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.