not granted legal recognition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but permits resident foreign Mormons to meet in private residences.
The government banned Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1960. The government has, to varying degrees, subjected members of Jehovah’s Witnesses to harassment and surveillance, although less so during the year. Jehovah’s Witnesses were legally registered in Cairo in 1951 and in Alexandria in 1956, and their presence in the country dates to the 1930s. In 2010 the Cairo administrative court dismissed a lawsuit filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses to compel government recognition as a Christian denomination. The government attributes its refusal to grant registration to Jehovah’s Witnesses to the opposition of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which during the year criticized the group as heretical. Another factor was the government’s lingering Nasser-era suspicion of links between Jehovah’s Witnesses and Israel.
The government at times prosecutes and otherwise harasses, including through detentions and the imposition of travel bans, 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-Israel sentiment.
The quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) is charged with strengthening 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. Four of its 25 appointed members, including the president, are Christians.
Local media, including state television and radio, regularly include Islamic programming. Christian television programs are shown weekly on state-owned Nile Cultural TV.
The government observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Eid Al-Fitr, Eid Al-Adha, the Islamic New Year, Mawlid al-Nabi (the birth of the Prophet Muhammad), and Coptic Christmas (January 7).