The highest Islamic authority in Egypt, al-Azhar, has affirmed that conversion from Islam should be considered "treason," and be punishable by death.
In a statement by the Sunni Islamic group, Grand Imam Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb declared that the penalty for an open apostate is "well stipulated in Sharia."
"An apostate must be pressed upon to repent within a variable period of time or be killed," el-Tayeb said, echoing his own words spoken during an episode of 'Good Imam,' a daily TV program broadcasted during Ramadan on which he featured last week.
The former president of al-Azhar University explained that an apostate presented as a "danger" to the community, particularly if they were to preach their "apostasy."
Though Egyptian law does not currently carry the death sentence for apostasy, Christian converts in Egypt often face many difficulties at the hands of authorities. Mohamed Hegazy, the first Egyptian to openly seek a change from Muslim to Christian on his ID card, has been imprisoned since December 2013 despite already being cleared of charges.
Furthermore, Christians can be arrested and imprisoned for up to three years if they are caught publicly distributing Bibles or other Christian literature.
According to World Watch Monitor, this is the second time this Ramadan that a statement by Egypt's religious establishment has caused "widespread reaction among sectors of the Egyptian public," which is 90 percent Muslim.
Earlier this month, Egypt's fatwa issuing authority Darul-Ifta stated that to eat or drink in public during Ramadan "cannot be included within the realm of personal freedoms, but is a type of anarchy transgressing the sanctity of Islam."