CAIRO, 6 Apr 2006 (IRIN) – Human rights activists have welcomed a landmark ruling by the Administrative Court recognising the right of Egyptian Bahais to have their religion acknowledged on official documents.
The decision, announced on 4 April, “sent a strong message that it is the right of every Egyptian citizen to adopt the religion of their choice”, said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Private Rights (EIPR).
The ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by a married Bahai couple against Interior Minister Habib al-Adly in June 2004. According to an EIPR statement, officials from the Civil Status Department (CSD) confiscated the couple’s official documentation because it cited their religious affiliation as Bahai, a creed founded by Baha’u’llah in Iran in the 19th century which is unrecognised in this majority Sunni Muslim country. “The CSD refused to issue new identification documents unless the family agreed to identify themselves as Muslim,” the EIPR statement reads.
According to activists, the ruling in favour of the family was partly a result of intense lobbying efforts by rights groups. “This is a landmark case. We feel our efforts have paid off,” said Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information. “The authorities felt so threatened with exposure that they backed down and ruled in favour of the Bahais’ inherent rights.”
The ruling reaffirms a similar decision on the right of Bahais to identify themselves as such on formal records and certificates, issued in 1983. “However, in 2004, the interior ministry’s CSD reinstated the policy of forcing Bahais to identify as Muslim or Christian,” notes the EIPR statement. The plaintiff in the 1983 case eventually backed down after his daughters were threatened with expulsion from school”