The Situation of the Bahá'í Community of Egypt

UPDATE – May 2007
Religious identity and the Bahá'í community of Egypt


Recent court rulings in Egypt have highlighted the dire human rights situation facing the Bahá'í community there. The rulings in turn have touched off a significant debate between human rights organizations and major Islamic groups about freedom of religion and belief.

Deprived of all rights as an organized religious community since 1960, Egyptian Bahá'ís are facing an immediate crisis over government efforts to deny them all-important identification cards. The ID cards are required by law and are essential for access to employment, education, and medical and financial services, as well as freedom of movement and security of property.
(View August 2005 Report by the Bahá'í International Community)

At the heart of the current situation is a government policy that forces Bahá'ís to either lie about their religion and illegally falsify their religious affiliation—or go without ID cards, which currently require that a person choose either Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, which are the three officially recognized religions in Egypt.

The crisis facing the Bahá'í community gained international attention after a 4 April 2006 ruling by a three-judge Administrative Court which held that Government efforts to deprive Bahá'ís of ID cards were illegal, and upheld the right of the Bahá'í plaintiffs to state their religion on official documents.
(View Court Ruling: English | Arabic)

While Egyptian human rights groups immediately hailed the decision, conservative Islamic organizations—including scholars at Al Azhar University and representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood—urged the government to file an appeal. Media attention on the case has been intense, and more than 400 articles, stories, commentaries and programs have appeared in the Egyptian and Arabic news media about the case or its fallout since the initial ruling.

On 16 December, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the government’s position in the case, issuing an 11-page ruling that focused largely on the theology of the Bahá'í Faith rather than on legal issues surrounding the rights of Bahá'ís to be treated like other Egyptians citizens under international law.
(View the Supreme Administrative Court Ruling: Arabic | English)

The controversy promises to continue unabated, despite the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling. A number of groups, inside and outside of Egypt, have continued to raise questions about the situation of Egyptian Bahá'ís. In March, for example, the US State Department released its annual human rights report, and the section on Egypt noted that members of the Bahá'í Faith have "experienced personal and collective hardship" in the absence of religious freedom for them.

As well, several other legal cases concerning ID cards for Bahá'ís are working their way through Egypt’s administrative court system. One such case, for example, concerns a twin brother and sister who have been denied birth certificates, necessary for enrollment in school, because their parents refuse to falsely identify them as Muslims. Lawyers working on their behalf have asked the courts for a ruling that would allow them merely to leave the religious affiliation field blank, or to adopt some similar measure. The next hearing on that case has been set for 3 July 2007.

Here follows a chronology of events since last April, when the ground-breaking ruling by the administrative court brought widespread attention to the situation of Egyptian Bahá'ís and their struggle for religious freedom.

Chronology, April – December 2006:

The Bahá'ís’ point of view

The discussion about the rights of Bahá'ís and the nature of freedom of religion or belief in Egyptian society is welcome, but it is important to keep in mind that the debate is not and should not be about Bahá'í theology or belief—it is about the right for Bahá'ís to hold their beliefs and still be allowed all of the rights that other Egyptian citizens are given.

The Administrative Court’s April ruling clearly indicated that the law requires the mention of the one’s religion in identity documents, even if the religion is one that is not recognized: “It is not inconsistent with Islamic tenets to mention the religion on this card even though it may be a religion whose rites are not recognized for open practice,” as is the case with the Bahá'í Faith in Egypt.

The Administrative Court’s judgment is essentially correct: since Egyptian law requires that identity cards, which are the key to access to virtually all services in Egyptian society, state religious identification, it would be unfair to force Bahá'ís to identify themselves as Muslims, Christians, or Jews—which is the current government policy.

The application form that must be filled out to receive government-mandated identification cards includes a requirement that the applicant sign a “Declaration by Applicant and Employer” section, wherein the applicant declares “that all details in this application are correct and real; I accept responsibility for consequences, with full knowledge that providing any incorrect information in this application is considered forgery of official documents and is legally publishable according to the articles of the penal code.”

The declaration on the application form makes the providing of false information an offense punishable by law. Yet, Bahá’ís are being told to by officials of the Egyptian government that they must declare themselves to be either Muslim, Christian or Jew. Most importantly for a Bahá’í, the declaration of his or her religion as being another is unconscionable as a matter of principle; such a false statement is tantamount to the denial of one’s faith.

It would be enough for the Bahá'ís if they were simply allowed to leave the religious identification section blank. But since the government insists on religious identification, it becomes a matter of religious principle for Bahá'ís in Egypt to properly state their religion. The Bahá'í writings forbid lying and dissimulation of any sort.

For more information

Ms. Bani Dugal
Bahá'í International Community
United Nations Office
888 United Nations Plaza
Suite 120
New York City, New York,
USA 10017
Ms. Diane Ala’i
Bahá'í International Community
United Nations Office
Route des Morillons 15
Grand-Saconnex (Geneva)