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Religious Freedom Ranking:
1.5 out of 5 stars: Serious Violations

EgyptMost Egyptians (about 94 percent) are Sunni Muslim. Egypt recognizes only three "revealed religions" (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).  Others are vulnerable to serious persecution. Also, Christians often are not protected by the government from terrorist attacks, and non-Sunni Muslim groups also suffer. The country is currently in flux after the overthrow of the Mubarak government. A new Constitution is being created, and there are concerns that the rights of religious minorities, including non-Sunni Muslims as wells as others, will deteriorate.  This report is based mostly on pre-revolution information.


Egypt is a “social democracy” in which Islam is the state religion. Article 19 of the pre-revolution Constitution states that religious education shall be a principal subject in the courses of general education. Article 40 says all citizens are equal before the law. They supposedly have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed. Freedom of belief and the freedom to practice religious rites are established in Article 46. However, the government does not recognize any conversion of a Muslim to another religion. The law holds further that there shall be "no jurisdiction of a non-Muslim over a Muslim,” making the constitutional guarantees of equality questionable at best. This affects marriage, divorce, inheritance and the condition of children as well as inter-religious disputes.


In fact, the government restricts the basic rights of religious expression and practice. Religious practices that “conflict” with Islamic law are prohibited. (However this does not necessarily extend to the use of icons and various Trinitarian liturgies by Christians.)  The government often avoided punishing religiously motivated crimes against non-Muslims, instead engaging in “reconciliation efforts” or denying that abuses occurred.  It has been reported that many local officials continued to intentionally delay the process for obtaining permits to repair, rebuild, or expand existing churches.


Individuals who are not of the accepted religions do not receive identity cards with their religious affiliation on it. Those without these identity cards encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses.


The government appoints and pays the salaries of the imams officiating in mosques, and proposes themes for and monitors sermons. Of the country's approximately 70,000 mosques, slightly less than half remain unlicensed and operate outside the control of government authorities.


While proselytizing is technically not a crime, Muslims face legal problems if they convert to another faith. Authorities have charged a few converts to Christianity under provisions of the Penal Code. In 1996 state security officers in Cairo detained, interrogated, and in two cases, physically abused several converts to Christianity in an effort to obtain information about the identities and activities of other converts. Converts may lose their jobs, their inheritance, etc. Reactions from radical Muslim groups towards converts are more severe. Converts have been severely persecuted and even killed.


Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worship without harassment; however, Christians and members of the Baha'i faith, (which the government does not recognize) face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship. The government also has sometimes arrested, detained, and harassed Muslims such as Shi'a, Ahmadiyas, Quranists, converts from Islam to Christianity, and members of other religious groups whose beliefs and/or practices it deemed to deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs.  Government authorities often refused to provide converts with new identity documents indicating their chosen faith.

However, recently some unmarried members of the Baha'i community have received identification documents from the government; and the government arrested and began prosecuting four alleged perpetrators of a sectarian attack against Copts in Nag Hammadi. Also, a court in Qena sentenced five Muslims to life imprisonment for murdering two Christians.


The application of family law, including issues of marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, and burial, is based on an individual's religion. In the practice of family law, the government recognizes only the three "heavenly religions," Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. No marriage within other religions is recognized. Thus a woman married outside of the ‘three religions of the book’ is considered to be living in adultery.


A non-Muslim wife who converts to Islam is required to divorce her non-Muslim husband, unless he agrees to convert. If he chooses not to convert, divorce proceedings may begin immediately and custody of children is awarded to the mother. Conversely, if a Muslim woman converts from Islam, her children are to be given to a male Muslim relative, and she will lose all inheritance rights, which is only one half of what her male relatives receive.  Christian widows of Muslims have no automatic inheritance rights but may be provided for in testamentary documents.


Muslim women may divorce their husbands without his consent, but to do so requires her to give up her financial rights, including alimony, dowry and other benefits. Many women have complained that after being granted a divorce, the required child support is not paid. The Coptic Church disagreed with the government’s decision that the church must allow divorced women to remarry, as it violates the church’s theology. Female genital mutilation is reported in rural areas. However the question as to whether or not this is a religious practice remains controversial.


Violence by Islamic militants is often directed against security forces, foreigners, and tourists. Christians have been the target of terrorist groups seeking to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state. Terrorists have killed dozens of Christians and others in recent years. Islamic groups claim responsibility for attacks on churches and other property belonging to members of Christian minorities, especially Copts. The government often failed to prosecute perpetrators of violence against Coptic Christians in a number of cases, including in Baghoura, Farshout, and Marsa Matruh. The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned for anti-government attacks and activities. (However this will apparently no longer be the case under the new Constitution.)


2010 U.S. State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Egypt


Egypt - New World Encyclopedia



Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 September 2011 17:27