Monday, February 04, 2008

Egypt: Extensive Media Reaction to the Verdict on Baha'i Rights

Several news outlets reported on the recent verdict that placed the Egyptian Baha'is in a position to obtain ID cards, birth certificates and other official documents.

Some reports were in Egyptian newspapers while others were in international newspapers and websites as shown in previous posts and in this one as well.

Several international articles were published in Arabic as linked to at the end of this post. Among the recent publications was an article written by Mr. Gamal Nkrumah in Al-Ahram Weekly, which is the English version of Egypt's daily semi-official newspaper. On three previous occasions, Mr. Nkrumah had courageously written on the Baha'i case as was posted here, here and here. His coverage has been objective, balanced, well-informed and accurate.

Below is the complete transcript of his current article:

A question of faith

Gamal Nkrumah sounds out rights activists' reactions to a new court ruling this week that no longer denies Bahaais essential identity documents


Bahaai community in Egypt, local and international human rights organisations warmly welcomed an Administrative Court ruling this Tuesday (29 January), which reversed the official state policy of denying essential identity documents to Egyptians who do not wish to be identified in official documents as adherents of the three Monotheistic religions recognised by the state.

Bahaai Egyptians, leading a legal battle over the past few years to be certified as Bahaais on official documents, won a first step court ruling to that effect in April 2006. The 2006 court ruling, however, was overturned later by the Supreme Administrative Court.

This week's new sentence seems to meet the Bahaais' demand half way, since while rejecting the demand that the Bahaai faith is a religion, it allowed those who do not wish to be identified as followers of Islam, Christianity or Judaism to have official documents in which the religion category would either be filled by a "hyphen" or the word "without".

"This is not just a victory for the Bahaai community of Egypt, but it is also a victory for all those Egyptians who do not adhere to the three monotheistic religions," Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) told Al-Ahram Weekly. "For the first time in contemporary Egyptian history, an individual who professes Hinduism or Buddhism, or even those wishing to call themselves non-believers, could enjoy full citizenship rights. That in itself is a great advance of human rights and will tremendously enhance the country's human rights record," Bahgat explains.

Basma Moussa, a leader and spokeswoman of the Bahaai community of Egypt, concurs. She was ecstatic. "This ruling is what we have been struggling to achieve for years. At last our prayers have been answered. We are extremely grateful that justice has been served and that finally we can lead normal lives as Egyptian citizens," Moussa says.

Labib Iskandar, a leading Egyptian Bahaai, and a professor of engineering at Cairo University laments that, "we used to move about without personal identification cards. That is a criminal offence in Egypt. We could be stopped by police at any moment, anywhere and asked for our ID."

"Inability to produce an ID card entails a five-year prison sentence," Moussa, a dentist and an assistant lecturer at Cairo University says. "The civil status law makes it obligatory for every Egyptian citizen to carry on his or her personal ID card".

"These documents are essential to obtain education and employment, register births, immunise children, and conduct basic transactions such as opening a bank account, obtaining a driver's licence, or collecting a pension," Bahgat extrapolates.

"A previous ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court in December 2006 had upheld the state policy of refusing to recognise the religious affiliation of Bahaais in official documents, arguing that such recognition would violate public order and Sharia [Islamic law] requirements," Bahgat explains.

The December 2006 ruling prompted Bahaai Egyptians to file two other lawsuits -- the subject of Tuesday's ruling -- requesting documents that do not list any religious affiliation. "The new cases, filed by EIPR lawyers, argued that forcing Bahaais to identify falsely as Muslim or Christian violated their rights to freedom of conviction, privacy, equality and full citizenship rights," Bahgat notes.

Bahaais began to experience grave difficulties beginning in 1995, when the authorities insisted that all Egyptians had to acquire or replace personal documents with computerised ones from the central Civil Registry Office in the Ministry of Interior.

It is hoped that this week's ruling would finally allow Bahaai Egyptians to obtain birth certificates and computerised identity cards leaving the religious category void.

Bahgat, Iskandar and Moussa hope that the state would implement the ruling as soon as possible. "We urge the government to implement the decision without delay, and not to appeal this clear verdict of the court," Bahgat says.

Other articles can be viewed at the following sites:

Radio Netherlands Worldwide (Arabic): حرية العقيدة في مصر: أحكام متباينة

BBC (Arabic): هل يحق للدولة الاعتراف بديانات دون أخرى؟

US Copts (Arabic): تغطية الفضائيات المصرية للحكم بترك خانة الديانة فارغة للبهائيين

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights "EIPR" (Arabic):
مصر: القضاء يبطل حرمان البهائيين من الوثائق الرسمية
على الحكومة أن تمتثل لتطبيق الحكم دون إبطاء


  1. in american slang this was a "moral" victory....

  2. This is more than a moral victory! This ruling opens the door for Egyptian Baha'is to regain some (not all) their rights of citizenship. While some of them can prove they are listed as Baha'i in some documents, many of them had their documents in the past issues as Christian or Muslim, and it will prove very difficult for this segment of Egyptian Baha'is to convince the Ministry of the Interior they are indeed Baha'is. Those who can get their new birth certificates or national IDs with a "-" to indicate religion will still face discrimination in hiring and in doing business. But they should be able to get passports, open bank accounts, enter into business transactions, and obtain birth certificates for their children. Still, their marriage is not recognized, and their employability by the government and local business will be judged by their religion.
    Having said that, this is a great victory for human rights when some of the Baha'is regain some of their human and civil rights!

  3. Thank you! You may also say that it is a first step of many further steps to follow....

  4. As a new American Baha'i married to an Egyptian Muslim. I too am excited about this "first of many steps".

    However,as an African American Woman, no amount of litigation or legislation has erradicated the discrimination I face as a woman and more often as an Black woman.


  5. I was touched by the comment from anonymous!
    Clearly there has been so many injustices which continue to this day. The eradication of all forms of prejudice is the principle that animates me as a Baha'i (by the way from Egypt as well). My parents who were raised as Egyptian Copts (Christian Orthodox), thanks to Baha'u'llah, recognized the truth not only of the Baha'i Faith but as a consequence also of Islam. Barriers of faith between Baha'is who were Muslim and those who were Christian melted to the extent they have become one family.
    Egyptian Muslims and Christians alike have been kind to Baha'is, showing forth the true teachings of Islam and Christianity. It is the politicization of religion that caused Egyptian Baha'is the most harm, but I believe this is only temporary.
    Barriers of ethnicity and race as well as barriers of religious prejudice also have to melt away. The march is on for the fulfillment of Baha'u'llah's teachings for people to recognize the oneness of humanity, the oneness of God, and the oneness of God's eternal faith throughout the ages!

  6. Anonymous,
    Thank you for speaking up. This is exactly why it is “a first step of many.” The civil rights movement in the south and the subsequent apparent improvement in legal rights for African Americans continues to be early steps toward the change in hearts…only then would discrimination becomes something of the past—when the hearts change—otherwise it is only froth floating on the surface….


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