* Lawyer calls for law allowing Christians to adopt in Egypt
* Lawyer says his clients may not face a fair trial
By Cynthia Johnston
CAIRO (Reuters) - A lawyer for a U.S. couple jailed in Egypt in an adoption case said Egypt should pass a law allowing Christian families to adopt, because a legal gap that disallows the practice is pushing them to do so in secret.
The lawyer, whose clients are in jail on fraud charges as their trial proceeds, also said he believed Egyptian authorities were seeking to warn the country's Christian minority that they could not adopt in Egypt, even through informal channels.
"I think that the first criminal in this case is the state," lawyer Nagiub Gobraiel told Reuters in an interview.
He said Islamic restrictions on adoption were preventing Christians from adopting children born to Christian parents in Egypt, and urged authorities to put a law in place "for Christians to adopt."
"The wife is Christian, the husband is Christian and the child or the children are Christians," he said. "I think that the state is pushing us to commit a crime."
There is no legal mechanism for families -- Christian or Muslim -- to adopt children in Egypt, and Egyptians rarely gain legal guardianship of children not born to their families because of social, religious and legal strictures.
Islamic law restricts adoption, barring families from giving their name to children they take into their homes. Egyptian law allows fostering but it is generally not culturally acceptable for families to take in unrelated children.
Gobraiel's clients, Egyptian Medhat Besada and his American wife Susan Haglof, are charged with fraud over accusations they obtained a birth certificate and passport for a child who was not born to them, listing them as his biological parents.
Two other couples are also facing trial in the same case on more serious charges of buying babies for illegal adoption, highlighting a practice which experts say can easily go undetected in Egypt.
Besada and Haglof were arrested after they tried to get a U.S. visa for the child, and the embassy requested genetic testing to confirm the baby's parentage, Gobraiel said. He said the embassy turned them in when they did not comply. U.S. officials could not be reached for comment.
Two of the couples pleaded not guilty at the start of the trial Saturday, while the third is being tried in absentia.
"When I was in the court, I said to the judge ... Susan is Christian, Medhat is Christian, Mark (the child) is Christian, and their religion allows adopting. Why are you obliged to follow the Islamic law?" Gobraiel said.
Gobraiel said he did not believe his clients, who have been denied bail, could get a fair trial. Egypt says its courts are impartial and independent.
"The government is afraid of some child, who may be Muslim, (being) given to a Christian family and after that may be Christian in the future. I think this is the strong motive for the government to make this case," Gobraiel said.
Writing by Cynthia Johnston