Egyptian Brothers Fight to Keep Christian Identity

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CAIRO, Egypt -- What would you do if your government designated you a Muslim just because your father converted to Islam? That's what happened to two teenage brothers in Egypt.

Now they have filed a legal challenge to retain their Christian identity and the landmark decision may come as early as next week. 

Fighting for Their Faith

Andrew and Mario Labib are 15-year-old twin brothers in Egypt.

They were born into a Coptic Christian family, but their father later converted to Islam and now their government says they are Muslim.

That is significant because that is the designation that will be placed on their national identity cards when they turn 16 in June.

CBN News International Correspondent Gary Lane just returned from Egypt.  Click play for more of his analysis on this case.

The twins said their father Ramses became a Muslim only because he wanted to divorce their mother -- which is prohibited in the Coptic faith.

The boys insist they should not be forced to be regarded as Muslims just because their father converted.

They want to be designated as Christians on their ID cards.

"No one has the right to ask us to change it," Andrew said.

"Christianity is the religion that I was born in and I'm used to it," Mario said. "I love Jesus and I believe in Him and I want to serve Him."

The identity card fight is just the most recent in a series of legal battles for the family.

After the divorce the father was granted custody of the boys because the courts traditionally favor a Muslim parent in custody battles. But in an unprecedented move, a high court awarded their mother Kamilia custody on appeal.

"This custody verdict hasn't happened for about one hundred years," Kamilia said. "God has created them and has given them this faith, this blessing and I am responsible to make sure they are safe and have all their rights."

That includes the right to choose their own religion. 

What a Muslim ID Would Mean

If the court denies that right and they are designated Muslims on their identity cards, Andrew and Mario would not be able to marry in the Coptic church.

Their children would be designated Muslim as well -- even if their mother was Christian.

They would also be forced to take Islamic studies in school and could be held back a grade if they fail testing in the course.

But in a Muslim dominated society that persecutes Christians, there may be advantages to being identified as a Muslim.

"It would be easier, but I believe in Christianity," Mario said. "Why would I change it?" 

Paying the Ultimate Price

What is the worst case scenario if the court rules against the twins? Their brother George fears they may pay the ultimate price for continuing to practice their Christian faith.

"Any Muslim who converts back to whatever religion he had before would be death," George said. "Someone could actually try to kill them."

Andrew and Mario say the court can change their Egyptian identity, but not their hearts.

"I will still be Christian in my heart even if some people make me become Muslim, but I want to be Christian," Mario said. "I will pray for Christianity secretly in my heart."

"We believe that through Jesus we can go to heaven and if we believe in Him, we don't have to be slaves," Andrew said. "He loves us and we love Him."

"So, all of Egypt is awaiting this verdict -- whether two twin boys, 15-year-old Andrew and his brother Mario are allowed to maintain their Christian identity -- which is something they've had ever since birth, or be forced to become Muslims.

*Originally aired on March 26, 2010.

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