WASHINGTON (BP)–An Egyptian court has granted custody of Coptic Christian twins to their mother but also ruled that the twins must be considered Muslim on their identification cards.
Kamilia Gaballah, the mother of Andrew and Mario, has fought with her ex-husband Medhat Ramses Labib over custody and alimony support of their sons in more than 40 different cases since he left her and converted to Islam so that he could remarry in 1999. In 2007, Labib changed the religious affiliation on the boys’ birth certificates from Christian to Muslim without their consent.
In October, the Appeal Court of Alexandria in Egypt granted custody of the twins to their father despite an Egyptian law which grants custody of children to their mothers until the age of 15.
But on June 15, a court gave Gaballah custody. The boys celebrated their 15th birthday June 24, according to the Washington-based International Christian Concern. Now the boys face another legal challenge as they try to obtain IDs listing them as Christians.
Egyptian law, ICC said, requires citizens to indicate religious affiliation on their identification cards, which allow them to receive government and private services such as education, employment and bank transactions. Being listed as Muslim on their identification cards could disqualify the boys from receiving a Christian education, ICC said.
When ICC asked why the boys decided to remain Christian, Andrew responded, “I love Christ, and I believe in Him.” Mario said, “I am born Christian, and I believe in Christianity, and I am not going to change my faith.”
The boys’ older brother, George Medhat Ramses, who also is a Christian, said last year the twins had received encouragement from Christians who had heard of their plight.
“Christians see them as Coptic heroes and martyrs who stood up in front of all and said they were Christians and held on to it,” Ramses said. “All of them say they see the greatness of their ancestors and Christian heroes of long ago in them … and they carry a lot of respect and love for what they have done.”
Concerned citizens are urged to contact the Egyptian embassy in Washington at 202-895-5400 to voice support of the twins being allowed to change their religious affiliation to Christian to reflect their beliefs.
In related news, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has expressed concern over reports of attacks targeting Coptic Christians in the small Egyptian village of Ezbet Boshra-East.
“This latest incident is another example of the upsurge in violence against Coptic Christians we have seen in the past few years,” Felice Gaer, chair of the commission, said in a June 26 news release. “The commission has long expressed concern that the Egyptian government does not do enough to protect Christians and their property in Egypt, nor does the government adequately bring perpetrators of such violence to justice.”
On June 21, a group of Christians from Cairo was visiting a pastor who lives in a building used for Christian gatherings and religious services in Ezbet Boshra-East when a group of local Muslim residents allegedly began looting and attacking private homes and uprooting crops owned by Christians.
Several people sustained injuries, USCIRF said, and though a curfew was ordered, most Christians remained in their homes and feared additional attacks. Local authorities were conducting an investigation, but people involved in the violence appear to be free, the commission said.
In Egypt, Christians must receive government permission to build a new church or repair an existing one, and the approval process for a permit is time-consuming and inflexible, USCIRF said.
“The commission recommends that the Egyptian government implement procedures to ensure that all places of worship are subject to the same transparent, nondiscriminatory and efficient regulations regarding construction and maintenance,” Gaer said.
“If the Egyptian government would pass and implement such a law, it may help in stemming some of the violence targeting Christians who are forced to convert private homes and buildings into churches because they cannot get permission to build an appropriate place of worship,” she added.
Egypt has been cited by the USCIRF “Watch List” as a country with serious religious freedom violations.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.