Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has ruled against Baha’is being able to acquire official documents by today upholding an appeal by the Interior Ministry.
The judge, after giving their verdict, stated that “the constitution promotes freedom of belief for the three recognised heavenly religions and they are Islam, Christianity and Judaism”, he went on to call members of the Baha’i Faith “apostates of Islam, because the faith’s principles contradict the Islamic religion and all other religions.”
The Baha’is principle representative to the United Nations, Ms Bani Dugal, said that “We deplore the Court’s ruling in this case, which violates an extensive body of international law on human rights and religious freedom”… “the Court’s decision threatens to make non-citizens of an entire religious community, solely on the basis of religious belief.”
Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said “It’s a regrettable decision, but it’s a crisis for the government more than for the Bahais, now the government is forced to find a solution for the hundreds of citizens who have no papers.”
This hope was also expressed by the Baha’i International Community’s Ms Dugal, who said “Our hope now is that the public debate over this issue will cause the Egyptian government to rectify its discriminatory policies. This could be accomplished either by allowing Baha’is to be listed on government documents, by abolishing the religious affiliation listing entirely or, simply, by allowing the word ‘other’ to be legally included on state identification forms.”
In Egypt citizens are required to hold an identity card on which they must list their religion as Islam, Christianity or Judaism. Human Rights groups have been aware that this causes problems for other Faith communities in Egypt, such as the Baha’is, who have had problems at school and university and with certificates for births and deaths.
The recent court case was prompted by a lawsuit filed against the government in 2004 by an Egyptian Baha’i couple who had their identification cards and passports, which listed the Baha’i Faith as their religion, confiscated when they applied to add their daughters to their passports. In April this year a lower court ruled in favour of the Baha’is being allowed to list their religion on ID cards but this decision was suspended pending an appeal by the Interior Ministry, it is that appeal which has been upheld by the Supreme Administrative court today.
Prior to April this year most Egyptians did not know much about the Baha’i Faith and its teachings, but since the Interior Ministry’s appeal there have been many features in papers and magazines, and on television, discussing the Faith with varying degrees of accuracy. The human rights issues raised by the case have found many Egyptians in support of the Baha’is and there will no doubt be continued discussion of the continuing denial of human rights to honest individuals who do not follow Islam, Christianity or Judaism as a result of this decision today.
The blog “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” has been following this story very closely and is likely to remain a good source of information for the debate that follows.
Baha’i World News Service – Egyptian Court Rules Against Baha’is…
Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog) – Egypt Plunges Deeper into the Abyss
Middle East Online – Baha’is Lose Battle For Recognition
Reuters (South Africa) – Egyptian Court Overrules Baha’i right to register
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights