Egypt was harshly criticized for its treatment of its minorities and for its violations of human rights. The report is quite extensive and highly comprehensive. It addressed all known violations and focused on several egregious ones. In particular, it addressed several issues affecting the various Christian denominations as well as the crisis facing the Baha'is of Egypt.
Because the report is quite long, and due to the emphasis of this blog, I am only quoting below those paragraphs that address Baha'i issues. The report is divided into several sections which are also highlighted in the quoted paragraphs. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy was included in its entirety for the sake of completeness. This section outlines policies and actions of the US Government in it efforts to address these violations.
Here is a link to the full report on Egypt, followed below with the quoted sections regarding the Baha'is of Egypt.
You may also watch these two videos: the first is of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introducing the report. The second is of Ambassador at Large John V. Hanford III providing details about the report. In his introduction he spoke, at 16:12, of the condition of the Baha'is of Iran, then in response to questions from the reporters he described to the crisis facing the Baha'is of Egypt (from 12:26 to 12:56). At 35:46 he mentions the recognition of the Baha'is in Vietnam.
International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, although the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion and Shari'a (Islamic law) is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the Government generally worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries; however, members of religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, experience personal and collective hardship.
The Government again opposed advances in the respect for religious freedom affecting Baha'is. A government appeal of an April 2006 decision by the Administrative Court, which had supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with religion noted on the documents, resulted in a December 16, 2006 decision to overturn its ruling, and maintained the government prohibition on Baha'i citizens obtaining identity cards.
Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha'is. The Government also continued to deny civil documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community.
The Ambassador, senior administration officials, and members of Congress continued to raise U.S. concerns about religious discrimination with senior government officials. Specifically, the Embassy and other State Department officials raised concerns with the Government about ongoing discrimination faced by Christians in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005, official discrimination against Baha'is, and the Government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert to other faiths.
Section I. Religious Demography
The country has an area of 370,308 square miles and a population of 79 million, of whom almost 90 percent were estimated to be Sunni Muslims. Shi'a Muslims constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Estimates of the percentage of Christians ranged from 8 to 12 percent, or between 6 and 10 million, the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Other Christian communities include the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman, and Syrian Catholic), Maronite, and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) churches. An evangelical Protestant community, established in the middle of the 19th century, included 16 Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal (Anglican), Baptist, Brethren, Open Brethren, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), Faith (Al-Eyman), Church of God, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal al-Masihi), Apostolic, Grace (An-Ni'ma), Pentecostal, Apostolic Grace, Church of Christ, Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), and the Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala)). There are also followers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was granted legal status in the 1960s. There are small numbers of Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but the Government does not recognize either group. The non-Muslim, non-Coptic Orthodox communities ranged in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The number of Baha'is is estimated at 2,000 persons. The Jewish community numbers fewer than 200 persons.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Constitution, under Article 46, provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government restricts on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and Shari'a is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of the non-Muslim religious minorities generally worship without legal harassment and may maintain links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of other religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, continue to experience personal and collective hardship.
In addition to complaints by Christian citizens to the NCHR, there were also 14 complaints from Baha'is, one of which was signed by 51 complainants who sought the right to have their religion listed on official papers. The report indicated that the NCHR discussed Baha'i concerns with the Ministry of Interior with a view to resolving the issue to the satisfaction of all parties. The NCHR submitted a request to the Prime Minister on December 26, 2006 seeking the removal of the religion field from the government-issued identification cards, but the religion field remained a mandatory section on them at the end of the reporting period.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
The Government continued to deny civil documents, including ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community. On December 16, 2006, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned a lower court ruling, deciding that Baha'is may not list their religion in the mandatory religion "field" on obligatory government identity cards. In May 2006 the Ministry of Interior had appealed an administrative court ruling issued in April 2006, which supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with the Baha'i religion noted on the documents. The Government insists that religious identification on national identity cards is necessary to determine which laws apply in civil cases. The Government indicated that all citizens must be in possession of new computerized identification cards by January 1, 2007 and that old, hand-written cards would no longer be valid. However, in May 2007 the Government announced that this requirement had been postponed. The Government has issued passports for Baha'i citizens and has stated that it extended the deadline for the use of the old identity cards as a temporary measure until January 2008. (National passports do not indicate the holder's religion.) Citizens not in possession of valid identity documents may be subject to detention.
Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Center issued a legal opinion in December 2003 condemning Baha'is as apostates. In May 2006 the Minister of Justice requested guidance from the IRC in preparation for the Government's appeal against the landmark April 4, 2006 case in support of Baha'i rights. The IRC issued an Islamic legal interpretation stating that the Baha'i Faith was a "heresy." The 2006 interpretation referenced a 1985 opinion that had accused Baha'is of working in support of Zionism and imperialism and labeled them as "apostates."
Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities and strips Baha'is of legal recognition. During the Nasser era, the Government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries. The Government has asserted that national identity cards require all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews. The Ministry of Interior has reportedly, on rare occasions, issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other" or simply do not mention religion. But it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups that are not associated with any of the three "heavenly religions" have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or go without valid identity documents.
Those without valid identity cards encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Baha'is at age 16 face additional problems under Law 143/1994, which makes it mandatory for all citizens to obtain a new identification card featuring a new national identification number. Police occasionally conduct random inspections of identity papers and those found without identity cards can be detained until the document is provided to the police. Some Baha'is without identity cards reportedly stay home to avoid police scrutiny and possible arrest.
In May 2004 the Government confiscated the identity cards of two Baha'is who were applying for passports. Officials told them that they were acting on instructions from the MOI to confiscate any identity cards belonging to Baha'is.
Some elements of the press published articles critical of the Baha'is. For example, on October 16, 2006, Roz Al-Youssef, a pro-government newspaper, published excerpts of a government advisory report, which supported the MOI's petition to overturn the April 4, 2006 ruling. The report argued that because the Baha'i Faith was not recognized in the country as a "divine religion," its followers were not entitled to citizenship rights. The report argued that constitutional guarantees of freedom of belief and religion do not apply to the Baha'is and that the country is not bound under its commitment as a cosignatory to the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The report also asserted that Baha'is are apostates, a threat to public order, and recommended that "methods must be defined that would insure that Baha'is are identified, confronted, and singled out so that they could be watched carefully, isolated and monitored in order to protect the rest of the population as well as Islam from their danger, influence, and teachings."
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
Religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialogue. The right of religious freedom has been raised with senior government officials by all levels of the U.S. Government, including by visiting members of Congress, the Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, the Ambassador, and other State Department and embassy officials. The Embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Embassy also discusses religious freedom issues regularly in contacts with other government officials, including governors and members of Parliament. The Ambassador has made public statements supporting religious freedom, interfaith understanding, and efforts toward harmony and equality among citizens of all religious groups. Specifically, the Embassy and other State Department officials raised concerns with the Government about ongoing discrimination faced by Christians in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005, official discrimination against Baha'is, and the Government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert. In addition, the Embassy sent observers to attend court hearings concerning Baha'i efforts to attain identity documents.
The Embassy maintains an active dialogue with leaders of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i religious communities, human rights groups, and other activists. The Embassy investigates complaints of official religious discrimination brought to its attention. It also discusses religious freedom with a range of contacts, including academics, businessmen, and citizens outside of the capital area. U.S. officials actively challenge anti-Semitic articles in the media through discussions with editors-in-chief and journalists.
U.S. programs and activities support initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom, including funding for CEOSS programs that work with Coptic community groups in Upper Egypt, as well as support for NGOs that monitor the country's media for occurrences of sectarian bias.
The U.S. Government is working to strengthen civil society, supporting secular channels and the broadening of a civic culture that promotes religious tolerance and supporting projects that promote tolerance and mutual respect between different religious communities.
The Embassy supports the development of educational materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language curriculums.
The U.S. Government developed a version of the television program Sesame Street designed to reach remote households that has as one of its goals the promotion of tolerance, including among different religious groups. According to a recent household survey, the program, begun in 2000, is reaching more than 90 percent of elementary school-aged children.
The Embassy is also working with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.
Released on September 14, 2007