Saturday, September 22, 2007

Emerging Egypt’s Official Stand: Grant Baha’is Their Rights

Based on recent information in the official Egyptian media outlets, the Baha'is appear to be on their way of being allowed to freely document their religion in official government documents, including ID cards.

The most recent of these indicators is an article published on 22 September 2007, in the government's official newspaper Akhbar el-Youm. It reports on the recent debate under the auspices of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).

As previously indicated, there were those who are in favor of eliminating religious classification from ID cards altogether, while others affirm the need for its preservation.

Of particular importance are the words of one influential and important person, supported by others who are similarly positioned. Dr. Zainab Radwan, University Professor of Islamic philosophy, First Deputy of Maghlis el-Shaab [Egyptian Parliament] and member of the NCHR, declared her point of view on this crisis, stating "it is the right of every human being to document his religion, even if he believes in a religion that has not been specified [by authorities]." She justifies her opinion by using two principles: "the first is the freedom of belief as declared in the constitution. The second is the equal opportunity in societal transactions...that we all know the identity of each other in our dealings, particularly the Baha'is because their names are similar to Muslim names, benefiting our daughters so that they don't marry Baha'is, or the reverse."

Regarding the 16 December 2006 ruling of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court preventing the Baha'is from obtaining ID cards, she proposed a solution that "the Parliament and the judiciary must be requested to allow anyone who desires to document his religion the right to do so," stressing the importance of accurate representation on ID cards since they are an essential component to many interactions in society, such as marriage, inheritance, and parenthood of children. She pointed to the need for "clarity and honesty" as facilitators to these important society matters.

Dr. Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd, former Minister of Information, Professor of Constitutional Law and Vice-President of the NCHR, agreed with Zainab Radwan, stressing the importance of adhering to the constitutional guarantees which provide all Egyptian citizens with equal rights and that "there must be no discrimination based on ancestry, gender and religion, and that all must adhere to this." He insisted on allowing the Baha'is to document their religion truthfully as Baha'is, and that "we cannot force him to change his religion on ID documents, or register himself as Muslim, particularly when the law had established for us the absolute freedom of belief, and subsequently we cannot exempt anyone from this fact."

Another indicator of the government's official position is dually represented by the opinion of Egypt's Al-Azhar Institution as well as the inclusion of that position in the official publication of the ruling party Al-Hezb Al-Watany [The National Democratic Party].

Approximately a year ago, Al-Watany Al-Youm newspaper (the government's mouthpiece) published an interview with Sheikh Al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, in which he clearly stated the position of the prominent leading Islamic establishment, Al-Azhar. This particular episode was published last year in this post.

Interestingly, the same interview continues to appear on the newspaper's website with current dates, the last of which is 18 September 2007.

The following is an excerpt of the interview, with questions and answers from 4 to 8, referring to the Baha’is, fully translated:

[Q:] There is a recommendation from human rights organisations to eliminate the religious affiliation field from official documents as it discriminates among citizens, what is your opinion? What do they mean by eliminating the religious space and why do they demand this; by what right [authority] do they recommend its elimination?

[A:] They have no right in this matter; we consider the presence of the religious affiliation field to be correct, and this does not cause any kind of discrimination. We have [It has] nothing to do with human rights or anything else; the presence of the religion in its specified space is a must…a must…a must!

[Q:] What is its benefit that you insist on its being obligatory?

[A:] The benefit comes from the purpose of its presence, which is to describe the person in his official documents; no harm can befall anyone from documenting his religion, no matter what that religion is, so why eliminate it? The religious field should not be changed, no matter who demands it, because a person is entitled to write his religion in the space [field] specified for it.

[Q:] Even if he was a Baha’i?

[A:] Yes, he writes “Baha’i” in it; what is wrong with that so long as it is his belief and what he chooses for himself as a religion? Writing Baha’i in the religious space clears other religions of any relation with him and prevents some people from affiliating themselves with other heavenly religions when these are likewise innocent of them.

[Q:] Therefore, this means an admission [recognition] that it is a religion?

[A:] Baha’ism is not a religion; however, writing it down as a belief in the religious affiliation space is possible and can do no harm – rather, it is a compulsory distinction for those who are apostates of the heavenly religions.

[Q:] Your Excellency considers that Baha’ism is a dissident [apostate] group which has departed from Islam and yet you spoke of freedom of belief – do you not find a contradiction in this?

[A:] Freedom of belief is guaranteed to all and not just to a particular person; what is meant by freedom of belief is that every human being has his belief and the one who judges people is God.

Clearly, one can draw one conclusion: the government is strongly leaning towards allowing the Baha'is to enter their religion truthfully in all official documents. Additionally, Egypt is serious about solving the current crisis of identification documents and citizenship rights. All indicators confirm the willingness and positive steps being taken by the government in its efforts to grant all Egyptian citizens their full civil rights, based on the constitutional guarantees. This is not surprising if we pause to consider Egypt's heritage and great civilization. Surely, mistakes do happen, at times because of uncontrollable circumstances, but the sign of greatness is when a government is willing to overcome pride in its efforts to justly serve its citizenry.


  1. I'm always amazed that so many people can firmly believe that there is one G_d and still be at odds (putting it mildly) with others on a different path. Many separate, but compatible and equally compassionate movements are underway that would do best to come together on common ground. In our own way, we must all do our part.

  2. nice to know this going to be resolved and we can get on to the next issue. Progress is being made, slowly but surely.

  3. As you can tell, this is a matter of urgency for the Baha'is of Egypt. Their daily living depends on an immediate solution.

  4. Bilo,

    Thank you for posting this emerging "official" view. I have read these items but is the government any closer to a resolution?

    The Baha'is in Egypt have suffered so much so let us hope that the end is in sight! Until this change becomes official, we can only share your optimism.

  5. What is gratifying in these developing events is that the progress is achieved through democracy. Yes in this instance the Egyptian governement is misguided (it is unfortunately a common occurence in many countries...)but the people are given a chance to express their opinion openly. There are forums, heated arguments, press releases and comments and it seems to be working toward a logical and fair solution. If the end-result is positive for the Baha'is, it would not only be a victory for them but also for the people of Egypt who reacted to the injustice and most of all, surprisingly enough, it would be a huge victory for the governemnt itself who would have been pushed to act for the people it represents. To the minority upset at such a decision the government would be able to say: this is the will of the majority of the people. Democracy takes time.... let's hope its time has come for Egypt and let's hope Iran is next!

  6. THAT would be a true test of democracy indeed. It is always in deeds, not in words!

  7. I am praying every day that common-sense and logic prevail in the Egyptian and Iranian Governments...

    That in itself will be a MIRACLE!!!


  8. I know that the Egyptian government has a lot of good sense. Traditionally Egypt has never been an extreme. I am not so sure about Iran though!


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