Egypt agrees to consider case of Christian converts

Cairo, Egypt - Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court Monday agreed to hear the appeal of Coptic converts to Islam seeking to legally revert back to Christianity, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

"The decision by the Supreme Administrative Court to consider the case of Egyptian converts to Islam wanting to return to their Church is very positive," Ramsis Al Naggar said.

In April, a lower court ruled against 12 Copts who had converted to Islam and then wished to return to Christianity, saying that such a recognition would amount to apostasy under Sharia (Islamic law) and constitute a "manipulation of Islam and Muslims."

The plaintiffs appealed the decision, but the government has been trying to get the appeal dismissed, the lawyer said.

Judge Essam Abdel Aziz, however, chose to consider the merits of the case and the appeal will be heard September 1.

"It proves there is still a window of freedom in Egypt," said Naggar, who has filed 400 similar lawsuits, predicting a "positive outcome" in September's hearing.

Christians in Egypt who convert to Islam often do so to circumvent the Coptic Church's strict rules for divorce, or to marry a Muslim.

Rights groups welcomed Monday's decision.

"It is a step in the right direction," Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said. "We are hopeful and optimistic that the court will uphold the principles of non-discrimination and religious freedom," he said.

Copts are estimated to form 6 to 10 percent of Egypt's 76 million people and are the largest Christian community in the Middle East.