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Cablegate: Egyptian High Court Rules in Favor of Reconverts

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #0244 0411436
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 101436Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8108
INFO RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS CAIRO 000244

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

DRL/IRF FOR COFSKY
NSC STAFF FOR PASCUAL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PGOV EG
SUBJECT: EGYPTIAN HIGH COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF RECONVERTS

REF: A. 07 CAIRO 1427
B. CAIRO 157

Sensitive but unclassified. Please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: On February 10, Egypt's Supreme Court of
Administrative Justice ruled in a case brought by Christian
"re-converts" that the government must issue identification
documents listing their religion as Christianity. The ruling
reversed an April 2007 decision by the Cairo Court of
Administrative Justice which held that Egypt's Ministry of
Interior (MoI) was not required to recognize reconversions
(ref A). The February 10 ruling, which cannot be appealed,
is expected to apply broadly to the hundreds of reconversion
cases pending in Egypt's administrative court system. Egypt's
human rights community welcomed the decision as a positive
development in Egypt's struggle with entrenched legal and
bureaucratic practices that undermine constitutional
guarantees of religious freedom. End summary.

2. (SBU) The February 10 decision requires the government to
issue all-important identification documents to "reconverts,"
individuals born as Christians who converted to Islam and
subsequently reconverted to Christianity. The ruling applies
directly to 12 cases, but attorneys involved in the cases
expect the court to apply the ruling to 45 other cases
pending before it. Additionally, according to Ramses Al
Naggar, an Embassy contact and lawyer representing many
reconverts, there are at least 400 similar cases pending in
lower administrative courts. Al Naggar expects the lower
courts to quickly apply the Supreme Administrative Court's
ruling to the cases before them.

3. (SBU) The practical effect of the ruling is that
reconverts may now list Christianity, rather than Islam, as
their religion on official documents. As a result,
reconverts will no longer be subject to Muslim personal
status laws and may freely marry Christians. Their children
will not be required to participate in Islamic religious
education courses in public schools.

4. (SBU) The judge delivered the ruling orally and has not
yet issued a written decision. In his comments, the judge
said that he will require the MoI to state in any resulting
identification documents that the holder had at some point
adopted Islam. Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid (please
protect), who is involved in other religious freedom
litigation, told us that this portion of the ruling is
worrisome as it could be an "invitation to discrimination."
Al Naggar, however, said he is less concerned, and will wait
to see how, and if, this part of the decision is implemented.

5. (SBU) Reaction to the ruling has been positive with human
rights groups, including the Egyptian Initiative for Human
Rights, welcoming it. Al Naggar said that his clients are
extremely happy with the decision. He believes the ruling
has the potential to be applied not only to the pending cases
brought by reconverts, but in a range of other religious
identification cases, for instance to children of parents who
converted to Islam, but who, as adults, wish to assert a
Christian identity.

6. (SBU) Comment: This ruling comes less than two weeks
after the Cairo Administrative Court ruled that the MoI must
issue identification documents, with the religious
identification block left blank, to members of Egypt's Baha'i
minority (ref B). Whether these rulings represent a trend
towards greater respect for Egypt's constitutional guarantee
of religious freedom will not be clear until the MoI
bureaucracy begins implementation. For now, the lawyers
involved in the cases are optimistic. They attribute their
recent successes to Egypt's administrative courts acting
professionally and thoroughly considering the reconverts'
legal arguments, arguments the lawyers say are well-grounded
in Egyptian law.
RICCIARDONE

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