Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Egypt: Children of Baha'is Are Denied Admission to Schools

As a follow up to the recent news concerning the Baha'is of Egypt, discussed in the last post on this blog, the Egyptian media is currently engaged in bringing this critical matter to the attention of the public and the Egyptian authorities. International Herald Tribune's Daily News Egypt has published yesterday an article regarding this most recent crisis affecting the Baha'i childern in Egypt. They are being denied admission to schools because of their religious affiliation.

The article, which is quite self explanatory is reprinted below. It is followed, near the end of the post, by a brief commentary:


By Sarah Carr
First Published: July 1, 2008

CAIRO: Local schools are denying Bahais the right to enroll their children, five months after an Egyptian court recognized the right of members of the minority religion to leave the religious affiliation field on birth certificates and ID cards blank.

Adel Ramadan, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) — which brought the case that was ruled on in January — says that schools are refusing to accept personal identity documents printed on paper.

Egypt recently replaced handwritten personal identity documents printed on paper with computerized ones, but the Ministry of Interior has reportedly been stalling on issuing them for Bahais.

While under the system involving paper documents the religious affiliation field on birth certificates and ID cards could be left blank, a 2006 Supreme Administrative Court decision held that Bahais had to either list themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jew (the only religions recognized in Egypt) or be denied the official documents necessary for them to access state services such as education and healthcare.

The effect of the policy was to force Bahais to commit fraud by falsely listing a religious denomination in order to obtain the documents necessary for them to open bank accounts, apply for jobs and enroll in school.

The Administrative Court, which overturned this verdict in January, stated that even though Bahais do not belong to one of the three religions officially recognized by the state, they enjoy the right to refuse to identify themselves as one of these religions. It also said that members of the Bahai faith have the right to access state services.

The Interior Ministry, however, has been slow in implementing the court decision and producing identity cards with a blank religious affiliation field.

EIPR director Hossam Bahgat told Daily News Egypt in April that the Interior Ministry had asked for more time in order to prepare for the implementation of the decision.

According to a report published in Arabic-language daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, school officials claim that they cannot accept identity papers in which the religious affiliation field is left blank.

Ramadan says that the decision was taken in pursuance of the state’s policy of forcing people to issue the new computerized identity papers, but has the effect of discriminating against Bahais who either hold the old paper identity documents or have not been issued new documents following the Interior Ministry’s failure to implement the Administrative Court’s decision.

“In pursuing this policy the Education Ministry is in breach of the constitution,” Ramadan told Daily News Egypt.

“The ministry is obliged to accept what are valid, official documents produced by the Interior Ministry.

“The Interior Ministry itself must implement the Administrative Court ruling and issue identity papers with a blank religious affiliation field,” he continued.

This sad development must be seen by all Egyptians as a disgrace. Identity cards or not, these children belong in the schools, not the streets. How can a civil society tolerate such atrocities directed at innocent children? Unfortunately this is the exact same strategy that has been pursued in Iran against its children. Is this what Egypt--a nation endowed with so much great heritage--wants to be remembered for? One would certainly doubt that!


  1. So true. These children remind me of African American children in the 50's and 60's in the U.S. who had to face screaming mobs just to go to school. These Baha'i kids are little heroes as far as I'm concerned.

  2. Phillipe,
    You must have also known that the school children in Alabama, in the early 1960s, were behind one of the major organized acts that triggered the advent of the civil rights movement. There is a documentary film about that.

  3. The event you're referring to was in Birmingham Alabama where the BFD was under the command of Bull Connor...

    What was first a Peaceful Demonstration turned into a Police Free For All with the Fire Hoses and such...

    Birmingham has been trying to recover from that negative Image for the past 45 years

    Now the South has mede great strides to reverse that negative Image since...

    The rest of the world including Iran and Egypt could learn from history that is if sober heads prevail there...

  4. Terry,
    Even though segregation is officially over, Birmingham--except for small pockets here and there--effectively remains a very segregated city. Montgomery is even worse. The only obvious difference between now and then is the absence of segregated water fountains and public facilities. Birmingham's mayor is African American though--as to the affluent suburbs, it is another story! It takes a long time for the hearts to change....

  5. These events are indeed a reminder of what happened in Alabama in the 50s and 60s. In the 50s black students were refused entry to an all white school. The ensuing courageous law suit pushed the courts to end segregation. James Armstrong was one of the fathers outraged by the state refusal to have his two boys Dwight and Floyd accepted at that school. Armstrong vs. Birmingham Board of Education became a land mark case (even though it took many more years for the schools to be fully integrated)
    At the Birmingham Civil Right Institute, it is painful to look at the pictures of these two boys accompanied by their father and the Reverend Shuttlesworth, being taunted by an all white crowd. But turn around and right next to you stands a gentleman in an impeccably tailored suit with a docent badge and a great smile, yes it is Mr. Armstrong and he is always eager to talk to you about these troubled times. He declares if they did not happened, we would not be where we are now in Birmingham, in his words: “I was in church today thanking the Lord for Bull Connor and Governor Wallace, because if they hadn’t done what they did, maybe we wouldn’t have done what we did,” He adds that things are 100% better in Birmingham.
    Yes racism is still present in the city but at least it is not condoned by the law anymore, it does take time to change people’s heart but people are forced to think about their reasons for being intolerant and both blacks and whites are better off for it. It will take time for Baha’i children to integrate into the schools but eventually it is inevitable.

  6. Anonymous,
    You are quite correct that things are much better than what they used to be, but there are still public schools in the Birmingham area where black students are virtually absent, and others where white students are virtually absent. And there are areas in Birmingham where a black man driving through at night can be still stopped by the police.

    There is still a long way to go--we cannot rest on our laurels and celebrate yet! Genuine change comes from the heart and at times takes generations to happen.

    Prejudice can be hidden by symbolic acts, but true absence of prejudice can only be manifested through true acts of the individual, such as intermarriage, etc....

  7. Oh I agree Bilo ...

    I did not want to gloss over the continuing discrimination that African-Americans still face in the south I did live in a Birmingham Suburb for 3 years and did notice the dearth of African American Students in the neighborhoods and community schools... And that is sad...

    Furthermore I live in a Suburb north of Indianapolis and see similar patterns here... the only difference up here is that the winters are colder and the cast of characters have different names...

  8. To a varying degree, it is sure widespread. Some places are more obvious than others. BTW, blacks are also marginalized in Egypt. There is obsession in Egypt about the depth of your skin coloration. The lighter you are the more accepted you become. We don't seem to realize that it is only "skin deep." This is really getting into a taboo zone in Egypt--people just don't talk about that!

  9. Bilo,

    FIrst, a "Thank you" for your superb blog, where your commentary is always insightful, gentle and balanced.

    Regarding segregation, in the US or elsewhere, it is often a result of populations segregating themselves. For example, in Boston "Busing" was instituted in the 1970's to bring white students from a predominantly white section of the city to predominantly black schools; and black students to all-white schools. While that seems reasonable on the surface, the result meant an enormous strain on school finances, hours of the student's day spent in transit, dismembering of the community - as students no longer spent time with the children next door, etc.. The result was that for years there was an outcry to allow students to attend their neighborhood schools, despite a color inbalance.

    Forced dislocation to promote fairness and opportunity has never worked -- e.g., the forced confinement of aboriginal children in schools far from their families as occurred in the US, Canada, and Australia.

    As in Egypt, a government can remove structural roadblocks to opportunity, but this does not in itself create unity -- that requires a spiritual transformation. And ghettoization is not always negative. Often it is a natural attempt to create a familiar, safe, "tribal" environment.

  10. Reed,
    Thank you for bringing this up. As you suggested, transformation will need to begin at the level of the individual. Laws will also need to remove barriers to integration...e.g. the end of Apartheid.

    Looking into the future, what would it take to see a truly integrated neighborhood? It would be interesting to have some views on this! There are examples of such, and on the surface it appears that economical equity is an essential element in leading to integration, provided that the laws facilitate such process.

  11. I believe integration means that people can settle wherever they want, their children can attend the school of their choice, they are free of prejudice in the workplace, free to practice their religion etc...
    It does not mean that they have to live among people they have no affinity for. Many people feel more at ease with persons of their own race with whom they share a culture just like most of us are comfortable with people who share our religious beliefs. However having an open mind and being tolerant of other people’s ideas will always enrich one’s life and information about other people’s culture and religion should be taught at an early age, so prejudice cannot flourish out of ignorance.

  12. Anonymous,
    Well put! This raises another long-thought-of question...that is the difference between societies that are a melting pot and the ones that are a salad.

    The other point in this: is being "tolerant" enough? I think that there is need to go beyond that in order to suppress prejudice.


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