Thursday, November 16, 2006

Religion On ID Cards In Egypt: To Be Or Not To Be?

Egypt: USCIRF Calls for New Policy on National Identity Cards

November 16, 2006

Contact: Angela Stephens, Assistant Communications Director,
(202) 523-3240, ext. 114

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is closely monitoring the outcome of a court case in Cairo that will consider whether an Egyptian Baha’i couple will be able to obtain national identity documents without having to deny or falsify their faith.

On November 20, the Supreme Administrative Court in Cairo will convene a hearing on the Egyptian government’s appeal of a lower court decision that would have allowed members of the Baha’i faith in Egypt to obtain a national identity card and to list their religious affiliation. The Commission urges the U.S. government to encourage the Egyptian government to reverse its discriminatory policy of requiring Egyptian citizens to list their religious affiliation, restricting the choice to one of the three state recognized religions – Judaism, Christianity, or Islam – on national identity documents.

“Current Egyptian policy essentially turns Baha’is into non-citizens because without an identity card they cannot gain access to government services like education and employment, or engage in basic financial transactions, such as opening a bank account or obtaining a driver’s license. It is even illegal to be in public without a card,” said Commission chair Felice D. Gaer. “This policy is highly discriminatory and is incompatible with international standards. The current court case provides the Egyptian government with an opportunity to change its policy and omit mention of religious affiliation from identity documents or to make optional any mention of religious affiliation,” said Gaer.

Egypt requires all citizens to obtain and carry a national identity card, including listing one’s religious affiliation, and only permits one of three choices. This policy: Read more....


  1. Bilo,
    I made a rather hurtful comparison of President Mubarak with the late Shah of Iran. Ok appology made. But I can't help but see similarities in the two situations, Bahais in Iran and Bahais in Iraq, the radical element within the underclass in Iran, and the radical element within the underclass in Iraq. It seems that the gov. is trying to play towards the international community and towards its domestic radicals. But its domestic radicals are the way they are because of the gov. actions. Suppose the Egyptian international elite go along with the Commission and the ID cards are changed. This can only be used to inflame the ignorant poor against the government and further expand the separation between the two because the gov. isn't chaning any of its basic domestic ecconomic policies which are causing the problems within the society. The Muslim Brotherhood wins no matter what the Egyptian government does. This is not an arguement for the government to do nothing, or to resist the change. I am merely saying this is just another straw being thrown on the back of the Egyptian government cammel. And it seems to me this was similar to the Shah's way of looking to appear accomodating to the international community while his internal domestic economic policies were ....less than encouraging to the ones who sponsored Kohmeni

    Edo River rising

  2. Previously I talked about football and now I'll talk about Bahá'i Faith.
    I believe that egyptian authorithies are trying to make Bahá'ís, and others, believe they are muslims. That means, they won't opnely attack the Bahá'is.
    But we can't forget it was in Egypt the first time the Bahá'í Faith was recognized like an independent Religion, and I think it was in 1936. But I would like to be sure.
    Please correct me if I am wrong.

  3. Edo River,

    You meant comparing Iran and Egypt, not Iran and Iraq?

  4. Joao,

    There were two events, one in 1925 and the second in 1939.

    Here is the link to a post addressing your question:
    Recognition of the Baha'i Faith: Egypt's Past Role.

  5. It is not only the Baha'is of the world that are waiting for the decision of the Egyptian Court on Monday.
    It is the world public opinion who is expecting to see if Egypt want to behave like a tolerant or a middle age society. It is the moment of truth.

    But even if the Court decides in favor of the Baha'is, it will take more than a judicial decision to remove social prejudice against us.

  6. Marco,
    You are so right! It is indeed the moment of truth. It is now time for the Egyptian establishment to put into action what it has been recently preaching in the media on tolerance, acceptance and dialogue with ALL human beings....

    Perhaps the recent shift was part of a strategy to prepare the public for a change in direction! Am I too optimistic? Time will tell....

  7. Perhaps there is a vast difference on one hand between Egypt and Iran, then or now.

    However at the same time I have a vision of Egypt like a and the orange is separating, the top 15 separated itself off beginning after the 2nd world war...I don't know the size of the middle class, probably large, very large compared to Iran, but there is the segment where the unhappiness resides the food for the Muslim Brotherhood. The politics of despair. THe international community is reaching out to the upper 15-20% of society, and that group of Egyptians is responding...but as for the other 80%? My question is that if there are similaraties between Egypt and IRan.....what will happen next? Can we say that the "politics of fear" as the BBC documentary describes it, is being used to the same effect in Egypt? What are the cultural protections that will tend the society towards greater democratic insititutional identity.

  8. Actually, based on my limited understanding and observations, the layers of society in Egypt are several:

    1) The desperately poor and uneducated, easily persuadable, struggle for their bread and beans, some homeless, poor health, and generally neglected by the rest of the society...they tend to live in parallel to the rest of the society, and others pass them by and consider them as part of the scenery. Some of whom live in garbage dumps and cemeteries. I cannot guess their percentage, but it is significant.

    2) The poor, but somewhat employed--or employable--and able to survive and function within their limitations. They are under-serviced, and underprivileged. They may represent a very large portion of the population. This may be the majority that is targeted by the extremists and fundamentalists because of their potential, their limited education and their discontent with their status and their lot in life. They are attracted through social services, schools, jobs, health care. Many fundamentalist Islamic societies target this portion of the population providing them with these services for free, and are able to recruit their youth into their ranks.

    3) The educated, but modest large middle class. Not easily persuaded by extremists and independent in their ways...normally would not care one way or the other, but are reasonable in their beliefs and convictions. Mostly conservative and religious. Their youth aspire to better living conditions and better education. Some of the great leaders in society might have emerged from this sector. Moderately significant component of the population.

    4) The so called the upper middle class. In general well-to-do, independent, very well educated and informed, likely liberal and religious, but not fanatic. Many are professionals, some in politics, artists and teachers. Traditionally decedents of prominent families and many have roots dating back to the Turks, Albanians and other invaders.

    5) The very rich, so called elite upper class. Own major properties, inherited "old money," and well-established professionals. Many are in large business, industry and large scale trade. They drive fancier cars than you would find in any of the first world countries, receive the best healthcare in sophisticated private hospitals, and educate their children in private schools and universities both in Egypt and abroad. A small portion of the population but is slowly growing.

    Having said all this, I might be quite wrong in my analysis, but this is my best subjective estimate, based on somewhat informed observation of the evolution of the modern Egyptian society.

  9. Interesting fact: until the early 1950s most of Egypt's economy was controlled by approximately 200 families, many of whom were of Jewish origin.

  10. Bilo,
    I read your link.
    Thanks a lot.
    May be one day I'll use it on my blog.
    When I married I was a already Bahá'í, and you?
    If this is a sick question don't answer me.


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