Friday, February 22, 2008

Ongoing Dialogue: Status of the Baha'i Religion in Egypt

Egyptian and Middle Eastern media continue to examine the recent court verdicts that permitted some of the Baha'is of Egypt to obtain ID cards and birth certificates. They also address the general status of the Baha'is of Egypt as a religious minority in a modern society. The scope of these articles extends beyond the mere description of the court ruling itself, but rather carefully examines other essential elements regarding Egypt's need to come to terms with the fact that the Baha'i religion is one of the established religions worldwide.

For example, these articles are now addressing the roots of the current crisis, dating back to Nasser's Presidential Decree (263) of 1960 that outlawed the Baha'i religion in Egypt, confiscated all Baha'i properties, dissolved Baha'i institutions and arrested many leading Baha'is. The question of the official recognition of the Baha'i religion in Egypt is being openly discussed and arguments in its favor are put forward.

One of the headlines even dares to go as far as stating that "the problem with the Baha'is is the need to recognize them and not necessarily the implied acceptance of their beliefs."

Some of the articles attached to this post (Qattar's Al-Raayah-page 31 & Egypt's Al-Qaherra) are currently being translated and will be hopefully posted again in the near future.

The 29 January 2008 court ruling allowed only those Baha'is who had previously held paper ID cards or birth certificates stating that they were Baha'is to obtain the newly established national ID number and identification documents (with no religion entered), thus permitting them to enjoy the rights of citizenship owed to them. However, those Baha'is who do not hold an old ID card or birth certificate, or if the documents held had wrongly stated other than their religion in the specified field, will continue to have no solution to their dilemma. That is if they want to obtain any of these official documents, they would be either forced to lie (in violation of the law itself) on the application form about their true religion and enter one of the three approved religions (Islam Christianity or Judaism) or be left without identity.

Clearly, as has been repeatedly proposed by Egypt's--government appointed--National Council for Human Rights, the ultimate solution to this ongoing crisis is the complete elimination of the field of religion from all identity documents, as is the case in several other (mostly Muslim) countries in the region and as in many other parts of the world.

Even though the recent verdict is limited in scope, it must be said that: 1) the Baha'is of Egypt are indeed pleased with this new development, 2) they hope that Egypt's government continues to work towards finding a satisfactory solution that would benefit all the Baha'is--and other religious minorities--of Egypt and not only a fraction of their population, 3) they are grateful to all those activists, human rights workers, journalists, bloggers, thinkers, scholars, attorneys, official figures and many others who have courageously supported them and defended their rights, and 4) the Baha'is of Egypt continue to analyze and study the full text of the recent two court verdicts--which are quite expansive and complex--in order for them to act on the implementation of their directives as well as to determine further necessary action in their quest for their full rights.

For example, another pressing and critical matter that must be addressed and resolved soon is that Baha'i marriage certificates remain unrecognized in Egypt, thus married Baha'i couples living in Egypt are considered to be living in concubinage and their children are considered by the authorities as illegitimate.

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