Law, Rights, and Judicial Activism: The Politics of Religious Conversion in Egypt

By Mona Oraby
Submitted to Session P4905 (Egypt's Judiciary Since the Revolution, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
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This paper examines continuities and ruptures in the right to change religion or belief since the 2011 Egyptian revolution. It particularly assesses how this right has been articulated in law, administered by bureaucratic agencies, and negotiated by the administrative judiciary. Drawing on case analysis and interviews with litigating attorneys as well as petitioners, the paper situates the changing legality of religious conversion in relation to two ongoing debates. One concerns the protracted conflict between the Coptic Church and the judiciary over how to constitute the legal boundaries of Coptic Orthodoxy. The other concerns the increasing role played by judges as interpreters of the Islamic legal tradition. By charting the complex terrain that governs the movement between religious communities, the paper advances an understanding of the conditions under which the rule of law exacerbates rather than resolves dilemmas of social pluralism.