Situation of the Baha'i minority in Egypt
In April last year, an Egyptian Administrative Court adopted a landmark ruling in favour of Baha'i plaintiffs, upholding their right to obtain identity cards that did not misrepresent their religious affiliation. It ordered the Civil Registry to issue new documents that properly identified them as Baha'is, citing precedents and Islamic jurisprudence that allow for the right of non-Muslims to live in Muslim lands “without any of them being forced to change what they believe in.”
This court ruling was part of an ongoing crisis over efforts to deny identity cards to the Baha'i minority in Egypt. The ID cards are required by law and essential for access to employment, education, medical and financial services, as well as freedom of movement and security of property. An Egyptian citizen cannot lead a normal life without one, so it follows that to receive an official ID card is the civil right of all citizens.
The landmark ruling last year was a tribute to the independence of the judges on that Administrative Court, and Egyptian human rights groups immediately hailed the decision. But ultimately it did not lead to the issue being resolved. Conservative Islamic organizations – including scholars at Al Azhar and Muslim Brotherhood Parliamentarians – urged the government to file an appeal.
The government did appeal the ruling, and in December the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the government’s position in the case, once more denying Baha'is their legitimate rights. Its decision, however, focused on the theology of the Baha'i Faith instead of on the right of the Baha'i minority to be treated like other Egyptian citizens.
The Baha'i International Community welcomes the attention paid to this case. But it is important to remember that the central issue is not whether the Egyptian government (or any other government) is able or willing to recognize the Baha'i Faith as a religion. The point must be how members of the Baha'i minority, who are under the same obligation as all Egyptian citizens to obtain government-issued identity cards and other official documents, can do so without being falsely identified.
For Baha'is to declare their religion as something other than the Baha'i Faith is untruthful and unconscionable as a matter of principle. A declaration on the Egyptian application form also makes such misrepresentation an offence punishable by law. And yet officials of the government are forcing the Baha'is to declare that they are Muslim, Christian or Jewish, in other words that they must lie and thus commit a legally punishable act.
Several more cases are working their way through the courts, filed by other Baha'is whose rights of citizenship have been denied. Some are unable to obtain birth certificates for their children; some have been fired from their jobs, and others cannot complete their studies at university… all because they do not have the required identity cards. The Egyptian government cannot deny these rights to members of a minority who have demonstrated their obedience and good faith, simply because of their personal beliefs, and the burden is therefore on the government to find a solution.
Egyptian Baha'is are peaceful and law-abiding citizens. Our only request is that the government allow them to lead the same, normal, everyday life as any other citizen of their country.