Tag Archives: Egypt

Message to the Baha’is of Egypt from the Universal House of Justice

Source: Baha’i World News Service

The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Baha’i community, has sent a letter to the Baha’is of Egypt, encouraging them to continue in their efforts to acquire their national ID card required for rights of citizenship. The letter follows the decision made on 16th December by Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court to uphold an appeal by the government’s Interior Ministry against Baha’is being able to legally apply for required national ID cards. (see here, here or here for more information).

The letter calls on Egyptian Baha’is to “…stand firm and persevere in your effort to win affirmation of this right. To do less would be to deprive the authorities of Egypt of the opportunity to correct a wrong which has implications for many others, no less than for yourselves. Moreover, to relent would be to disregard the moral courage of those organizations, media, and persons of goodwill who have joined their voices to yours in the quest for a just solution to a serious inequity.”

The full letter can be downloaded in English or Arabic from the Baha’i World News Service.

Human Rights and Baha’is in Egypt

There are wide-spread misconceptions about how the Baha’is in Egypt are being denied human rights, and while I have linked extensively to the Baha’i Faith in Egypt blog which explains these matters very well, I feel the facts deserve broader coverage.

The Baha’is are not merely being denied the right to state their Faith on their ID cards, as is the headline on many articles, they are losing many rights. Officially Baha’is will not be able to leave their homes, furthermore they will be obstructed from doing all the following:

travelling, getting married, getting divorced, collecting salaries or pensions, getting money out of bank accounts, registering child births, obtaining death certificates, obtaining employment, obtaining a driver’s license, obtaining mobile phones, obtaining vehicles or property, obtaining hospital treatment, obtaining medicine from a pharmacy, obtaining a school education for their children, enrolling in a university, obtaining a national draft number, obtaining public or social services or obtaining hotel accommodation.

The denial of these rights for Baha’is in Egypt is not caused solely by the governments refusal to officially recognise the Baha’i Faith as a religion. There are several countries that have a list of officially recognised religions excluding the Baha’i Faith while managing to ensure that basic rights of citizenship are still available to Baha’is.

The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court, on Saturday, to uphold the appeal of the Interior Ministry against Baha’is being able to give their religion on ID cards on the grounds that the Baha’i Faith is not one of the three recognised religions of the country is not, in itself, the main cause of denial to Baha’is of their basic human rights in Egypt. However, had the decision gone the other way and Baha’is had been allowed to record Baha’i as their faith then it would have removed the very obstacle by which Baha’is are denied their rights, and this is why this was seen as a major test case for human rights in Egypt.

In Egypt citizens are required, by law, to carry an identity card. Every Egyptian has to apply for a new identity card before the end of this year. In order to apply for an identity card you have to list your religion as Islam, Christianity or Judaism, you may not list any other faith or use the term “other”, and you must, of course, sign a declaration that states: “that all details in this application are correct and real; I accept responsibility for consequences, with the full knowledge that providing any incorrect information in this application is considered forgery of official documents and is legally punishable according to the articles of the penal code”.

It is, therefore, impossible for a person who believes in a faith that is not officially recognised by the state of Egypt to acquire the national ID card, and therefore the many human rights which are only available to citizens who have identity cards are withheld from such individuals because of their beliefs.

The appeal of the Baha’is to be allowed to list Baha’i as their religion on their ID cards was not an appeal to have their Faith officially recognised as a true religion by the Egyptian government, it was rather an appeal to be allowed to acquire an ID card. For those who face this identity card crisis the option of listing their religion as other or merely leaving the box blank would suffice, but in Egypt this is not acceptable, you must consider yourself a follower of a recognised religion for the government to recognise you as a citizen.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, has been quoted as saying that the Baha’is can claim ID cards by listing Baha’i as sect of Islam, since they claim to believe in Muhammad, Jesus Christ and Moses as do the Muslims. However, in 1940 Egypt’s highest ecclesiastical court in Cairo stated that “The Baha’i Faith is a new religion, entirely independent, with beliefs, principles and laws of its own” and that “No Baha’i”…”can be regarded a Muslim or vice-versa, even as no Buddhist, Brahmin, or Christian can be regarded as Muslim or vice-versa.” Clearly Egypt’s history would deny the Baha’is the right to list their faith as a sect of Islam, and no Baha’i would feel that they were filling the application form honestly or correctly if they were to list their Faith as a sect of Islam.

Of course, the government could provide guidelines as to what people of other Faiths should enter and then alter the declaration to state that the applicant believed the details to be correct “according to the guidelines provided”, but they have not given any such guidelines.

Writing in Aljazeera Magazine, Sheikha Sajida states that “Supporting the Bahais in their quest for recognition, just like Christians and Muslims, is another attempt to shake the unity of the Egyptian society, and hurts Muslims, who form the majority of the Egyptian public.”

The Baha’i quest is not a quest for recognition, but rather it is a quest for unity. Baha’is believe firmly in building a united society free from divisions based on gender, race, class or religion, and where they are permitted to do so they frequently strive toward this goal.

Surely it hurts a Muslim less to let a man claim he personally believes there was a Messenger from God after Muhammad than it hurts them to have a reputation of refusing rights of citizenship to people born and raised in their country on the basis of such beliefs? I am sure it would be unimaginable that a Muslim would call it just for Christian countries to deny rights to Muslims on the basis that the teachings of Jesus Christ do not appear to encompass Islam for the majority of Christians who do not accept Muhammad as a Prophet. If it is acceptable that a Muslim state withholds rights from individuals whose beliefs are, at some level, incompatible with their own then surely they should expect many non-Islamic states to withhold rights from Muslims. Thankfully most of the world see the rights to freedom of belief as having a wider implication than merely accepting those beliefs that are most compatible to your own way of thinking. Thankfully religions co-exist throughout the world by focussing on their common belief in God and the many character building principles that most Faiths share in common.

Accepting that an Egyptian citizen has religious beliefs that are not wholly compliant with the official religion of the country does not require that the state officially recognises those beliefs as being true. The insistence of the Egyptian government that Egyptians must adopt a belief that the state recognises as being a true religion is an infringement on the right of freedom of belief for the individual, and the denial of further rights of citizenship to those who do not comply with this wish is an unacceptable sanction.

It is not clear if it is by design, or by accident, that Egyptian laws force people to be denied their rights if they do not belong to one of the three recognised faiths, but it is clear that it is a situation that is not acceptable in the world we live in and a solution is definitely required, quickly.

Egyptian Court Rules Against Baha’is

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

Egypt’s Baha’i Identity Decision Delayed

Source: Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog)

The Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt met today, December 2nd, to finally hear an appeal by the Interior Ministry against a lower court’s decision to allow Baha’is to state their religion on official documents. A decision has been postponed until 16th December.

On the 4th April this year a court found in favour of a Baha’i couple who filed a case to be allowed to name their religion as Baha’i after their identity documents were confiscated by the state because the Baha’i Faith is not one of the religions recognised in Egypt. On 15th May this decision was suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court pending a fuller hearing in response to an appeal by the Interior Ministry.

The appeal hearing has been postponed several times and the case has gained a great deal of interest over the last six months, highlighting the fact that Baha’is are denied many rights in Egypt as they are not permitted to fill out their identity documents honestly. This situation has existed since 2004 when the Interior Ministry ruled that only one of the three officially recognised religions may be stated in the ‘Religion’ section of official documents,.

BWNS – Egypt court sets date for full hearing on Baha’i case
Baha’i Faith in Egypt – Supreme Court Postpones Decision

Baha’is in Egypt

In April 2004 my wife and I traveled to Egypt on our honeymoon, we stayed in Cairo and Luxor visiting ancient sites. We took a bare minimum of Baha’i literature with us, a couple of prayer books and a selection of Baha’i Writings, and we didn’t mention our religion to anybody.

Ladan and James in Egypt

While the historical treasures of Egypt are intriguing we were quite surprised at the widespread lack of respect that people had for us and for the name of Islam. Men often pushed Ladan with their shoulders in disgust, she felt, of her western dress as they walked past her. People tried to solicit extortionate amounts of money from us at every turn, even at mosques, often using trickery and lies. I will never forget the man who insisted he knew a short cut to the Egyptian museum and walked us on a long detour repeating continuously that because of his Muslim Faith he loved to help out visitors. Having walked us half a mile to a point 20 meters further down the road from where we had started he pointed in the direction of the museum and wanted payment for his “Muslim” act of kindness.

Although we returned from Egypt with some amazing memories and photos the enjoyment was somewhat dampened by the fact that we felt we had not been treated so much as humans but rather as some sort of third class citizens unworthy of being treated with honesty or respect. This is not to say that we did not meet some very nice people too, but it was clear that the demeaning treatment we received was seen as acceptable treatment of outsiders visiting the country. I was unsure if the lack of respect we received was down to us being tourists or non-Muslims, but something seemed to give people the feeling that they had a genuine right to treat us as lesser people.

With this experience in our past I have been somewhat glued to the “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” blog for many months (authored by Bilo, pictured right as a younger man). It is the first blog I check in the mornings for updates. In Egypt there is actually a debate over whether or not followers of the Baha’i Faith should have the same rights as citizens who follow Islam or a religion that preceded Islam. While the idea that Baha’is should not have equal rights may be prevalent in many other Islamic countries, the debate in Egypt is very open and can be read about in public newspapers or even seen on television.

The bulk of the debate centres around the Egyptian ID card, a central element to the rights of Egyptian citizens, which includes on it the religion of the holder. Baha’is cannot have an ID card with “Baha’i” listed on it as The Baha’i Faith is not recognised as a religion in Egypt.

The debate started becoming more public when a Baha’i couple in Egypt won the rights in a court to have their religion correctly identified on their ID cards. The government appealed against the decision and the Supreme Administrative Court were set to hear the case on 19th June. The case has been repeatedly postponed as the government have not managed to prepare a required report on the matter before any of the dates set for the case. The hearing is now set to be re-convened on 20th November this year.

Since that first hearing there have been newspaper articles published against the Baha’is, there was a book published in June which called for action against the Baha’i Faith and even appeared to call for the killing of Baha’is. A conference was held in Cairo at the start of August to look at the possibility of removing religion from ID cards which gave rise to some further tv and newspaper coverage of the Baha’i human rights issue. The articles in the media seem to have become clearer that the choice for Egypt is between accepting the universally accepted stand-point that all human beings should have the same basic rights, or being seen as a sectarian society where a person’s religion can cause them to lose their human rights.

Recently the author of the book published against the Baha’is in June filed a formal complaint to Egypt’s Attorney General suggesting that the Baha’is were defaming him by stating what they had read in his book. In response Egypt’s Baha’is have now issued a formal complaint to President Mubarak accusing the author of fabrication and forgery.

The “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” blog makes this whole story accessible to non-Arabic speakers outside Egypt who are concerned for the Baha’is and/or human rights. While relatively small in number, the Egyptian Baha’is appear to have brought serious deep-seated beliefs and values into the spotlight for analysis. One can only hope and pray that humanity wins over fanaticism in this debate which lies so close to the hearts of many on both sides of the argument.

Link: The Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog)

Link: Situation of the Baha’is in Egypt

Egyptian Symposium Supports Civil Rights

Source: Baha’i Faith in Egypt: NCHR Symposium Supports Civil Rights of Baha’is

Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) held a symposium in Cairo on Tuesday 8th August in which the majority view was in favour of removing the classification of religion from idenity cards, a requirement which has caused the denial of ID cards and their associated rights to people who follow religions not officially recognised by the state of Egypt, such as the Baha’i Faith.

Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, President of the NCHR and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that Egypt “should either approve and recognize all religions or eliminate religious classification from ID Cards.”

For more in-depth information and links to other articles published about the event visit the Baha’i Faith in Egypt blog.

Egypt Review of Religion on ID Cards

“Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has scheduled a symposium for early August 2006, to research the elimination of religion from Egypt’s new national ID card system.” [Source: Baha’i Faith in Egypt]

The requirement to state one’s religion on the ID card is particularly troublesome for Baha’is as the government do not officially recognise the Baha’i religion and therefore some Baha’is have been denied ID cards and the rights that come with them.

Elimination of this requirement whould obviously fall short of Egypt recognising a very widely spread and established Faith, but such a move may at least put a stop to the associated denial of rights.

The blog “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” also reports that the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has recently filed a lawsuit demanding the Egyptian Government eliminate religious classification from ID cards.

Baha’i Faith in Egypt is a very informative blog with a lot of background information.

Egyptian Recognition of Baha’is Suspended

CAIRO, 16 May 2006 (IRIN) – “Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court decided on 15 May to suspend the implementation of an earlier lower court ruling that allowed Bahais to have their religion recognised on official documents.”

Link: Full story from IRIN

On 4 April, a ruling was passed in an Egyptian court that a Bahai couple could cite their religion as Baha’i on their official documentation. The government quickly issued an appeal against the decision as they do not recognise the Baha’i Faith as a religion.

There have been articles in Egypt focussing on the fact that the Baha’i World Centre is in Israel and suggesting that Baha’is are therefore a threat to their national security. There are a couple of blog entries on “Baha’i Blog” that look at the situation in some more detail.

Link: [“Baha’i Blog”] Egypt Update
Link: [“Baha’i Blog”] More from Egypt

Egypt ruling recognising Bahai rights

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”