Egypt – Treatment of Proselyte Copts – September, 2017

The constitution specifies Islam as the state religion and the principles of sharia as the primary source of legislation. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and makes incitement to hate a crime. It describes freedom of belief as absolute; however, it limits the freedom to practice religious rituals and establish places of worship to adherents of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. The constitution prohibits the exercise of political activity or the formation of political parties on the basis of religion.

While neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit apostasy from Islam or efforts to proselytize Muslims, and the law states individuals may change their religion, the government does not recognize conversion from Islam for those born Muslim.

The government generally permitted foreign religious workers in the country on condition they not proselytize to Muslims. According to community representatives, non-Muslim minorities and foreign religious workers generally refrained from proselytizing to Muslims to avoid risking legal penalties and extralegal repercussions from authorities and members of the local community.[1]

On 10 July 2015 in Alexandria, three young Christian men, one of whom was 16, were arrested on charges of denigration of Islam after one of the three distributed flyers containing an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount. According to a local human rights group and press reports, a Muslim man detained one of the men, assaulted him physically, locked him in a store for more than an hour, and then took him to a police station. The youth called two Christian friends who joined him at the police station, and who were then detained. The three were then referred to prosecutors on suspicion of “defamation of religions and new ways of proselytizing among Muslims,” according to press reports. All three were released on a bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($1,250) each on July 12.

Freedom House, a NGO based in the United States who is researching and advocating the issues of democracy, political freedom and human rights, writes in its Freedom in the World report of January 2016 (report period: 2015) that abuses against Copts continued in 2015, with numerous cases of forced displacement, physical assaults, bomb and arson attacks, and blocking of church construction. Christians were also arrested on charges of proselytizing.[2]

On current evidence there are some areas where Coptic Christians will face a real risk of persecution or ill-treatment contrary to Article 3. In general these will be (a) areas outside the large cities; (b) where radical Islamists have a strong foothold; and (c) where there have been recent attacks on Coptic Christians or their churches, businesses or properties. ‘On the evidence before the Upper Tribunal, the following are particular risk categories in the sense that those falling within them will generally be able to show a real risk of persecution or treatment contrary to Article 3, at least in their home area:

(i) Converts to Coptic Christianity;

(ii) Persons who are involved in construction or reconstruction/repair of churches that have been the target for an attack or attacks;

(iii) Those accused of proselytizing where the accusation is serious and not casual;

(iv) Those accused of being physically or emotionally involved with a Muslim woman where the accusation is made seriously and not casually..

‘Coptic Christian women in Egypt are not in general at real risk of persecution or ill-treatment, although they face difficulties additional to other women, in the form of sometimes being the target of disappearances, forced abduction and forced conversion.[3]

[1] USDOS – US Department of State: 2016 Report on International Religious Freedom – Egypt, 15 August 2017 (available at ecoi.net)
http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/345218/476369_en.html  (accessed 07 September 2017)

[2] ACCORD – Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation: Anfragebeantwortung zu Ägypten: Staatliche Repressionen im Falle einer Missionstätigkeit eines Kopten [a-9804-2 (9805)], 31 August 2016 (available at ecoi.net)
http://www.ecoi.net/local_link/329184/456638_en.html (accessed 07 September 2017)

[3] UK Home Office: Country Policy and Information Note Egypt: Christians, July 2017 (available at ecoi.net)

(accessed 7 September 2017)