CAIRO: After years of oppression, the Bahai community in Egypt struck gold a few weeks ago after a court decision was handed down granting them full citizenship rights in the country. However, last week saw the Egyptian government say that they were appealing the case.
“We were ecstatic about the case that allowed our community to be fully accepted Egyptians, says one Bahai man. “But now that the government is appealing the case. We are afraid that the repercussions could be disastrous for our people, especially if our names come out.
Bahais are often the victims of random arrests and are often held without reason for days at hand.
“I have been picked up by security forces because I don’t have a real identification card, a Bahai youth in his mid-twenties says. “They have taken me away and have even been violent, screaming at me ‘why don’t you have the proper documents’ . I tell them because I am Bahai and that makes them even more angry.
Bahais do not give their names to the media for fear of reprisal attacks, which makes their situation even more dangerous. They are not even allowed to register their children with the government. Only Judaism, Christianity and Islam are allowed religions in the nation, which makes it almost impossible to obtain birth certificates for their children.
“I had to go back for years before they issued a birth certificate for my children, the man tells The Daily Star Egypt. “They kept telling me to just write Muslim on the paper, but I refused because we are [not] Muslims.
The Bahai Faith is the most recent monotheistic religion. It originates from Iran and believes in the progressive revelations of God. Bahais believe that all religions are true and from God, but that at different times throughout human history, a new manifestation (prophet) is needed in order to adapt to the changing times and cultural traditions.
“All religions are true, he continues. “Just like Islam came from Christianity and Judaism, we are a continuation of that process . we believe that Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohamed are all prophets of God and spoke the truth, but we also believe that it didn’t end with Mohamed . it is a continuous process.
Bahais believe in the oneness of God. They do not take part in partisan politics and the main message of the Faith is one of unity.
However, the Egyptian government as well as other organizations in the country, do not feel Bahais deserve full citizenship rights.
Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk told parliament that the government would appeal the case based on the country’s leading Muslim cleric, the Sheikh of Al-Azhar. The sheikh says that Bahai faith is not a ‘revealed religion’ recognized by Islam.
He was speaking in parliament recently. Many members of parliament oppose the ruling handed down by the administrative court in favor of the Bahai couple in April. The Muslim Brotherhood has been most vocal over the case.
MP Gamal Akl, a Brotherhood member, says that Bahais are infidels who should be killed on the grounds that they had changed their religion.
Many of the Egyptian Bahais have been Bahai since birth, as the Faith made its way to Egypt more than two generations ago. Before Nasser cracked down on the small minority, they had houses of worship and even a cemetery to bury their loved ones.
MPs also have attacked the Bahais as deviants and extremists, noting that the Faith’s international headquarters are in the Israeli city of Haifa.
“We can’t help the fact that Haifa is now a part of Israel, says the Bahai man. “When the temples were established, Israel didn’t even exist, so I don’t understand how they can say that we are instruments of the Israeli state.
“The problem with the Bahais is they are moved by Israeli fingers. We wish the Ministry of the Interior not yield to the cheap blackmail of this deviant group, added Brotherhood member, Mustafa Awadallah, following parliament’s debate.
According to the constitution, freedom of belief is guaranteed. In theory there are no restrictions on the basis of religion. However, in practice, authorities accept only Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Reuters quoted Zainab Radwan of the ruling National Democratic Party, however, as saying she favored recognizing the Bahais on identity cards issued by the state.
There is an interest in them being known rather than unknown so that they do not succeed in infiltrating the ranks of society and spreading their extremist and deviant ideology, she said.
“Our community wants to be a part of Egyptian society and we don’t want to harm anyone, so hopefully all these cases will calm down and pass by, the Bahai man hopes. “That way, everyone can live peacefully as Egyptians.