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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09CAIRO477 2009-03-19 14:53:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
Cable title:  

EGYPTIAN CONVERT STRUGGLES FOR ACCEPTANCE

Tags:   PHUM PGOV KIRF KISL SOCI EG 
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VZCZCXRO3992
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #0477/01 0781453
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 191453Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1961
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 000477 

SIPDIS

DRL/IRF FOR COFSKY

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/18/2029
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KIRF KISL SOCI EG
SUBJECT: EGYPTIAN CONVERT STRUGGLES FOR ACCEPTANCE

REF: 08 CAIRO 256

Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs
William R. Stewart for Reasons 1.4 (d)

1.(C) KEY POINTS

--(C) On March 16, we met with Maher El Gohary and his
attorney, Nabil Ghobreal. El Gohary, who converted from
Islam to Christianity 34 years ago, filed a lawsuit in August
2008 to compel the GoE to issue him an identity document
listing his religion as Christianity (Note: All Egyptian
identity documents must identify the holder as Muslim,
Christian or Jewish.)

--(C) According to El Gohary, since filing the lawsuit, his
Moslem relatives and even strangers have threatened him,
especially in court, where a group of Islamist lawyers
regularly appears to intimidate El Gohary and demand the
judge charge him with "apostasy," a crime that does not exist
in Egyptian law.

--(C) Because of the threatening courtroom atmosphere, in
late February, El Gohary applied at a GoE civil registry
office for a power-of-attorney authorizing lawyer Ghobreal to
act on his behalf at subsequent hearings without El Gohary
personally appearing. El Gohary said the GoE registry
employee with who he dealt verbally abused him, incited other
patrons to also verbally, and even physically, abuse him,
causing him to leave without obtaining the document.

--(C) Because El Gohary was unable to obtain a power of
attorney, he is required to appear at the next hearing in his
case, scheduled for March 28. Ghobreal will meet with the
judge before the hearing to discuss courtroom security
arrangements.

--(C) As to the substance of the case, Ghobreal said there
are a number of procedural problems with the case, including
his failure to initially introduce evidence that the GoE
denied El Gohary an identification document reflecting his
conversion.



--------------------------


COMMENT


--------------------------



2.(C) El Gohary's reports of intimidation by Islamist
lawyers during court sessions are consistent with what we
witnessed during other cases dealing with sensitive religious
topics, including the Baha'i community's efforts to obtain
identification documents. His experience at the registry
office and his mistreatment by a low-level GoE functionary is
also consistent with a growing trend towards greater Islamic
influence and increasing intolerance in Egypt's bureaucracy

3.(C) Religious conversion is seen by many Egyptians as more
than a personal spiritual decision, but as an affront to
family and society. Nonetheless, some observers see limited
signs of hope in El Gohary's difficult, and possibly
dangerous, quest for GoE acceptance of his conversion.
Yousef Sidholm, a prominent Coptic intellectual and
publisher, told us that ten years ago, it would have been
"inconceivable" that a case such as El Gohary's could have
been filed. Today, people are willing to at least discuss
conversion and other sensitive religious issues. For
example, El Gohary appeared on a popular television news show
last summer to debate religious conversion with an Islamist
lawyer.

5.(C) As for El Gohary's legal prospects, while Egyptian law
permits a convert to obtain a new identification document,
for a government that feels pressure to appear as respectful
of Islam as Egypt's Islamist opposition, correctly applying
the law would no doubt be a difficult decision.
Unfortunately for El Gohary, his lawyer appears to have
committed procedural mistakes that may make it easy for the
court to rule against him on technicalities. According to
human rights lawyers, Ghobreal is inexperienced, is
representing El Gohary at no charge in hopes of generating
publicity for his practice, and does not have the temperament
to handle so public and contentious a case. We witnessed
Ghobreal's temper when he entered the Embassy to meet with us
and created a scene by refusing to walk through a metal
detector or consent to a search.

6.(C) On March 17, we discussed U.S. interest in the case
with Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights Wael
Aboulmagd and will continue to raise the case with our GoE
interlocutors.

CAIRO 00000477 002 OF 002





--------------------------


El Gohary's Struggle


--------------------------



7.(C) El Gohary told us that after years of living as a
Christian, and facing discrimination from both his family and
society, he was encouraged by fellow convert Mohamed Hegazy's
unsuccessful lawsuit - now under appeal - seeking GoE
recognition of his conversion (ref A), to file his own
lawsuit. El Gohary said that because of his conversion, he
faced discrimination and estrangement from his family, but is
nevertheless surprised by the degree of hostility his legal
case engendered. He now lives in a Coptic monastery for
safety.

8.(C) According to El Gohary, at each court hearing, he is
verbally assaulted by a group of Islamist lawyers. The group
was particularly aggressive at a late February hearing and
demanded the judge charge El Gohary with apostasy, a crime
that does not exist in Egyptian law, and sentence him to
death. El Gohary said their conduct, along with repeated
death threats he receives over the telephone, convinced him
that it was no longer safe to appear in court. He therefore
went to a GoE civil registry office to obtain a document that
would give his attorney authority to represent El Gohary in
court, even if El Gohary was not personally present.
According to El Gohary, after he explained his request to a
GoE registry office employee, the employee shouted that it
was "impossible to leave Islam." Other registry office
patrons, attracted by the shouting, also verbally abused El
Gohary; he told us that some shoved him, and someone he
thinks was an office "tea boy" hit him with a broom stick.
Feeling threatened, El Gohary left the office without
obtaining the power-of-attorney.

9.(C) Lacking the power-of-attorney, El Gohary is required
to appear at the next hearing in the case, scheduled for
March 28. According to Ghobreal, the judge previously
guaranteed El Gohary's safety in the courtroom. Ghobreal
says the judge's pledge is consistent with the professional
approach the judge and the two GoE lawyer's representing the
government have taken. Ghobreal contrasted their behavior
with the "mob" of Islamist lawyers, who are not parties to
the case, and whom the judge is unable or unwilling to
control.

10.(C) Ghobreal told us that there are at least two
procedural problems with El Gohary's case. First, Ghobreal
failed initially to introduce evidence that the GoE formally
rejected El Gohary's request for a new identification
document reflecting his conversion. Ghobreal recently filed
a second lawsuit - including such evidence - which he hopes
will cure the defect. Additionally, El Gohary has heretofore
failed to present documentary evidence of his conversion. El
Gohary told us he has been unable to obtain a certificate of
conversion from an Egyptian church, but intends to introduce
a baptism certificate he obtained many years ago in Cyprus.
Other human rights lawyers we spoke with expressed concern at
what they see as basic legal errors, which may enable the
judge to rule against El Gohary on a technicality without
addressing the merits of the case.

SCOBEY