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Viewing cable 09CAIRO1109, COURT REJECTS CHRISTIAN CONVERT'S IDENTITY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO1109 2009-06-16 14:02 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO0548
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #1109 1671456
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 161456Z JUN 09 ZDK
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2869
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 001109 
 
SIPDIS 
 
FOR NEA/ELA AND DRL/IRF 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/16/2029 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KIRF KISL SOCI EG
SUBJECT: COURT REJECTS CHRISTIAN CONVERT'S IDENTITY 
DOCUMENT CASE 
 
REF: A. CAIRO 485 
     ΒΆB. CAIRO 477 C. 08 CAIRO 256 Classified By: Acting Economic-Political Counselor Gregory LoGerfo for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) On June 13, Cairo Administrative Court ruled against Christian convert Maher El-Gohary's lawsuit to compel the GOE to issue him an identity document listing his religion as Christianity. El-Gohary converted from Islam to Christianity 34 years ago, and filed his lawsuit in August 2008. The judge rejected El-Gohary's case primarily by ruling that the Egyptian Coptic Church does not have legal authority to recognize conversions from Islam to Christianity. El-Gohary had submitted a Coptic Church baptism certificate to the court in April 2009 as proof of his conversion. On June 16, we expressed concern over the court's decision to MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar Shalaby. Shalaby said he would look into the decision, and provide us with any additional relevant information.

2.(C) El-Gohary's attorney, Nabil Ghobreal, told us he made a legal error in not submitting the baptism certificate to the Interior Ministry's civil status department before passing it to the court, as required by law. Ghobreal said he plans a separate suit challenging the judge's claim that the Coptic Church does not have legal authority to recognize conversions. He also plans to appeal the June 13 decision to the Supreme Administrative Court. Ghobreal speculated that it would have been difficult for the judge to rule in favor of El-Gohary due to fears in the judiciary of an angry Muslim Brotherhood backlash.

3.(C) Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Executive Director Hossam Bahgat told us EIPR had originally advised El-Gohary not to file his suit with Cairo Administrative Court, the same court that had rejected in January 2008 a similar case brought by Mohammed Hegazy (ref C). According to Bahgat, the best hope for legal progress on this issue is Hegazy's appeal, which is currently pending before the Supreme Constitutional Court. Bahgat criticized the June 13 ruling on the Coptic Church's lack of legal authority to recognize conversions as "restrictive and very dangerous." He called the ruling a "step backward" for religious freedom, and criticized El-Gohary's lawyer for not focusing competently on either his client's well-being or the larger religious freedom issue.

4.(C) Comment: We attribute this outcome to a combination of the government's interest in appearing as respectful of Islam as the Islamist opposition, and the incompetence of El-Gohary's lawyer. While the lawyer took pride in the judge's long opinion as proof that the court took the suit seriously, Bahgat accurately pointed out that the judge's ruling on the Church's lack of legal authority is a step backward for religious freedom. We will continue to follow up with the GOE on the issue of conversions. SCOBEY