Seeking Justice

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Egypt category.

Positive Developments in Egypt

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.


Promoting Freedom, Justice, and Peace

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.

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!