An Egyptian who converted from Islam to Christianity has launched a bid to have the change recognized officially in what is believed to be the first such case, he told AFP on Thursday.
Coptic rights group the al-Kalima Center brought the case on behalf of Muhammad Ahmed Higazi, 25, who said he wanted to have his conversion recognized officially so his child would be born Christian.
In Egypt, identity cards state a person's religion, but converts to Christianity say administrative hurdles prevent them from being able to change their official papers.
"My wife is pregnant. I want my son to be born within my own religion and for the fact that he is Christian to be written on official papers," said Higazi, who converted at the age of 16 but never sought to have the change made official because of the hurdles.
"This is the first such case in the history of Egyptian justice," said al-Kalima director Mamdouh Nakhla, although this was not immediately possible to confirm independently.
Egypt's top Muslim religious advisor, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, last week reaffirmed that Muslims could choose their own religion, but he said apostasy is a "grave sin" punishable by god.
The issue of conversion is sensitive in Egypt, where the state does not publish official statistics on the religious breakdown of the country, with Christians estimated to number around 10 percent.
Many in the overwhelmingly Muslim country fear that Christian churches actively seek to convert Muslims, which can upset the political and social balance in the country.
While no punishment has been imposed on Muslims who converted to other religions, authorities do not recognize the conversion in official documents, such as identity papers.
On the other hand, any Christian who wishes to convert to Islam – and vice versa – must apply to the police, then meet with a panel of religious leaders to convince them that the conversion is not forced and to allow them to get answers to questions about their faith.
In one high-profile case, Wafaa Constantine, the wife of a Coptic priest was stopped from converting to Islam after Egyptian authorities handed the matter to Christian officials.
Constantine's case sparked protests among Egypt's Coptic community in December 2004, resulting in the arrests of 30 Christians and injuring more than 100 police and Copts.
Another case involving 12 former Christians who converted to Islam and are now trying to revert goes before Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court in September.