The twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramsis and their mother Kamilia Lutfi were expected to meet reporters at a press conference held by the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organisation (EUHRO) in Cairo last Sunday, but declined to attend at the last minute.
The press conference was scheduled to discuss the dilemma of the 13-year-old twins who were required, according to a recent ruling by the Alexandria Court of Appeals, to move from the custody of their Christian mother to the custody of their Muslim convert father. The ruling, Ms Lutfi said, had disregarded the law which grants a mother custody over her children till they are 15, and has also robbed the children of their freedom to practice the Christian faith they were born into. The recent court ruling was based on the father’s wish that his boys should not be raised according to non-Muslim values. The twins, who are adamant about remaining Christian, and their mother have gone into hiding.
No longer local
The twins in any case are considered Muslim by law, since they are required to follow the ‘better religion’—that being Islam in the sight of Egyptian law—in the event that their parents belong to different religions. The right of non-Muslim children of Muslim convert parents to remain Christian, and the right of converts to revert to their original Christianity, are being contested before the Constitutional Court. A ruling is expected once a report is issued on the matter by the court commission.
Last Sunday the hall which hosted the press conference was full; a large number of local and international journalists and reporters attended. The lawyer Naguib Gabraïl, who heads EUHRO and represents Ms Lutfi and the twins, said EUHRO was holding the press conference since he had received numerous offers from different international organisations to handle the twin’s case. “The case is no longer local,” Mr Gabraïl said. “Even though we are exhausting all the possible local legal channels to get it resolved.” Neither he nor Ms Lutfi would like to resort to pressure from the international community, Gabraïl said, so they have sent an appeal to President Hosny Mubarak and Mrs Suzanne Mubarak in her capacity as head of the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood to intervene in favour of the twin’s right to freedom of belief and to remain with their mother.
Not in this way
Following a long wait of about an hour for the twins and their mother, Ms Lutfi finally called and apologised for not showing up. She said she decided against attending since she was scared that her children might be taken away by force in case they made a public appearance. The situation was pitiful. Many of the attendants expressed their sympathy and support; several Muslim reporters affirmed that, even though they would like the twins to embrace Islam, they do not believe they should be forced into it in this hard way.
Andrew’s and Mario’s story caught the attention of the media when, obliged to sit for the Islamic religion test at school in May 2007—students have to pass Religion exams to be promoted to a higher class—the boys simply wrote on the answer sheets that they were Christian. They failed the exam but the Education Minister Yusri al-Gamal issued an exceptional decree that both children would be promoted to the higher class.
This year the twins are required to attend Islamic religion classes and sit for the exam. In a talk with the twins, Watani found them defiant, insisting they will not be forced to do so.