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Reports on Religious Freedom: Egypt


The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government places restrictions on this right. Under the Constitution, Islam is the official state religion and the primary source of legislation. Accordingly religious practices that conflict with Islamic law (Shari'a) are prohibited. However, in Egypt the practice of Christianity or Judaism does not conflict with Shari'a and, for the most part, members of the non-Muslim minority worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries.

With some exceptions, there was a continued trend toward improvement in the Government's respect for and protection of religious freedom during the period covered by this report. There were some Government abuses and restrictions on the right to religious freedom. The Government continued to prosecute for unorthodox religious beliefs and practices under the charge of "insulting heavenly religions." Two men were convicted on that charge by a State Security Emergency Court in November 2001 (sentenced to 5 and 3 years in prison respectively), as were 8 persons in March 2002 (sentences ranged from 3 years in prison to suspended sentences). In May 2002, a group of 21 persons were referred to trial in a State Security Emergency Court on the same charge; the trial was ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report. A group of 18 Egyptian Baha'is arrested in early 2001 on suspicion of insulting religion were released without charge after having been detained several months. Two non-Egyptian Scientologists arrested in December 2001 were charged with insulting religion, but then released on bail and deported in May 2002. Nevertheless, there was a significant increase in public intercommunal dialogue, as well as in press and public discussion of intercommunal relations and religious discrimination. In addition the Government reacted more effectively than in the past to contain intercommunal violence, for example to the burning of a church in the southern province of Minya in February 2002.

Religious discrimination and occasional sectarian tension in society are problems about which many citizens agree more needs to be done; however, many argue that development of the economy, polity, and society is the most effective and enduring way to abolish prejudice. In November 2001, a criminal court in Sohag began the retrial of 96 defendants suspected of crimes committed while participating in violence in the village of Al-Kush in January 2000 that resulted in the deaths of 20 Christians and 1 Muslim; the trial was ongoing as of the end of June 2002. Ninety-two of 96 were acquitted in the first trial in February 2001, a verdict successfully appealed by the Public Prosecutor. In February 2002, Muslims in the village of Bani Walimss attacked a newly reconstructed church during a reconsecration ceremony, doing extensive damage by fire; the Government ordered the damage repaired at Government expense.

The subject of religious freedom remains an important and active part of the bilateral dialog between the U.S. and Egyptian Governments. Senior Administration officials, the U.S. Ambassador, and members of Congress have raised U.S. concerns about religious discrimination with President Hosni Mubarak and other senior government officials.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 370,308 square miles, and its population is approximately 68 million. Most citizens, approximately 90 percent, are Sunni Muslims. There is a small number of Shi'a Muslims who constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Approximately 8 to 10 percent of the population are Christians, the majority of whom belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church. Other Christian communities include the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman, and Syrian Catholic), Maronite, and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) Churches. An evangelical Protestant church, first established in the middle of the 19th century, has grown to a community of 17 Protestant denominations. There also are followers of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which was granted legal status in the 1960's. The non-Muslim, non-Coptic Orthodox communities range in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The number of Baha'is has been estimated at between several hundred and a few thousand. The Jewish community numbers fewer than 200 persons. There are very few declared atheists.

Christians are geographically dispersed throughout the country, although the percentage of Christians tends to be higher in upper (southern) Egypt and some sections of Cairo and Alexandria.

There are many foreign missionary groups that work within the country, especially Roman Catholics and Protestants who have had a presence in the country for 100 years or more, although their mission involves education more than proselytizing. The Government generally tolerates missionary groups if they do not proselytize actively.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government places restrictions on this right. Under the Constitution, Islam is the official state religion and the primary source of legislation. Accordingly religious practices that conflict with Shari'a are prohibited; however, the practice of Christianity or Judaism is not considered to conflict with Shari'a and, in general, members of the non-Muslim minority worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries.

The Constitution requires schools to offer religious instruction. Public and private schools provide religious instruction according to the faith of the student.

The religious establishment of Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf (Religious Endowments) engage in interfaith discussions both domestically and abroad. First Lady Suzanne Mubarak has supported the development of reading and other curricular materials that advocate tolerance, which are distributed under her patronage by literacy projects aimed at children and adults, such as a "Reading for All" festival that was held during 2001.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

All mosques must be licensed, and the Government is engaged in an effort to control them legally in a proclaimed effort to combat extremists. The Government appoints and pays the salaries of the imams who lead prayers in mosques and monitors their sermons. In June 2002, the Minister of Awqaf announced that of the more than 80,000 mosques in the country, the Government controls administratively 60,000 regular mosques and 15,000 mosques located in private buildings. The Minister said that the Government hoped to control all mosques by the end of 2003.

An 1856 Ottoman decree still in force requires non-Muslims to obtain a presidential decree to build a place of worship. In addition Interior Ministry regulations issued in 1934 specify a set of 10 conditions that the Government must consider prior to issuance of a presidential decree permitting construction of a church. These conditions include the location of the proposed site, the religious composition of the surrounding community, and the proximity of other churches. The Ottoman decree also requires the President to approve permits for the repair of church facilities.

In December 1999, in response to strong criticism of the Ottoman decree, President Mubarak issued a decree making the repair of all places of worship subject to a 1976 civil construction code. The decree is significant symbolically because it places churches and mosques on equal footing before the law. The practical impact of the decree has been to facilitate significantly church repairs. However, Christians claim that local permits still are subject to security authorities' approval. During the period covered by this report, the President approved a total of 23 permits for church-related construction, including 2 permits for the construction of new churches; 2 permits for demolition and reconstruction of churches; 10 permits for churches previously constructed without authorization, 8 permits for construction of additional church facilities; and 1 permit for cemetery construction. This generally represented a decrease from previous years.

The approval process for church construction continued to be time-consuming and insufficiently responsive to the wishes of the Christian community. Although President Mubarak reportedly has approved all requests for permits presented to him, Christians maintain that the Interior Ministry delays--in some instances indefinitely--submission to the President of their requests. They also maintain that security forces have blocked them from using permits that have been issued, and that local security officials at times blocked or delayed permits for repairs to church buildings. During the summer of 2000, newspapers published a May 22, 2000 letter from the secretary general of Assiyut governorate to the head of the Assiyut council directing that all church repair requests be screened by security before being approved. In March 2001, President Mubarak ordered the reconstruction at Government expense of two church buildings in Qalyubia that had been demolished by local authorities. However, by the end of June 2002, one of the buildings had not yet been rebuilt due to administrative obstacles created by local security officials. Other examples reported in the press during the period covered by this report include a Baptist church in Awlad Ilyas, near the southern city of Assiyut, which received a written approval for repairs in June 1999, but on which local police prevented work from being performed, and a bishop's residence in Manfalout, near Assiyut, which received a permit for a new building in 2000 but on which local police stopped work in 2001.

As a result of these restrictions, some communities use private buildings and apartments for religious services or build without permits. On December 16, 2001, the mayor of the new community of al-'Obour (north of Cairo) ordered the demolition of a fence surrounding a plot of land designated for construction of a church. The local congregation had erected the fence without a permit and had begun holding prayer services on the site while they awaited a presidential decree. In addition the congregation of the Baptist church in Awlad Ilyas, near Assiyut, has used the churchyard for prayers because local police have prevented repairs to the structure.

In January 1996, human rights activist Mamdouh Naklah filed suit challenging the constitutionality of a 1934 Minister of Interior decree, which was based on an 1856 Ottoman decree governing the building of places of worship for non-Muslims. In December 1998, an administrative court referred Naklah's case to the State Commissioner's Office, which in September 2000, recommended rejecting the suit on the grounds that Naklah had no standing to file suit. In October 2000, upon receiving a rebuttal from Naklah, the court returned the case to the State Commissioner's Office, and requested an opinion on the constitutionality of the 10 conditions. The State Commissioner's Office had not issued an opinion on this matter by the end of the period covered by this report, and it appears unlikely that the case will be heard.

In 1960, President Gamal Abdel Nasser issued a decree (Law 263 for 1960) banning Baha'i institutions and community activities. All Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries, were confiscated. This ban has not been rescinded.

Political parties based on religion are illegal. Pursuant to this law, the Muslim Brotherhood is an illegal organization. Muslim Brothers speak openly and publicly about their views, although they do not explicitly identify themselves as members of the organization, and they remain subject to government pressure. Seventeen independent candidates backed by the Muslim Brotherhood were elected to the People's Assembly in the November 2000 parliamentary elections.

Unlike in previous years, there were no new cases of authors facing trial or charges related to writings or statements considered heretical. On July 30, 2001, the Cairo Personal Status Court rejected a lawsuit against feminist author Nawal al-Sa'adawi, in which Islamist attorney Nabih al-Wahsh sought to force the divorce of al-Sa'adawi from her husband on the grounds of apostasy due to views expressed by al-Sa'adawi regarding Muslim customs and beliefs. In June 2001, the Public Prosecutor ordered the release, pending an appeal, of author Ala'a Hamed, who had been convicted in 1998 of insulting Islam in a novel; the Court still had not heard his appeal by the end of June 2002.

Various ministries legally are authorized to ban or confiscate books and other works of art upon obtaining a court order. The Islamic Research Center at Al-Azhar University has legal authority to censor, but not to confiscate, all publications dealing with the Koran and Islamic scriptural texts. In recent years, the Center has passed judgment on the suitability of nonreligious books and artistic productions, but there were no new cases during the year.

In 1995 an administrative court ruled that the sole authority to prohibit publication or distribution of books and other works of art is vested in the Ministry of Culture. This decision invalidated a 1994 advisory opinion by a judiciary council that had expanded Al-Azhar's censorship authority to include visual and audio artistic works. The same year, President Mubarak stated that the Government would not allow confiscation of books from the market without a court order, a position supported by the then-Mufti of the Republic, who is now the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.

In 1997 human rights activist Mamdouh Naklah filed suit seeking removal of the religious affiliation category from government identification cards. Naklah challenged the constitutionality of a 1994 decree by the Minister of Interior governing the issuance of new identification cards. The court repeatedly has delayed setting a trial date, and it appears unlikely that the case will be heard.

The Constitution provides for equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to religion or creed, and in general, the Government upholds these constitutional protections; however, government discrimination against non-Muslims exists. There are no Christians serving as governors, presidents of public universities, or deans. There are few Christians in the upper ranks of the security services and armed forces. Although there was improvement in a few areas, government discriminatory practices include: discrimination against Christians in the public sector; discrimination against Christians in staff appointments to public universities; payment of Muslim imams through public funds (Christian clergy are paid by private church funds); and refusal to admit Christians to Al-Azhar University (which is publicly funded). In general public university training programs for Arabic-language teachers refuse to admit non-Muslims because the curriculum involves the study of the Koran; however, in 2001 the first Christian graduated from an Arabic-language department at the Suez Canal University.

Anti-Semitic articles and editorials are published in privately owned papers and, to a lesser extent, in the Government press, and have increased since 2000 following the increase in violence in Israel and in the occupied territories. The Government reportedly has advised journalists and cartoonists to avoid anti-Semitism. However, government officials insist that manifestations of anti-Semitism in the media are a direct result of Israeli government actions against Palestinians and do not reflect historical anti-Semitism.

On September 6, 2001, an administrative court in Alexandria ruled in favor of a suit brought by a local resident calling for cancellation of an annual Jewish celebration at the tomb of Rabbi Abu Hasira in the Delta on the grounds of indecency, as well as suspension of a Ministry of Culture decree declaring the tomb an antiquity site protected by the Government. The Ministry of Culture contested the Alexandria court's decision; the case was pending before a higher administrative court at the end of the period covered by this report.

In 1996 upon agreement with Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda, the Minister of Awqaf, Hamdy Zaqzouq, established a joint committee to address a dispute with the Coptic Orthodox Church that originated in 1952. At that time, the Government seized approximately 1,500 acres of agricultural land from the Church and transferred title to the Ministry of Awqaf, which is responsible for administering religious trusts. Based on the committee's recommendations, more than 800 acres have been returned to the Church during the last few years. In August 2000, the Coptic Orthodox Church won a lawsuit to reclaim several plots of land in greater Cairo that had been seized by private or Government institutions before 1952; however, there continued to be no new returns during the year.

According to a 1995 law, the application of family law, including marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, and burial, is based on an individual's religion. In the practice of family law, the State recognizes only the three "heavenly religions": Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Muslim families are subject to the Personal Status Law, which draws on Shari'a (Islamic law). Christian families are subject to canon law, and Jewish families are subject to Jewish law. In cases of family law disputes involving a marriage between a Christian woman and a Muslim man, the courts apply the Personal Status Law.

Under Shar'ia non-Muslim males must convert to Islam to marry Muslim women, but non-Muslim women need not convert to marry Muslim men. Muslim women are prohibited from marrying Christian men.

Inheritance laws for all citizens are based on Shari'a. Muslim female heirs receive half the amount of a male heir's inheritance, while Christian widows of Muslims have no inheritance rights. A sole female heir receives half her parents' estate; the balance goes to designated male relatives. A sole male heir inherits all his parents' property. Male Muslim heirs face strong social pressure to provide for all family members who require assistance; however, this assistance is not always provided. In January 2000, the Parliament passed a new Personal Status Law that made it easier for a Muslim woman to obtain a divorce without her husband's consent, provided that she is willing to forego alimony and the return of her dowry.

The Coptic Orthodox Church excommunicates women members who marry Muslim men, and requires that other Christians convert to Coptic Orthodoxy in order to marry a member of the Church. The Coptic Orthodox Church permits divorce only in specific circumstances, such as adultery or conversion of one spouse to another religion.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Government at times prosecutes members of religious groups whose practices deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs, and whose activities are believed to jeopardize communal harmony. For example, in January 2001, the Government arrested 18 persons in the southern Egyptian city of Sohag--most were Baha'is and some where Muslims--on suspicion of violating Article 98(F) of the Penal Code ("insulting a heavenly religion") and other possible charges. The detainees were released without charge in small groups during September and October 2001.

On July 18, 2001, a State Security Emergency Court began the trial of a group of 52 men arrested in Cairo in May 2001 on suspicion of homosexual activity and unorthodox religious practices. Two of the defendants, who allegedly advocated a belief system combining Islam and tolerance for homosexuality, were charged with violating Article 98(F) of the Penal Code. Their trial was pending at the end of the period covered by this report. The remaining 50 detainees faced charges unrelated to religious beliefs or practices. On November 14, 2001, the two were convicted and given sentences of 5 and 3 years in prison respectively. Twenty others received 2-year sentences and one received a 1-year sentence for "habitual debauchery," while 29 were acquitted. In May 2002, President Mubarak ratified the verdicts against the two convicted of violating Article 98(F), but overturned the conviction of the other 21, ordering their retrial in a regular criminal court instead of a State Security Emergency Court. The retrial had not yet begun by the end of the period covered by this report.

On December 24, 2001, Scientologists Wafaa Ahmed (holding a Jordanian passport) and Mahmoud Masarwa (holding an Israeli passport) were detained on suspicion of violating Article 98(F) due to their promotion of the book "Dianetics." On March 27, 2002, a State Security court in Cairo ordered their release pending trial on a bail of $2,700 (10,000 Egyptian pounds). Ahmed and Masarwa, who held residency and work permits in Italy, were deported to Italy on April 11, 2002.

On March 5, 2002, a State Security Emergency Court convicted eight persons from the city of Mataria near Cairo of violating Article 98(F) of the Penal Code. They were arrested in October 2001 for holding unorthodox Islamic beliefs and practices. Sentences ranged from 3 years in prison for the two principal defendants to 1-year suspended sentences for the remaining 6 persons, who were dealt with more leniently because they were not accused of propagating the unorthodox beliefs.

On May 29, 2002, a State Security Emergency Court in Nasr City (in greater Cairo) began hearing the case of 21 persons accused of "insulting religion due to unorthodox Islamic beliefs and practices." The trial was ongoing, and 17 of the defendants remained in detention at the end of the period covered by this report, while 4 were released.

In August 1999, the public prosecutor reopened and expanded an investigation of police torture of mostly Christian detainees that took place during the police investigation in August and September 1998 of the murder of Samir Aweda Hakim and Karam Tamer Arsal in the largely Coptic village of Al-Kush in Sohag governorate. However, the investigation made little progress since 2001 and appeared effectively closed. It is unclear whether religion was a factor in the 1998 actions of the police officers. Police abuse of detainees is a widespread practice that occurs regardless of a detainee's religious beliefs.

On June 5, 2000, a criminal court in Sohag city convicted Shayboub William Arsal of the 1998 murder of Hakim and Arsal. The court sentenced Shayboub to 15 years' hard labor. An appeal that has been pending for 2 years had not been heard by the end of the period covered by this report. The Christian community of Al-Kush believes that Shayboub, a Christian resident of Al-Kush, was accused and convicted of the crime because of his religion.

In June 2001, the Public Prosecutor ordered the release, pending an appeal, of author Ala'a Hamed, who had been convicted of insulting Islam in a novel in 1998; his appeal was pending at the end of the period covered by the report.

Neither the Constitution nor the Civil and Penal Codes prohibit proselytizing, but those accused of proselytizing have been harassed by police or arrested on charges of violating Article 98(F) of the Penal Code, which prohibits citizens from ridiculing or insulting heavenly religions or inciting sectarian strife.

While there are no legal restrictions on the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam, there are occasional reports that police harass Christians who had converted from Islam. In cases involving conversion from Islam to Christianity, authorities in the past also have charged several converts with violating laws prohibiting the falsification of documents. In such instances, converts, who fear government harassment if they officially register the change from Islam to Christianity, have altered their identification cards and other official documents themselves to reflect their new religious affiliation. However, there were no reports of such charges during the period covered by this report.

An estimated several thousand persons are imprisoned because of alleged support for or membership in Islamist groups seeking to overthrow the Government. The Government states that these persons are in detention because of membership in or activities on behalf of violent extremist groups, without regard to their religious affiliation. During the period covered by this report, security forces arrested several hundred persons allegedly associated with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Most observers believe that the Government was seeking to undermine Muslim Brotherhood organization of pro-Palestinian and anti-U.S. and anti-Israel demonstrations. There also were arrests of Muslim Brotherhood supporters following a People's Assembly by-election in Alexandria in June 2002. President Mubarak referred three alleged extremist groups to trial before military tribunals.

In past years, Coptic Christians have been the objects of occasional violent assaults by the Islamic Group and other terrorists. However, there have been no reports of terrorist attacks against Christians since 1998.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion carried out by the Government. There were reports of forced conversions of Coptic girls to Islam by Muslim men. Reports of such cases are disputed and often include inflammatory allegations and categorical denials of kidnaping and rape. Observers, including human rights groups, find it extremely difficult to determine whether compulsion was used, as most cases involve a Coptic girl who converts to Islam when she marries a Muslim boy. According to the Government, in such cases the girl must meet with her family, with her priest, and with the head of her church before she is allowed to convert. However, there are credible reports of Government harassment of or lack of cooperation with Christian families that attempt to regain custody of their daughters, and of the failure of the authorities to uphold the law (which states that a marriage of a girl under the age of 16 is prohibited, and between the ages of 16 and 21 is illegal, without the approval and presence of her guardian) in cases of marriage between an underage Christian girl and a Muslim boy.

There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

During the period covered by this report, the Government took several steps to promote and improve religious freedom and tolerance. Following terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, and the increase in Israeli-Palestinian violence, government religious institutions such as Al-Azhar accelerated a schedule of interfaith discussions inside the country and abroad. The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Tantawi and Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda participated in many joint public events, such as an October 11, 2001, conference entitled "World Developments and Implications for National Unity" and the May 2002 14th General Conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. Sheikh Tantawi also participated in a January 2002 meeting organized by the Anglican Church in Alexandria of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders from Egypt, Israel, and areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. At the end of the conference, President Mubarak received the group, which issued a joint statement on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In May 2002, during a visit to the southern city of Sohag to inaugurate Islamic projects, Sheikh Tantawi visited the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Sohag and gave a speech on the strong bond between Christians and Muslims.

In an unusual gesture, in July 2001, the graduating class of the Air Defense Academy held a parade reviewed by President Mubarak, during which officers marched in the formation of an Islamic crescent embracing a cross.

During the period covered by this report, the Government took more prompt action than it had in the past to contain incidents of sectarian tension. In response to demonstrations by Christians in June 2001 following the publication of a newspaper story and photos regarding a defrocked Coptic monk, President Mubarak held a lengthy meeting with Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda on July 8, 2001, and the Government prosecuted the newspaper's publisher for slander (see Section III). When Muslim villagers burned a newly rebuilt church in Bani Walimss in the southern Egyptian province of Minya on February 10, 2002, the Governor of Minya went the same day to the church, met with the local bishop, and made a public statement denouncing the violence. The Government ordered the church to be rebuilt at Government expense, and it was reconsecrated in the presence of the Governor and Muslim clerics on April 27, 2002. In a number of cases reported in the media, Government officials participated in the consecration ceremonies for new churches. For example, on March 21, 2002, Pope Shenouda laid the cornerstone for the first Coptic Orthodox church in South Sinai province in the presence of Government officials, sheikhs from Al-Azhar, and a representative of the Holy See.

On March 4, 2002, the Basatin cemetery bridge, a joint project of the Government and the American NGO Athra Kadisha, was completed. The project, on which negotiations began in 1989, is a modern highway--part of Cairo's Ring Road--that traverses a cemetery but respects Jewish religious strictures against moving or disturbing burial sites.

Building on actions first taken in late 1999, government-owned television and radio continued to expand the amount of programming time devoted to Christian issues, including live broadcast of Christmas and Easter services, excerpts from Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda's weekly public addresses, documentaries on the country's monasteries, the travels of the Holy Family and other aspects of Christian history, and discussions among Muslims and Christians of local and international topics including discrimination. Christian clergy spoke on popular television programs such as "Good Morning Egypt" about current topics and Christian religious beliefs. A version of Sesame Street especially designed for the country by the Children's Television Workshop with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) that began in August 2000, gained broad viewership among young children and many of their parents. Among the aims of the program is the promotion of tolerance, and one of the principal characters is a Christian. There were no discriminatory programs in the broadcast media.

Government and independent newspapers published a broad spectrum of news and views on religious topics, particularly following the terrorist attacks against the United States in September 2001. The Government-run printing house Dar al-Ma'arif published for sale a new edition of the four Christian gospels, resuming a practice that had stopped decades ago.

The Minister of Education has developed and distributed curricular materials instructing teachers in government schools to discuss and promote tolerance in teaching. Government schools began using a new curriculum on the Coptic and Byzantine periods of Egyptian history, developed with the advice and support of Christian intellectuals and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Muslims and Christians share a common history and national identity. They also share the same ethnicity, race, culture, and language. Christians are geographically dispersed throughout the country, and Christians and Muslims live as neighbors. At times religious tensions flare up, and individual acts of prejudice occur. Members of both faiths practice discrimination. The majority of citizens agree that more needs to be done to eliminate discrimination, but argue that development of the economy, polity, and society is the most effective and enduring way to abolish social prejudice.

On February 10, 2002, Muslim villagers firebombed a newly reconstructed church in Bani Walimss, in the southern province of Minya, during the consecration ceremony, allegedly in reaction to prolonged tolling of the church bells. Local police intervened and halted the violence, during which several people were injured and property damaged; 49 persons were arrested. The Governor of Minya went to the church on the same day, made a public statement denouncing the violence, and met with the local bishop the same day, and the Government ordered that the damaged church and private properties be repaired at government expense. In March local government officials, parliamentarians, and Muslim and Christian clerics brokered a reconciliation between the Christian and Muslim families. Victims of the violence agreed not to press charges, and the 49 persons detained were released. On April 27, 2002, the repaired church was reconsecrated in the presence of the Governor and local Christian and Muslim clergy.

On July 26, 2000, gunmen killed Christian farmer Magdy Ayyad Mus'ad and wounded five other persons in Giza province, allegedly because of objections to a church Mus'ad built. Authorities charged a person with the killing but released the suspect on bail in October 2000; by the end of the period covered by this report, no trial date had been set. On December 11, 2000, Father Hezkiyal Ghebriyal, a 75-year-old Coptic Orthodox priest, was stabbed and seriously wounded in the village of Bardis, near Sohag. Police arrested the suspected attacker. At the end of the period covered by this report, the suspect remained in prison pending an ongoing investigation. The case of Ahmad and Ibrahim Nasir, who were sentenced to 7 years in prison for the September 1999 murder of a monk in Assiyut, remained pending at the end of the period covered by this report. The Court of Cassation had not yet set a date to hear an appeal by the Public Prosecutor seeking a heavier sentence.

On June 23, 2002, a State Security Court in Assiyut began hearing the trial of Mohammed Abdel Azim, accused of participating in the killing of 13 Christians in the village of Sanbo in March 1992. Abdel Azim had been sentenced in absentia to 3 years in prison in 1994. He was extradited to Egypt by Saudi Arabia in late 2001.

A trade dispute between a Christian clothing merchant and a Muslim customer that occurred on December 31, 1999, in the village of Al-Kush in Sohag governorate, escalated into violent exchanges between Muslims and Christians in the area, and resulted in the death of 21 Christians and 1 Muslim by January 2, 2000. On February 5, 2001, the Sohag Criminal Court acquitted 92 of the 96 defendants (58 Muslims and 38 Christians) accused of the crimes committed in Al-Kush. One defendant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison and three defendants were convicted of arson and sentenced to 1 year in prison. Based on an appeal by the Public Prosecutor, on July 30, 2001, the Court of Cassation overturned the verdicts and ordered a retrial. The retrial began in November 2001 and was ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report.

While there is no legal requirement for a Christian girl or woman to convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim (see Section II), conversion to Islam is sometimes used to circumvent the legal prohibition on marriage between the ages of 16 and 21 without the approval and presence of the girl's guardian. Most Christian families would object to a daughter's wish to marry a Muslim, and if a Christian woman marries a Muslim man, the Church excommunicates her. According to the Government, a Christian family whose minor daughter converts to Islam retains guardianship over her, but in practice local authorities sometimes allow transfer to a Muslim custodian, who is likely to grant approval for an underage marriage. The law is silent on the matter of the acceptable age of conversion. Ignorance of the law and social pressure, including the centrality of marriage to a woman's identity, often affect a girl's decision to convert (see Section II). Family conflict and financial pressure also are cited as factors.

Official relations between Christian and Muslim religious figures are amicable, and include reciprocal visits to religious celebrations. Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf engage in frequent public and private interfaith discussions with Christians of various denominations, both within the country and in other countries. NGO's such as the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS) are active in organizing formal and informal interfaith events; CEOSS held such events in September 2001, February 2002, and May 2002 with the participation of Al-Azhar, the Ministry of Awqaf, and Christian clerics. Private Christian schools admit Muslim students, and religious charities serve both communities.

Anti-Semitic articles and editorials are published in privately owned newspapers and less frequently in the government press, and have increased since the increase of violence in Israel and the occupied territories in late 2000 (see Section II). However, there were no anti-Semitic incidents during the period covered by this report directed at the tiny Jewish community.

On June 17, 2001, Al-Naba' newspaper published an article involving alleged sexual misconduct in a Coptic Orthodox monastery. The article provoked unusual demonstrations by Coptic Christians in Cairo from June 17 to 20, during which demonstrators criticized both the Government and the church leadership for treatment of a number of issues, including discrimination against Christians and the Al-Kush trial. One demonstration at the Coptic Orthodox Church headquarters turned violent, and several demonstrators and police officers were hospitalized with minor injuries. Police detained 22 demonstrators on suspicion of illegal public assembly and damaging public property. All demonstrators were released on bail within a few weeks and none had been prosecuted by the end of the period covered by this report.

The Coptic Orthodox Church and the Government reacted strongly to the story in Al-Naba'. The Coptic Orthodox Church promptly announced that the monk in question had been defrocked 5 years earlier and sued for slander Mamdouh Mahran, publisher and editor-in-chief of al-Naba'. On September 16, 2001, a State Security Emergency Court convicted Mahran of slander and violating Article 98(F) of the Penal Code ("insulting a heavenly religion") and sentenced him to 3 years in prison. In July 2001, the State Council Administrative Court revoked publishing licenses for Al-Naba' and its sister publication Akher Khabar, but in May 2002 a higher Administrative Court overturned the ruling and the newspapers resumed publication.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The subject of religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialog. The subject has been raised at all levels of government, including by the President, Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, the U.S. Ambassador, and other embassy officials. The Embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition the Ambassador has discussed religious freedom with senior government officials and religious leaders. The Embassy also discusses religious freedom issues regularly in contacts with other government officials, including governors and Members of Parliament. The Ambassador also has made public statements supporting interfaith understanding and efforts toward harmony and equality among Egyptians of all faiths. Visiting congressional delegations have raised religious freedom issues during visits with government officials.

The U.S. Embassy maintains an active dialog with the leaders of the Christian and Muslim religious communities, human rights groups, and other activists. The Embassy investigates every complaint of religious discrimination brought to its attention. The Embassy also discusses religious freedom with a range of contacts, including academics, businessmen, and citizens outside of the capital area. Mission officials actively challenge anti-Semitic articles in the media through immediate contacts with editors-in-chief.

The U.S. Mission, including the Department of State and USAID, works to expand human rights and to ameliorate the conditions that contribute to religious strife by promoting economic, social, and political development. U.S. programs and activities support initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom.

The Mission is working to strengthen civil society, supporting secular channels and the broadening of a civic culture that promote religious tolerance. In April 2000, USAID funded the Nongovernmental Organization Service Center to provide training, technical assistance, and grants to domestic NGO's. By the end of the period covered by this report, a total of 123 NGO's had received financial assistance from the Center, totaling in value more than $2 million. In addition the Center has provided training for over 4,300 NGO representatives in the areas of advocacy, internal governance, networking, social development, and management. USAID supports a major effort to improve the administration of justice, and State Department exchange activities promote legal reform and access to justice. The Embassy has nominated participants interested in advocacy for the State Department's International Visitor Program and invited American specialists in this subject to speak in the country.

The U.S. Mission also promotes civic education. The public affairs section of the Embassy supports the development of materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language curriculums. USAID, in collaboration with the Children's Television Workshop, developed an Egyptian version of the television program Sesame Street, which is designed to reach remote households and has as one of its goals the promotion of tolerance, including among different religions. The program began broadcasting in August 2000; in 2002 household survey data showed that it was reaching more than 90 percent of elementary school-aged children (see Section II). USAID also supports private voluntary organizations that are implementing innovative curriculums in private schools. The public affairs section of the Embassy is leading an effort to increase the professionalism of the press, with an emphasis on balanced and responsible coverage. Finally USAID is working with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.

Sources: U.S. State Department - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor