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Your Religion or Your Nation?
The Bahais' Difficult Choice in Egypt


26/12/2005

Because we are Bahais:

"We are citizens with no identity. Because we have not been granted identification cards:

- We cannot move securely in Egypt, our dear nation.
- We cannot document our marital contracts.
- We cannot obtain birth certificates for our children. Obtaining death certificates has also become a problem.
- We cannot get passports.
- We cannot deal with banks.
- We cannot deal with traffic departments.
- We cannot put our children in schools and universities.
- Our sons cannot clear their position with regards to military conscription
- We cannot get medical care in hospitals.
- Our widows cannot get pensions.
- We cannot buy, sell or even own …

We the Bahais are committed to the law regardless of the fact that administrative authorities reject us and force us to deny our creed."


Part of a complaint from several Egyptian Bahais The complaint was sent to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRINFO) October 2005.


Introduction:

Many Egyptians probably don't know who the Bahais are. Their knowledge could be very limited and in many instances flawed. It may come from small newspapers or even the yellow press that has contributed to a large misunderstanding of the Bahais and their religion in Egypt.

Their thoughts and beliefs have been described as satanic by some. Others claim that the Bahais allow incestuous marriage and others still claim that the Bahais want to establish a Bahai political party in Egypt .

This faulty information increases and becomes more widespread due to governmental oppression and marginalisation of Bahais. Moreover, the Egyptian government has turned a blind eye to the distortion of the Bahais' image; a distortion which has occurred either due to lies or the fact that the Bahais, because of their religion, have been denied the civil and political rights enjoyed by all other Egyptians. The denial of their citizenship rights is in direct contradiction with the Egyptian constitution that stipulates the freedom of belief in articles 40 and 46, as well as article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which stipulates:

  1. " Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
  2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice."

    Background:

    The decision to not register any official documents for Bahais in Egypt has led to difficulties in asserting their exact number. However, estimations point to no more than five thousand, spread out amongst several governorates in Egypt. Most of them live without any official documents because they are asked to choose from Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, the three recognized religions in Egypt. Because some followers of the Bahai religion hold strongly on to their faith, they have refused to be registered under any religion other than their own.

    Although they have agreed be registered as 'other' in terms of their religion, the tyrannical government has given them the choice of either being registered as belonging to one of the three aforementioned religions or not receiving any documents at all.

    Since the mid- 19th century the Bahais co-existed with followers of other religions in Egypt until the early 1960s when presidential decree number 263/1960 was passed stipulating the closure of all Bahai centers and assemblies. This decree followed a criminal case in which some individuals of the Bahai religion were accused of proselytizing in Egypt. The decree did not affect Bahai citizens but hatred campaigns against the Bahais started and their image was severely distorted.

    Bahais in Egypt:
    Examples of violations:


    In the 1980s, the civil registration department stopped issuing IDs to Bahais. The Bahais appealed to the Higher Administrative Court, which passed a sentence on 29 January 1983. The sentence stipulated the following:

    The civil registration department's refusal to issue IDs to Bahais is in violation with the law. The civil registration department is to issue IDs for Bahais and should state their religion on the ID.

    Most offices did not implement this sentence and continued to issue IDs to Bahais marking the religious section as : "--------------". The Bahais were satisfied with this solution fearing that if they refused this, state authorities would reject them altogether. The state security investigation bureau in Cairo arrested a number of Bahais in early February 1980. Amongst them was the artist, Hussein Bikar, acquitted by the court due his old age despite having confessed to being a Bahai and clearly stating that it to be an independent religion just like any other religion. Although the Bahais have not been implicated in any other cases to date, distortion of their image has continued to occur in the media. Moreover, they continue to deal with problems with official authorities.

    The stance taken by the various offices affiliated to the civil registration department in Egypt varied from one office to the other. Some refused to implement the court order and write "Bahai" under the heading of 'religion' on birth certificates whereas some complied with the order and wrote "Bahai." In 2004 decree number 46 was issued limiting religions to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This deprived the Bahais from having their religion stated, leaving the section empty or being registered as 'other.'

    Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy:

    In December 2003, the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy issued a fatwa (legal opinion) declaring that Islam does not recognize any religion other than those that the Holy Quran has asked to be respected. Therefore, there should not be any other religion in Egypt but Islam, Christianity, and Judaism because any other religion is considered illegitimate and deviating from the general norm. The fatwa specified the Bahai religion, stating that the Bahai creed and its likes are intellectual epidemics that should be fought and eliminated by the state.

    Besides clearly opposing followers of different creeds, the fatwa ignored that the Bahai religion obtains its legitimacy from followers of the faith and not from the acceptance of religious scholars of a different religion. The fatwa was issued by the same authority that is known for passing fatwas against freedom of expression as well as banning several books.

    Moreover, the fatwa did not mention its stance towards Bahais from other countries who recognize the religion. Are they to be expelled from Egypt because they are Bahai?

    What about children who are born to Bahai mothers and fathers? What about what has been stipulated in the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC) whose article 14 stipulates:

    1. " States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
    2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.
    3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."

      What about the generations raised in Egypt who adopted the Bahai religion since its founding in Egypt over 150 years ago? Do we ask them to deny their faith simply because certain Sheikhs do not recognize it as an independent religion?

      These questions have not been answered by the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy, which considers Bahais as apostates. This raises doubts over the Academy's respect of other faiths and religions in Egypt.

      The National Council for Human Rights: Standing in the Middle of the Road

      The NCHR's second year, since having been established, is about to terminate without having limited the widespread human rights violations that occur in Egypt.

      Some Bahai citizens have stated that they have met with Ambassador Mokhles Kotb, the NCHR's secretary general, demanding their right to obtain official documents that either state their religion or that leave the religion section empty. These meetings were disappointing as the NCHR, in keeping with its habit, continued to stand in the middle of the road. Although it admitted that there is a violation and acknowledged the Bahais' demand it refused to take any positive steps or at least send a recommendation to the civil registrar. The NCHR representative personally intervened simply to issue them with passports and did not tackle the matter of birth certificates and IDs giving them the "take it or leave it" option.

      It may be acceptable that an authority like the Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy - a conservative authority famous for its violation of the freedom of thought, expression and belief - would issue a fatwa such as that stated above. It may also be acceptable that the civil registration department refuse to recognize the right of the Bahais to state their religion in official documents because it is a governmental authority that implements administrative decisions. However, it is simply unacceptable for the NCHR, an authority that should be defending human rights, to contribute to the consolidation of this violation. This behavior comes to confirm the suspicions surrounding the establishment of the NCHR as a governmental authority aiming at covering up human rights violations.

      Your religion or your nation?

      This is a difficult choice but it is a choice imposed on the Egyptian Bahais. They have to choose between their right to enjoy citizenship and their right to their religion. If you remain a Bahai you are deprived of your right to official documents and thus deprived of all other rights that you may hold as an Egyptian national.

      By renouncing your religion and stating your adoption of Islam, Christianity or Judaism, you can obtain official documents to prove your birth, nationality and identity.

      The fundamental principle in a constitutional civil state is that a citizenship state should be founded on equality between all citizens in both rights and duties and ban discrimination based on gender, color and faith. The violation upon the Bahais, simply because of their faith, goes against all principles of a civil state, limiting citizenship rights.

      Recommendations:

      The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRINFO) calls for the respect of all religions and creeds and states that all Egyptians should enjoy their citizenship rights with no discrimination based on color, religion, sex or ethnicity, recommends:

      The Egyptian government:

      1. To respect its religious impartiality by passing laws that consolidate the freedom of belief as stated in the Egyptian constitution and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, thus confirm the right of all Egyptians to maintain their religious identity. For this purpose, the Egyptian government should eliminate all laws or decrees that are in clear contradiction with this basic right.
      2. To cancel the religion sections in official documents and guarantee all rights for all creeds and religions. It should take the initiative to cancel the decree of banning the issuing of official documents to Bahais and guarantee their right to obtain official documents until the religion section is eliminated completely.

        The Al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy:

        1. To stop issuing fatwas against various creeds or religions, which may result in hatred and rejection of the other.

        -------------------------------------
        Al-Midan Newspaper, 17 November 2005, pp. 5
        Al-Khamis Newspaper, 17 November 2004, pp. 7
        Article 40 of the Egyptian Constitution: All citizens are equal before the law.
        They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.
        Article 46 of the Egyptian Constitution: The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practice of religious rites.
        The Fatwa is published on Islam online in Arabic. Please visit: http://www.islamonline.net/Arabic/news/2003-12/15/ARTICLE15A.SHTML
        Visited on: 14 October 2005

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