Seeking Justice

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the December 16, 2006 Court Decision category.

Respecting Public Order and Morals

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?


Egypt’s Constitutional Proclamation: Ideals to Strive For

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.

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!

Who is Entitled To Human Rights in Egypt?

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?