Sunday, March 25, 2007

Egypt: A Crucial Law Article in California's Daily Journal

The following article was published on 13 March 2007 in the Daily Journal, one of the largest legal journal in the western United States. Its author, John E. Noyes, is an international law professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego and president-elect of the American Branch of the International Law Association. The article is entitled "Egypt's Law of Intolerance" and published in the Forum Column.

The Daily Journal is described as follows:

As a publisher of 13 newspapers devoted primarily to legal matters, Daily Journal Corporation is journalism's legal eagle. Among its newspapers are the Los Angeles Daily Journal and the San Francisco Daily Journal, which together bring in more than 40% of the company's sales. Daily Journal also produces other legal publications such as magazines, court rules, state regulations, and online foreclosure information. Subsidiary Sustain (93%-owned) offers technology enabling justice agencies to automate their operations. Munger, Marshall & Co., which is controlled by Daily Journal chairman Charles Munger (also vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway) and secretary Ira Marshall, owns 40% of the company.

Another site describes the Journal's profile as:
Daily Journal Corporation. The Group's principal activity is the publishing of newspapers and web sites covering California, Washington, Arizona, Colorado and Nevada. The Group also publishes the California Lawyer, The Code of Colorado Regulations and other corporate counsel magazines. The Group serves as a newspaper representative specializing in public notice advertising and produces several specialized information services. The products of the Group also include technologies and applications to enable justice agencies to automate their operations. The Group publishes 13 newspapers of general circulation that covers news of interest to the general public. The Group supplies case management software systems and related products to courts and other justice agencies, including district attorney offices and administrative law organizations. The Group operates throughout the United States.

The Article:

Daily Journal Newswire Articles © 2007 The Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.
• select Print from the File menu above GOVERNMENT • Mar. 13, 2007

Egypt's Law of Intolerance
By John E. Noyes

Egypt is purportedly a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and in the effort to promote democracy in the Middle East. Recent developments must lead us to question that proposition. A legal ruling in Egypt, which raises serious questions about the scope of religious freedom in that country, could affect security as well as basic human rights.

The December decision by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court threatens human rights by insisting an Egyptian couple declare themselves to be Muslim, Christian or Jewish in order to obtain a national identity card. The case involved members of the Baha'i faith, a religion with more than 5 million followers worldwide that stresses themes of unity among the world's religions. Now, according to the Supreme Administrative Court, the Baha'is cannot state their own religious affiliation on national ID cards and other government documents, nor can they just leave their religious affiliation blank.

This decision affects other religious minorities too. Egyptians must have national ID cards to obtain basic civil rights in their country. Because of the December court ruling, the Baha'i couple's three young children cannot attend school. Without a proper national ID card, a citizen may also be denied a job, financial services and medical care. The court's decision poses a critical dilemma for Egyptians who are not Muslims, Christians or Jews. They must either lie about their religious affiliation - something that is both a criminal offense and, for many, an offense against their religious beliefs - or be denied basic rights due to all citizens.

The court decision is a definite setback for Egypt and its citizens, and may increase civil unrest and contribute to security concerns. Although Egypt is an Islamic country, many other countries where Islam is either the state religion or a source of law have not taken the discriminatory steps Egypt has taken. Other Islamic states in the region - including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, the Sudan, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates - do not require listing religious affiliation on national identity cards.

International law emphasizes freedom from religious discrimination as a basic human right. Relevant legal instruments include the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which emphasizes everyone's right to freedom of religion, and the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Egypt is a member of the United Nations and has pledged, by accepting the U.N. Charter, to promote the observance of "fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion."

Egypt is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty that guarantees citizens the right to be free from government coercion impairing an individual's "freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice." Press accounts quote former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali, speaking in August 2006 in his capacity as president of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, as stating that Egypt "should either approve and recognize all religions or eliminate religious classification from ID cards." To discriminate by denying members of some religions access to basic rights of citizenship is in itself a gross abuse of human rights. Such discrimination may also contribute to a climate in which additional persecution and civil instability become possible.

The independent, bipartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom expressed its deep regret over December's Egyptian court decision. According to Commission Chairperson Felice Gaer, "The court's ruling denies Egyptian Baha'is their rights as citizens of Egypt and would subject them to particular hardship in obtaining education, employment, and social services." The U.S. Commission also noted that Egypt's policies concerning listing religion on a national ID card appear to violate anti-discrimination provisions in Egypt's Constitution, in addition to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and interpretations of various U.N. bodies.

The U.S. government monitors situations of religious extremism and religious intolerance around the world. Such situations not only abuse basic human rights, but they can give rise to instability as well. A U.S. State Department spokesman said that the December judicial ruling "flies in the face of stated Egyptian commitments to freedom of expression," and urged the Egyptian government to address this "fundamental issue of religious freedom."

The world has seen too many tragic examples of religious discrimination leading to other human rights abuses and conflict. The denial of basic rights to religious minorities in Egypt affects us all, regardless of our own religious beliefs.

John E. Noyes is an international law professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego and president-elect of the American Branch of the International Law Association.
© 2007 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.


  1. In other words if Egypt wants to continue its status in the community of Nations they MUST IMMEDEIATELY CORRECT this error and REVERSE the December ruling.

    If they fail to do this then the United States and other nations who supply financial
    Support to Egypt must revoke their financial aid and consider other sanctions to
    Socially isolate them from the other law abiding nations of the earth...

    There must be justice in this matter!! If there is no justice then the lack of justice will create chaos.

  2. One can deduce that this is basically what the article implies. However, as to action, it is left for the United Nations and the International Criminal Court to enforce.

    Outside financial aid must be conditional on compliance with certain international rules of dignity and the preservation of human and civil rights. Taxpayers in countries providing financial aid have the right and responsibility to demand from their representatives to explain how their money is being spent. I, for one, am asking this question! Egypt has been referring to this as “outside interference,” however it continues to accept “outside money” while attempting to avoid accountability. This cannot continue unnoticed.

  3. It is amazing the ways of the Almighty. The efforts to deny the Baha'is their legitimate human rights has simply broadcast their Faith throughout the planet and raised people's awareness of this religious community. If those who oppose the Baha'is were really wise, they would simply leave us in peace.

  4. Phillipe said:
    "If those who oppose the Baha'is were really wise, they would simply leave us in peace."

    Yes, but....

  5. Bilo, I think the hypocrisy is most amusing. As you say, Egyptian officials are quick to point out this is an internal matter, this is an example of Western interference, etc.
    YET, they accept outsiders' money in many instances from various international institutions, private, and public.

  6. EdoRiver,
    As you can tell, these matters are very complex and involve a myriad of interplaying factors. I would not call it hypocrisy because I know that there are also very good people in Egypt who are well-wishers and supportive of the rights of oppressed minorities, who have been vocal and courageous in their stand.

    For example, the nearly two billion dollars of annual financial aid received from the US has roots in maintaining the peace process in the region--with strings attached--and is not a simple matter of charity or aid…but this is a whole different subject which is outside the scope of this blog.

    What is important though is accountability and the adherence to international rules of preservation and protection of human and civil rights for all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.

  7. It is indeed of great service to have distinguished professionals provide their qualified examination of the legal issues in Egypt. Such competent testimony by the most prominent legal minds of the time indicates intelligent and mature judgment that is far superior and in no manner comparable to the unsubstantiated legal practices that are based on loose interpretation of religious text.

    Such a foundation of experienced professionalism would be commonly understood to be the benchmark to which any government or institution would aspire, regardless of the threat of economic embargo or the withholding of foreign aid. There are conditions where it is appropriate to enforce economic restrictions in order to pressure governments to correct their violations, though it is often to the detriment of the common citizen. Any form of embargo would do little to alter the mindset of those in control of Egypt, who, by recent account, are estimated to have amassed a personal wealth running in the tens of billions of dollars.

    As individual countries establish systems of law and enforcement, so also should be the case with the world community. Such has been the natural development seen through time, starting from families, to tribes, to states and nations. In this context, political or religious leaders of a country would not be left to operate outside of the law while enforcement is limited to economic embargo, but would be judged as individuals, tried, and passed judgment on. Such as a governor cannot be above the laws of his country, so also would a national leader not be sheltered by his title or protected by his country's autonomy.

  8. r.a.,
    You are correct in pointing out that economic embargos end up hurting the needy in the country.

    Also, the recent court ruling against the Baha'is of Egypt clearly illustrates the critical need for the legal system in Egypt to reach such levels of professionalism and respect you are referring to. An essential component of this process is its independence from the executive branch. There are now many enlightened Egyptians who are struggling daily to promote this.

    Very recently, there has been some encouraging news, indicative of a bit of improvement in the government’s attitude towards the Baha’is in its attempt to find a solution for the current crisis. A death certificate of a Baha’i was issued with 5 lines in place of religion, and a passport was issued to a Baha’i after the religious classification was allowed to be left blank on the application form.

  9. I would have to disagree with R.A. on the subject that the withholding of foreign aid would hurt the needy. This is due to the fact that whenever there is government corruption present and there is foreign aid going to any country that foreign aid that was intended for the needy USUALLY ends up lining the pockets of corrupt officials instead of helping the needy. Therefore that point which was brought up is moot!!

  10. A good point. Thank you for your comment.

  11. Anonymous,

    The point of withholding foreign aid is separate from economic embargo. It is an absolutely correct statement that foreign aid is rerouted, in untraceable and inconspicuous ways, to the pockets of the higher authorities, particularly in Egypt. Economic embargos, for example, would be in the form of trade restrictions and the like, which to the already wealthy and powerful, would prove to have minimum or no effect.

  12. I used to work for this newspaper long ago when it was MUCH smaller.

  13. Can you tell us about its history?

  14. i hope they review it


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