Seeking Justice



Obscuring the Issue

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!

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Comments

  1. * bilo says:

    Thank you for pointing out this very critical statement in the Supreme Court’s decision. Since they copied old decisions, one wonders if they, in fact were aware of this particular statement being part of their 16 December ruling! Regradless of this, the statement is here to stay…. It clearly flies in the face of their unjustified ruling.

    “Ironically, one of the best statements regarding the personal nature of religious belief, demonstrating its irrelevance to the issuance of national identifaction 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.”

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  2. * نسرين says:

    You posted: “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.”

    To demonstrate that their purpose is not to force the government to recognize the Baha’i Faith, as being claimed by some, the Egyptian Baha’is are currently asking the court to allow them to put “dash” under the category of religion instead of the original request in some cases to write “Bahá’í”.

    This action demonstrates further that the intention of the Egyptian Baha’is is to obey the law and secure an ID card without being forced to lie and choose a religion that they are not followers of (Currently they can only choose Islam, Christianity, Judaism).

    We hope that this modest request will be accepted and solve the immediate problem of the Egyptian Baha’is.

    Nesreen

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  3. * Edo River says:

    The working out of the psychological and political issues for Egyptian society will take some time. I think the publicity outside of Egypt will benefit other more internationally sensitive institutions and states than affect the domestic situation. The basic political fact is that the Bahais and their direct supporters are just too small to count yet inside in the political situation game. Numbers count (except for terrorists). They know the Bahais will not harm anyone.

    So I think the Divine Will is such that the situation will become a usable vehicle for casting light on other places’(non-Egyptian) regard for basic human rights.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  4. * truthseekers9 says:

    Dear Bilo,
    Thanks for your comment. It is indeed quite a remarkable statement in the opinion. I wonder if it comes in part from sensitivity to international opinion.

    Dear Nasreen,
    Thank you for the important additional information. Requesting to place a “dash” under the category of religion certainly seems like a very modest and reasonable request. One would be hard pressed to come up with a reason that this would not be permissible!

    Dear Edo River,
    Thanks for your comment. It seems like perhaps there is an organic relationship between the sentiment within and outside of Egypt. Many courageous voices supporting the effort of Baha’is to obtain identification cards have been raised within Egypt, and this has garnered international attention. The international attention, in turn, no doubt has had and will continue to have an effect on the dynamics in Egypt.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  5. * satantango says:

    Nesreen and truth seekers,

    I see where you guys are going with the argument that the issue was not to get the authorities to recognize bahai faith. The willingness of Bahahi’s to have a dash or even blank in the religion section should very well demonstrate that. But also I think this is the stance that the Bahai couple and their legal council took knowing that they must work from within the Egyptian law, which (supposedly) guarantees the freedom of religion and religious belief, but in practice it is colored by a rather bigoted interpretation of the second article.
    I see that and I support you guys, but I think we are giving too much to a flawed constitution. Maybe this is too much of an undertaking for Bahais, but HR activists should in addition ask for official recognition of the Bahai faith as a religion and nothing less. If the government agrees to have a dash in ID cards that might be a working solution but it still means that Bahais are second-grade citizens and that the law itself is not in fact neutral. This might solve many of the practical problems Bahais are having, but it would not make the Egyptian society a just one.
    Alternatively we may ask for a lack of official recognition of all religions, but that is certainly the longer road.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  6. * bilo says:

    A very thought provoking point. You are right, ultimately that must come, but the Baha’is now are simply trying to have their daily living, employment, schools, health care, etc….

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  7. * نسرين says:

    I agree that there is a major differences in implications between accepting a “dash” in place of religion, having the person’s religion mentioned, and having no place for religion on official documents. You clearly understood the purpose of the “dash”.

    Making the “Egyptian society a just one” is an organic process that depends on the collective effort (or lack of it) of the people that the society consists of. This process is also impacted by regional, and global forces. I believe that the Case of the Bahais in Egypt contributed to stimulating the process of creating a “just Egyptian society” and lead to the development of a unique partnership between the Egyptian Bahais, various religious groups in Egypt such as the Copts, HR organizations, grassroots bloggers, and a new generation of Egyptian activists. I believe this provided the Egyptian Bahais the opportunity to become actively and openly involved in the process of creating a “just Egyptian society”, which in my opinion is already set in motion.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  8. * Johanna says:

    It is not particularly surprising that the legal reasoning in the ruling mainly deals with the question of recognition of the Baha’i community. This is due to the reason that all the relevant parts of the Dec 16 ruling were copied from the Supreme Court’s verdict of 1975 in which it declared Law No. 265/1960 constitutional. Law No. 265/1960 was the law that dissolved the Baha’i communities in Egypt; thus, the 1975 verdict did indeed deal with the question of recognition of the Baha’i faith.

    The part that you found remarkable (“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.”) is also copied from the 1975 ruling, and if you follow the Supreme Court’s logic, there’s nothing remarkable about it. It is essentially supposed to mean that every person is entitled to believe whatever he or she wishes to believe because nobody can know about a person’s internal belief system anyway, and the state has no power to influence it. As soon as a person starts voicing his or her beliefs or acting on them, this is a different matter and becomes subject to “public order”. This is an extremely restrictive interpretation of the concept of freedom of religion. If you follow the court’s interpretation (which I don’t), there’s nothing liberal about it, on the contrary.

    Even the dash would be a major step in the right direction, considering the current situation in Egypt. I wish you the best of luck with it!

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  9. * truthseekers9 says:

    Dear Johanna,

    Thank you for your insightful comment and for the important historical context of the language in the opinion.

    It’s interesting to consider the demarcation you describe made by the court between personal/private religious belief and the public practice of one’s religion. Again the court’s analysis totally misses the issue that was actually before it–whether citizens of Egypt, who happen to be Baha’is, can comply with the law and obtain required identification cards entitling them to basic civil rights.

    One question that your comment triggered for me was why the court chose to copy wholesale so much of the Supreme Court’s 1975 ruling?

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  10. * Johanna says:

    I do not know why the Court chose to copy so much of the Supreme Court’s 1975 ruling, but my guess is: laziness. It was a political verdict; they probably knew what the outcome should be like anyway, so why go to the trouble of formulating proper legal arguments (which would have been really difficult considering the case at hand) and researching facts when they could just as well take some old text concerning a vaguely similar issue? Of course, if they had gone looking for a *really* similar issue, they would have stumbled upon the Administrative Court’s verdict of 1983 – but that one actually decreed that Baha’is should have the right of entering their religion in ID cards, so obviously they couldn’t use it.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  11. * truthseekers9 says:

    Dear Johanna,

    Thank you for the further insights. Do you know where one could find an English language version of the Administrative Court’s verdict of 1983 that you referred to? It would be interesting to study the Court’s analysis and reasoning.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago
  12. * Johanna says:

    I don’t think there is an English translation of that verdict, unless the Baha’i community has produced one. I’ve got the Arabic version, and I’ve discussed it at length in my doctoral dissertation which was in German. If you are interested in the research I’ve done on the legal status of Egyptian Baha’is and previous court verdicts, I’ve published an English-language article a few years ago: “A Post-Qur’anic Religion Between Apostasy and Public Order: Egyptian Muftis and Courts on the Legal Status of the Baha’i Faith”, in: Islamic Law and Society 10,3 (2003), pp. 409-434.

    In brief: The case was about a student who was enrolled at the Faculty of Education, University of Alexandria. He needed to submit an ID card in order to be registered for the next term (this was required from all male students in order to prove that they weren’t trying to evade their military service). As he insisted on registering as “Baha’i”, he did not obtain an ID card and was consequently expelled from university. His father went to court on his behalf, and the Supreme Administrative Court in the State Council (the same court that issued the Dec 16 verdict) finally ruled that the government’s refusal to issue an ID card in which the religious affiliation was stated as Baha’i was not legal. In the court’s opinion, the state had an interest in knowing about the true religious affiliation of its citizens, whether they belong to a recognised religion or not. According to the court, there was no official recognition involved in this, just a reflection of facts. Besides, the court argued that in every Muslim society there had been members of non-recognised religions, be they Hindus, Druze or whatever.
    The ruling did not turn out in favor of the Baha’i student, however, as the court ruled that his expulsion from university had been legal nevertheless, the reason being that a Baha’i could not be permitted to become a teacher and teach Egyptian children.

    | Reply Posted 6 years, 11 months ago


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