Seven years ago, Mohammed Hegazy was the first Egyptian citizen to attempt a legal change of his religious identity from Muslim to Christian. In Egypt, government-issued identity cards include a required notation of the person’s religion. Changing the notation to “Islam” is a simple administrative procedure; asking the government to approve a Muslim’s request to change to a different religion is unprecedented.
Although Egypt has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which defines changing one’s religion or convincing others to do likewise as a basic right, Muslim citizens are denied this legal option. Non-Muslims, by contrast, can easily convert to Islam with the full cooperation of police and judicial authorities.
In 2007 Hegazy took his request to court. He was targeted by furious Muslim clerics, lawyers and journalists, demanding his execution as an apostate from Islam. For months afterwards, his name hit the headlines repeatedly, and his court case filed with the Interior Ministry came under heated public debate on television.
Despite threats and attacks on his home, Hegazy has refused to leave Egypt for his own safety.
In December 2013 Hegazy, now known as Bishoy Armia Boulous, was arrested for filming sectarian demonstrations without permission in Minya. After he spent six months in detention, a local court convicted him of the misdemeanour charges and sentenced him to five years in prison. His appeal is due to be heard on Sunday, reports World Watch Monitor.
But according to his lawyer, prison and security police officials have not confirmed they will permit Mohammed Hegazy to travel from Cairo’s Tora Prison to the court hearing in Upper Egypt’s Minya governate. If he is not present in person, his conviction – and the accompanying five-year prison sentence — will be confirmed by default.
Update: Two of the three charges against him have been dropped – but he remains in prison. It is well worth reading the latest update from Morning Star News in full to gain understanding of how difficult life can be for converts from Islam in Egypt.
February 2015 update: It has taken a month for Hegazy’s lawyer to track down and meet his client. World Watch Monitor reports that from the day of the trial onward, Egyptian prison officials have blocked all his efforts to make contact. He remains in prison awaiting the judge’s ruling.