As described in detail on the blog The Baha’i Faith in Egypt, the Egyptian government is proceeding with granting Egyptian Baha’is identification cards in an orderly manner. This positive development follows the January 29, 2008 ruling of Cairo’s Court of Administrative Justice allowing Baha’is to obtain ID cards with dashes in the religion field, and the March 16, 2009 final ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt denying an appeal of the January 2008 ruling and upholding the right of Baha’is to obtain identification documents.
These developments reflect the promotion of justice and tolerance by both the Egyptian judiciary and the executive arm of the Egyptian government responsible for enforcing the court decisions and issuing the cards, and indicate that Egypt is on a path to treating its citizens with dignity and respect and allowing them to contribute on equal footing to the advancement of Egyptian civilization.
As was noted on The Baha’i Faith in Egypt, the cases before Cairo’s Court of Administrative Justice involving twin children Emad and Nancy’s request to obtain birth certificates and a student who needs an ID card to re-enroll in university, were postponed yet again on December 25. The sole reason these individuals are not able to obtain these critical government documents is because they adhere to the Baha’i Faith. This constitutes the fifth postponement of the final determination of these cases, which seek to obtain official documents for these Egyptians, irrespective of their religious belief. The court stated that it was postponing its ruling until January 22, 2008.
The case of Emad and Nancy, the Egyptian twins who have been denied birth certificates due to their religious beliefs, has been postponed yet again. A detailed account of the court proceeding can be found here. It is growing increasingly apparant that one of the tactics being utilized by the Egyptian judiciary to perpetuate this injustice is that of delay. What reason could justify the continual postponement of the determination of the rights of these children? There are no new factual issues arising, no new legal developments affecting the court’s deliberations. The fact is that every day that the decision is delayed is a day that these chilren continue to be denied access to public school due to their lack of birth certificates.
The Egyptian court would do well to review Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, which states:
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
This, taken in conjuction with Article 18 of the Egyptian Constitution, which provides that “education is a right guaranteed by the state” leads one to the inevitable conclusion that these children are entitled to an effective remedy by the Egyptian court. These continued delays are an affront not only to the children involved, but also to the dignity of the Egyptian judiciary. Let us hope that the court will rise to the level of performing the function of a competent national tribunal.
As covered extensively on the blog, Baha’i Faith in Egypt, on July 3, the Administrative Court of Egypt will hold a hearing on the ability of two Egyptian Baha’i children, Emad and Nancy, to obtain birth certificates. To date, these children, who are 14-year-old twin siblings, have not been able to obtain birth certificates solely because of their family’s religious affiliation; without birth certificates, they are unable to attend public schools.
Several legal principles are at issue here. At the international level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, states in Article 15 that “everyone has a right to a nationality.” Moreover, Article 2 provides that this right is guaranteed irrespective of one’s religious belief. The denial of birth certificates to these children, solely on the basis of their family’s religious affiliation, effectively denies them of their Egyptian citizenship and nationality, and the rights that accompany it, all in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
One of the internationally-recognized human rights that these children are being denied because they cannot obtain birth certificates is the right of access to public education. More specifically, Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that “everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” Without their birth certificates, Emad and Nancy are unable to attend public school, thus depriving them of a right that is clearly guaranteed to them through Egypt’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The enlightened principles regarding education contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are directly echoed in Egypt’s own Constitution, Article 18 of which states: “Education is a right guaranteed by the State.” More generally, Egypt’s Constitutional Proclamation states:
The dignity of every individual is a natural reflection of the dignity of his nation, for each individual is a cornerstone in the edifice of the homeland. This homeland derives its strength and prestige from the value of each individual, his activity and dignity.
Emad and Nancy were born and raised in Egypt. Their parents and grandparents are Egyptian. What clearer example of a cornerstone of the edifice of the homeland could there be? What effect might the erosion of this cornerstone, through the denial of access to basic rights of citizenship, including education, have on the development and ultimate dignity, strength, and prestige of Egyptian society? Let us hope that the Egyptian Court rectifies this injustice on July 3.
In May of 2007, the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly passed a resolution expressing serious concern regarding the denial of basic human rights to religious minorities in Egypt. In a letter to the Ambassador of Egypt to the UN, the president of the Graduate Assembly, Mr. Joshua R. Daniels, writing on behalf of the graduate students, expressed its hope that “the government of Egypt, a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will afford all its citizenry the basic civil rights all people deserve, including the right to education, irrespective of religion.” The text of the letter is included below:
Dear Mr. Ambassador:
I write to inform you that the Graduate Assembly at the University of California, Berkeley recently passed a resolution expressing its deep concern regarding the situation facing religious minorities in Egypt.
It has come to our attention that religious minorities in Egypt, due to their inability to obtain state ID cards, are denied access to rights of basic citizenship, including the right to education. Since Egypt requires all citizens to list their religious affiliation on state ID cards only offers three officially recognized religions—Islam, Christianity or Judaism—as options, members of religious minorities, including members of the Bahá’í community, are effectively forced to go without ID cards. These ID cards are the key to accessing most rights of citizenship such as education.
The Graduate Assembly, in support of all graduate students in Egypt, extends its hopes that the government of Egypt, a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will afford all its citizenry the basic civil rights all people deserve, including the right to education, irrespective of religion.
Joshua R. Daniels, President of the Graduate Assembly
In the December 16, 2006 decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt, the issue of respecting public order and morals was raised as a rationale for the denial of the right of religious minorities, such as the Baha’is, to obtain civil ID cards. In reviewing the court case, many fair-minded observers, including dear readers of this blog, noted that the issue of public order was in no way connected with the central legal question at the heart of the case: whether all Egyptians were entiled to obtian ID cards.
Several questions can be raised about a public order rationale as a basis for denying a certain group of individuals the right to obtain a civil ID card. First, are not public order and morals furthered when all citizens are duly registered with the state?
Second, though the issue of public order and morals was irrelevant to the central issue of the case, nevertheless, on investigation of the teachings and practices of the Baha’i community related to public order and moral life, one finds that a fundamental principle of Baha’i membership is that one be obedient to one’s government, that one not take part in partisan politics, or seek to stir disorder in society. From the inception of the Baha’i Faith, obedience to just government has been a primary principle of belief. As described in the Baha’i writings:
“According to the direct and sacred command of God…[Baha'is] must obey and be the well wishers of the government of the land, regard disloyalty unto a just king as disloyalty to God Himself and wishing evil to the goverment a transgression of the Cause of God.”
Furthermore, the exercise of a moral life in the Baha’i Faith is regarded as a “spiritual prerequisite” of all activity. According to the Baha’i writings “these requirements are none other than a high sense of moral rectitude in their social and administrative activities, absolute chastity in their individual lives, and complete freedom from prejudice in their dealings with peoples of a different race, class, creed, or color.”
Certainly such teachings, which are common to the pure precepts of all religions, are not contrary to public order and morals. Would not equal entitlement to the rights of Egyptian citizenship, including to those who are the adherents of such principles, further the aim of establishing public order and morality?
Previous posts on this blog, examining the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt to deny the Baha’is of Egypt access to identification cards, have focused on how this action is a gross violation of Egypt’s obligations under international declarations and covenants to which it is a signatory, and how the reasoning of the Court totally obscured the actual issue that was before it. In addition, the Court’s decision is incompatible with the lofty principles enunciated in Egypt’s own Constitution, the seminal legal document upon which the laws of Egypt are founded and to which the Court’s legal analysis is bound.
The Egyptian Constitution begins with a Constitutional Proclamation, setting forth the principles upon which the rest of the Constitution is based. In the Constitutional Proclamation, we find the following:
We, the Egyptian people, in the name of God and with His assistance pledge to indefinitely and unconditionally exert every effort to realise:
Peace to our world:
Being determined that peace can only be based on justice and that political and social progress of all peoples can only be realized through the freedom and independent will of these peoples, and that any civilization is not worthy of its name unless it is free from exploitation whatever its form. (emphasis added)
These words provide much food for thought concerning the decision of the Court to deny the Baha’is of Egypt access to national identification cards–preventing them from gaining access to health care, employment, and education, among other basic civil rights–solely on the basis of their religious belief. The proclamation asserts that “social progress of all peoples can only be realized through the freedom and independent will of these peoples.” Where is the freedom and independent will in forcing citizens of Egypt to identify themselves as members of one of only three religions–Christianity, Judaism, or Islam–in order to obtain identification cards? What effect might this have on the “social progress of all peoples?”
Moreover, consider the statement that “any civilization is not worthy of its name unless it is free from exploitation whatever its form.” Exploitation is commonly defined as using someone else unfairly to your own advantage, but, as the Proclamation states, it can take many forms, all of which are pernicious. One example of the exploitation that the Baha’is of Egypt face, pointed out recently on Bilo’s blog, is that despite the fact that the Egyptian Baha’is are being denied access to basic civil rights on account of their religious belief, they are still required to pay taxes to the government of Egypt. As one commentator put it, the Egyptian Baha’is have been rendered faithless and stateless, and yet the government is still trying to wring a few last drops of pecuniary benefit out of them.
As the Proclamation rightly points out, to be worthy of classification as a civilization, the Egyptian government must rise to abolish this exploitation, which it could do with minimal effort, by allowing Egyptian Baha’is to place a “dash” in the religion field of their identication card paperwork. Thus would the actions of the Egyptian government be increasingly harmonized with the clear principles upon which its own Constitution is founded.
In addition to being a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Egypt is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Egypt signed the International Covenant on August 4, 1967 and ratified it on January 14, 1982. This noble document is premised on the notion that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This lofty statement places into broader context the nature and ramifications of the denial of a group of Egyptian citizens access to identification cards entitling them to basic civil rights solely on the basis of their adherence to the Baha’i Faith.
In unambiguous terms, Article 2 of the Covenant states that each signatory must safeguard the rights of all human beings in its territory:
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (emphasis added)
Among the rights recognized in the Covenant, is the following, contained in Article 18:
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.
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. (emphasis added)
Given that Egypt is a signatory to the Covenant containing these protections and guarantees, it is difficult to conceive of a basis on which the Egyptian government could justify a denial of the request of the Baha’is of Egypt to be able to include a “dash” in the religion section of their identification cards, in order to obtain the cards and the basic civil rights to which their holders are entitled.
One hopes that the Egyptian government will soon rise to meet its responsibility to recognize the inherent dignity of all of the citizens of Egypt, regardless of creed, under this glorious Covenant, and thereby play its part in building the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.
One of the fundamental flaws in the December 16, 2006 decision of the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt, which denied the Baha’is of Egypt access to national identification cards, is that it focused primarily on an issue that was not germane to the claim brought by the plaintiffs in the case–a Baha’i couple who had their identification cards and passports confiscated after they applied to have their daughters added to their passports. All that this family sought was to be issued identification cards, which entitle the holder to basic rights of citizenship, yet the court responded to their claim, often in an inflammatory manner, as if it were a quest for official recognition of the Baha’i Faith by the Egyptian government. As one astute observer from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies put it:
. . . the arguments [of the court] indicated that the interpretation of Article 46 of the 1971 Constitution on the freedom to practice religious rites applies only to the three divine religions, which is totally at odds with the case at hand. The [case at hand] was not totally concerned with the freedom to practice religious rites but was seeking an outlet to the predicament of the Egyptian Ministry of Interior’s denial to some members of the Baha’i faith the right to issue official documents.
As recognized by the ruling of the lower administrative court in this case and countless commentators, allowing citizens of Egypt to have their religious status properly stated on official documents does not require official recognition of the Baha’i Faith by the Egyptian government, nor does it relate to the practice of religious rites by Baha’is in Egypt. Moreover, alternatives have been suggested to the listing of “Baha’i” as a category on official documents, such as eliminating the religion category entirely or allowing for an “other” response in the religion section of the card.
Ironically, one of the best statements regarding the personal nature of religious belief, demonstrating its irrelevance to the issuance of national identification cards, comes from the Supreme Administrative Court’s own decision! In an earlier part of the December 16, 2006 opinion, the court held:
Every human being has the right to believe in the religion or belief that satisfies his conscience and pleases his soul. No authority has power over what he believes deep in his soul and conscience.
Surely when the spirit of these noble words is implemented, Egypt will have taken a giant step towards realising its glorious destiny!
The question contained in the title of this post–who is entitled to human rights in Egypt?– seems like it would have a simple answer. That all human beings should be entitled to human rights seems like it would be an axiomatic fact, particularly in a country that is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Yet, to read the December 16, 2006 opinion of the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt denying members of the Baha’i Faith access to national identification cards, one would be hard pressed to avoid the conclusion that under current Egyptian law, a certain class of Egyptian citizens is not entitled to human rights.
In part of its decision, the Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt relied on a 1975 opinion of the Supreme Court of Egypt upholding a 1960 Presidential decree dissolving all Baha’i Assemblies and Centers in Egypt. It used this precedent as a basis for concluding that “despite [the Universal Declaration of Human Rights'] guarantee in Article 18 to give everyone the right to freedom of thought, expression and religion, ‘this latter right should be understood within the limits of what is recognized i.e. what is meant by religion is one of the three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.”
The assertion that somehow the freedom of religion provided for by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is limited only to three religious groups is in direct contradiction to the plain text of the Declaration itself. Specifically, Article 2 of the Declaration states
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (emphasis added)
The words of this Declaration provide a framework for a truly enlightened and advanced civilization, and the baselessness of limiting civil rights to the members of only three religions is clear. Will not Egypt, with such a glorious past, rise to demonstrate these noble, just, and universal principles, and permit members of the Baha’i Faith to obtain identification cards?