The Magazine

Egypt's Identity Crisis

Religious tolerance for some.

Mar 3, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 24 • By PAUL MARSHALL
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The government also consulted Al Azhar on reconversions back to Christianity, and the fatwa committee described them as "a grave crime that cannot be met with leniency." On May 1, 2007, according to the newspaper Sout el Oma, Interior Minister Habib al-Adly sent a memo to the Administrative Court insisting that Islam, the state religion, demands that any Muslim man who abandons his faith should be killed, while a Muslim woman "apostate should be imprisoned and beaten every three days until she returns to Islam."

The government's stance reflects the regime's push for, or acquiescence in, an increasingly Islamist state as it seeks to avoid being outflanked in its Islamic credentials by its main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is in the U.S. interest that Egypt end its religious identity politics. On Al Hurra television (U.S. broadcasting to the Middle East)--which to its credit ran an hour-long panel on the religion cases--Nakhla, the Christians' lawyer, and Gamal al-Banna, the progressive Egyptian scholar and brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, both urged dropping the religion box altogether from identity cards since it "opened the door for discrimination." America should press Egypt to do this.

Unless the United States, particularly the State Department, overcomes its continuing aversion to treating religion as an integral part of foreign policy, we may watch uncomprehendingly as Egypt, as well as other parts of the Middle East, slide further into radical Islam.

Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, is editor of the Center's newly released survey Religious Freedom in the World, published by Rowman and Littlefield.