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Questions of forced conversion to be aired in Egyptian court

ISTANBUL (BP)–The religious identity of a Coptic Christian pharmacist who suddenly converted to Islam last year while being treated for severe mental illness will be the focus of a Cairo court of appeals hearing May 14, Compass Direct news service reported May 7.

One of two lawsuits opened by the Egyptian pharmacist’s family requests formal cancellation of the certificate of conversion to Islam signed by the pharmacist, Hanna Kamal Hanna Morgan, 15 months ago.

Together with another case filed to establish Morgan’s legal status of mental health, the litigation has been stalled in the Egyptian courts for nearly a year.

Ever since Morgan was discharged — without warning — from a mental hospital on Feb. 1, 2000, and signed papers converting to Islam, his wife and family in El-Fayoum, 70 miles south of Cairo, have been cut off from direct contact with him. Now 38, Morgan is married with two small daughters.

“We are praying, but I do not know if we will get him back,” a close family member told Compass Direct. “The state security officials know the names of those responsible for this [forced conversion], but they are afraid of the reaction of fanatic Muslims.”

Shortly after Morgan’s family learned of his alleged conversion, they filed a case before the Financial Affairs Court in El-Fayoum to establish the pharmacist’s status of mental insanity. If proved mentally incompetent, Morgan would not be considered responsible for his actions or capable of changing his religious status.

In April of last year, Morgan’s wife went through required security police channels to request medical certification of her husband’s mental health from Behman Hospital, where he was last treated. On May 2, 2000, the hospital certified that Morgan suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, rendering him mentally incompetent to make legal decisions. The hospital supervisor and three Muslim doctors who had treated Morgan signed the certificate.

But with the sensitivities in El-Fayoum, known as a stronghold for several extremist Muslim groups, the family’s local lawyer opted to withdraw from the case a few months later. So Morgan’s brother approached Milad Saroufim, a prominent Coptic lawyer in Cairo, for legal assistance.

Saroufim subsequently filed Case No. 7262 before the Southern Cairo Court on behalf of Morgan’s wife, physician Ines Emil Kamal, requesting formal cancellation of her husband’s signed certificate of conversion to Islam.

After considerable months of stalling, the Southern Cairo Court eventually refused to hear the case, declaring that the complainant was “unauthorized” to file the case because she was considered to have “no legal relation” to Morgan. In effect, the court was thereby claiming that Morgan’s conversion certificate had severed his marriage with his Christian wife, despite the lack of any formal divorce proceedings to date.

Saroufim promptly appealed the lower court ruling, with the Court of Appeals hearing on the case set for May 14. According to Saroufim, this hearing is expected to “settle” the case.

The lawyer is also pursuing Case No. 7108, which had already been filed by the previous lawyer, to establish Morgan’s mental state. Hearings on this case were postponed repeatedly when the judge insisted that Morgan’s wife appear before the court. Saroufim, however, declared that there was no legal requirement for his client’s court attendance in the case.

Finally two months ago, Saroufim said, the judge presiding over the mental status case ordered Morgan to report for an extended 45-day period of examination at a designated hospital, to determine his mental health and legal competency. “But he didn’t obey,” Saroufim told Compass. “He has refused to go and put himself under testing.”

Although local sources confirmed that Morgan’s wife is not being harassed directly by state security officials in El-Fayoum, the couple’s 6-year-old daughter is being escorted to and from her first-grade school to prevent any attempts to kidnap her. As provided under Islamic law guarantees of the primacy of paternal rights, Morgan’s conversion certificate lists his two daughters as Muslims.

However, due to the pending legal court cases, Morgan has not yet been issued a new Egyptian identity card. This document must be changed to identify him as a Muslim before he could take legal custody of his children.

Morgan’s wife has gone to work in a government pharmacy under the health ministry in order to support her children since her husband cut off all funds to them.

Morgan is known to be living in an apartment near his pharmacy in El-Fayoum, a source close to the family told Compass Direct. “That is a very fanatic area of El-Fayoum,” the source said. “Everyone there is protecting him from any meetings with his family, so we are afraid.”
Copyrights 2001 Compass Direct. Used by permission.

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  • Barbara G. Baker