Egypt Christian Convert Continues Legal Case Despite Threats

Aug 08, 2007 01:38 PM EDT

An Egyptian who has set a precedent by seeking official recognition of his conversion from Islam to Christianity says he will continue his quest despite receiving death threats.

Mohamed Hegazy told Reuters he was also looking for another lawyer after his attorney, Mamdouh Nakhla, dropped the case on Tuesday because he did not want to offend public opinion in mostly Muslim Egypt.

"Of course I am continuing the case. I have hope in God," Hegazy said in a telephone interview late on Tuesday. "This is my right. How can I live with a religion I don't believe in? Should I live as a hypocrite?"

Hegazy, a journalist and political activist, said in a petition filed to an administrative court last week that he had converted to Christianity four years ago.

He said he had gone to register his change of religion with the Interior Ministry but had been turned down.

Some clerics say the penalty for renouncing Islam is death, but the modern Egyptian state has never recognised apostasy as a crime and the state-appointed chief mufti or exponent of Islamic law said last month it was not punishable "in this world".

Hegazy said he had received death threats after announcing his case, forcing him to spend each night in a different place.

"I feel the situation will become really hard. I cannot settle anywhere," he said.

Several Egyptian newspapers have given the case front-page treatment, carrying mostly hostile comments about Hegazy's motives and political history.

Khaled Salah, a columnist for the independent daily Al Masry Al Yom, pleaded for calm.

"We are mistaken when we make the conversion of a Christian woman to Islam a big media issue ... and we are mistaken by making the conversion of a man from Islam to Christianity a controversial issue," he wrote on Wednesday.

Another lawyer, Ramsis el-Naggar, said he was still deciding whether to take Hegazy's case on.

Naggar said he had successfully represented 29 people who converted from Christianity to Islam and then back again.

"This is the first case involving a born Muslim," he said.

Courts are also dealing with an attempt by Baha'is who want to leave the religion entry on their identity papers blank.