Egyptian Christian Mother To Appeal Custody Decision

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Worthy News Middle East Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (Worthy News) -- The Christian mother of two 14-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat was preparing legal action Saturday, February 21, after receiving the right to challenge a custody decision awarding her sons to their Muslim father.

Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah, was told by an Egyptian prosecutor last week, February 11, that she could appeal, as the court's decision was based on Muslim, or Shari'a law.

"The custody decision was based on the court's interpretation of Shari'a, despite the fact that Article 20 of Egypt's Personal Status Law stipulates that a mother shall be the custodial parent of children below the age of fifteen without distinction on the basis of religion," said the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an advocacy group supporting the woman.

Gaballah was to appeal the Family Court’s decision awarding custody to the father before the Court of Cassation, one of Egypt's highest courts.


The EIPR said the woman lost custody of her twin sons on September 24 last year, after the Appeals Court in the coastal town of Alexandria issued a final decision "granting custody over them to their father who had converted from Christianity to Islam."

He left the family in 2000 and six years later succeeded in changing the religious affiliation of the children in public records to Islam. Both boys made clear however they want to remain Christians, Worthy News learned.

EIPR has accused the Egyptian government of violating religious rights. "The government violated the two boys' right to freedom of religion and contravened the state's legal obligation to protect child rights," the group said in a statement monitored by Worthy News.

The case comes at a time when the government is under growing pressure to allow people to freely choose their faith. On Saturday, February 21, a Christian convert was expected to become the first Muslim-born Egyptian to be granted official identification as a Christian at a court hearing, Christian rights activists said.


Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary fought a long legal battle to change his religious affiliation on his identification papers after becoming a Christian in 1973.

"His legal challenge is motivated by concerns for his daughter. About one year from now, at age 16, she will be issued her national Identity Card and the religious registration will follow that of her father," advocacy group Middle East Concern told Worthy News.

"At present she must attend Islamic classes at school despite having been raised as a Christian. Also, [El-Gohary] does not want her to be subject to Islamic family law, which would include denying her the right to marry a Christian," MEC said.

El-Gohary was reportedly in hiding after receiving death threats from Muslim extremists. Another Muslim-born Christian, Mohammed Hegazy, who also tried to have his new religion registered, was also forced to flee to safety, rights activists said. (With Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos)