Thursday, July 24, 2008

Egypt's Ministry of Education is Put to Test

The recent statement of Egypt's Ministry of Education regarding the admission of Baha'i children to schools was put to test. An Arabic language blog named "Egyptian Baha'i" wrote about this recent development and expressed the rising degree of frustration caused by the inability of Baha'i parents to enroll their children in schools in Egypt.

As was posted recently here, the Ministry of Education had clearly expressed its position regarding this matter, that is, admission to schools will be based on citizenship alone, and that there will be no discrimination in the admission process based on religion. The Ministry went further by stating that it will accept children of Baha'is with (--) "dashes" in their documents.

The parents at the center of this controversy were unable to register their daughters to begin their formal education in a private elementary school because of their religious affiliation and the consequent administrative hurdles. They were referred to the Ministry of Education for an appeal. The Ministry, which had just publicized its position against discrimination, responded today with rejection of admission to the child. The reason given is that the child in question does not hold the newly issued computerized birth certificate, but rather presented them with the old "paper" birth certificate. None of the Baha'is were able to obtain the new computerized certificates (or ID cards) as had been mandated in the 29 January 2008 court verdict that allowed them to insert (--) dashes instead of their religious identification.

The handwritten response of the Ministry to the parent (in Arabic) is attached with this post. Its translation reads:
Governorate of Cairo
New Cairo Education Administration

Elementary Education

In response to the request presented by the [student's] guardian, Wassim Kamal El-Deen Nosseir regarding the admission of his daughter, Hana Wassim, using a paper birth certificate. The paper birth certificate cannot be accepted and will not be used for that purpose. A computer birth certificate must be presented instead. The signature of the Director-General is taken [as a confirmation] to reject the student's paper birth certificate.

Mona Abd El-Aziz Abd El-Hafez
Director of Elementary Education
[official stamp]

Based on this new development, the Ministry of Education has already abandoned its declaration of not discriminating based on religion. The Ministry has clearly stated that the only condition is "Egyptian citizenship." It did not make any mention of what kind of proof of identity is required, i.e. paper, computerized or any other form. The parents of this child submitted a proof of citizenship: an Egyptian birth certificate. Now the Ministry returns with rejection of this proof and requires that the certificate must be computerized. The Ministry knows very well that none of the Baha'is were able to obtain any of the newly-issued computerized documents, even though the court had ordered the Ministry of Interior to issue them such documents. The Ministry of Interior did not appeal the court's verdict, but has been slow to implement the ruling. Actually, so far, it did not issue any documents to any of the Baha'is of Egypt (including the individual litigants).

This current crisis requires immediate attention by Egypt's senior leadership. Depriving helpless children of their right to education can be seen as, yet another, serious violation of standard international human rights. This matter is now in the public eye...the facts are clear, and it cannot be ignored. There is no other choice but to issue the Baha'is of Egypt their identity documents. In the interim, the schools and other agencies must accept whatever documents these citizens currently hold.


  1. The use of intimidating tactics in order to refuse people they due rights is not new. During the civil rights movement in the U.S., when a black person would try to register for voting, (s)he would often be asked if (s)he knew how to write or if (s)he could answer some obscure questions, and often (s)he would be turned away if (s)he failed. It was a shameful tactic and an obvious power trip from people in authority.
    In the present case, the attitude of the Ministry of Education is not any different. The catch 22 situation is a cop-out for the authority not to face their obligations.
    It is easy to hide behind the assumption that the general opinion thinks little of the Baha’is. It might be true at this time, but political (and religious) correctness is fickle and the authorities will eventually find themselves hanging onto an untenable position.
    Moreover, history is not kind to cowards. Eventually religious freedom will prevail in Egypt, and the people who are now behaving so smugly might not want to see their names in print in the media associated with such a revolting behavior toward children. Ordinary people’s deeds are forgotten, having authority puts you at risk of having your opinions and behaviors not as easily forgiven.

  2. It should be also known that this private Cairo school is accredited by the University of Cambridge and edexcel International Services.

    The actions of the Ministry linked to the school's refusal of admission should be brought to the attention of the accrediting institutions. It would be very doubtful that either Cambridge or Edexcel could ever endorse such policies under their watchful eyes. They would surely be outraged at such acts.

    The course of action for these institutions is to--after their investigation, and if the violations of non-discrimination policies were to be confirmed by them--immediately withdraw their accreditation of this school.

  3. I am sorry to say I am not surprised by this development, as I saw the loop hole in the statement by the Ministery of Education as soon as I read it. I didn't want to say anything with the hope that it wasn't intentional, but it seems it was so.

    Untit the Government adheres to the court order to issue ID cards to Baha'is with dashes in the space for religon there will be little progress in granting them theirs rights.


  4. The school, which is a private one, could have easily accepted the documents without referring the parents to the Ministry of Education for a decision. This, however, still would not have addressed the real problem. There are many other parents who can't afford private schools. Home schooling is not sanctioned in Egypt either. Thus, Egyptian children of Baha'i families are stuck! No rights to education...they are also deprived of vaccination and public health care. Schools cannot accept students who have not been vaccinated. Even if vaccination were to be done privately, it cannot by acknowledged as official because the record of vaccination has to be documented in birth certificates by the Ministry of Health officials who are the only ones that can make such entries. No birth certificates = no record of vaccination.

    Kafka would have loved to write about this!

  5. I agree 100% because it would seem that if any institution of higher learning wants to be accepted as an accredited institution they must allow enrollment of anyone who meets the academic standards of the institution... It has been my experience the Bahá’ís I know exceed such standards with few exceptions....

    Also should the ministry continue with this egregious disregard for the rights of its Egyptian citizens all forms of cultural exchange between the civilized world and Egypt must be suspended immediately!!

  6. What would encourage others to investigate the message of Islam if the loudest voices of its adherents are displaying hatred, ignorance and dishonor? This is an insult to faithful Muslims and to those who understand the purpose of religion. To children who will grow up under such oppression, what chance would they be given to see Islam as it truly is, or are they considered unwilling enemies as well?

    Such actions can only meet with a course of rectification more severe than what the instigators have brought.


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