Egypt : Violations of Freedom of Religious Belief and Expression of the Christian Minority

This singling-out of Christian places of worship for discriminatory treatment has had serious consequences. Applying special rules to some but not all religious institutions brings with it the inevitable stigma of unequal status, reinforcing arguments made privately by Christians that they are treated as second-class citizens.

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The Egyptian Constitution proclaims Islam the state religion, but also guarantees to all citizens freedom of belief and freedom to practice religious rites. The Egyptian government's obligations under international law further require that the follower of any faith be afforded freedom of religion, including the freedom "either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching." These rights are set forth in Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt has ratified. Egyptians do not all have equal enjoyment of these rights, however. Muslims cannot convert legally to another faith, while Christians can legally convert to Islam. The children of Muslim converts to Christianity remain Muslims on official documents such as identity cards. Marriages between Muslim women and Christian men are not legally recognized. Christians suspected of proselytizing Muslims are dealt with harshly by security forces, while efforts by Muslims to convert citizens to Islam are unimpeded -- if not encouraged -- by the state.
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