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!