CAIRO: The court of appeals on Monday upheld the government’s ban on recognizing the rights of Bahais to have their religion listed on identification cards and passports.
“I am disappointed that they haven’t given us the rights due to us as Egyptian citizens, a Bahai in Cairo tells The Daily Star Egypt. “I had just hoped that this would be the end to our discrimination.
Attempts by these (Bahai’s) to be recognized is an attempt to violate public order, the ruling said.
Last month, a court in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria granted a Bahai family permission to list their religion on identity cards and passports, after a nearly 30-year ban on the practice. The interior ministry contested the ruling, claiming it violated the country s constitution, which regards Islam as Egypt s official religion and recognizes only Christianity and Judaism as other official faiths. The higher court accepted that appeal Monday, freezing the lower court s ruling until further consideration.
The April 16 ruling stirred public debate in Egypt. The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, one of the most powerful Islamic institutions in the Middle East, declared the Bahai Faith a sacrilegious dogma and a deviant sect of atheists. Sheik Mohammed Sayed Tantawi also linked the faith with global Zionism.
In the 1960s, President Gamal Abdel-Nasser banned all Bahai worship in Egypt, after a similar religious edict from Al-Azhar.
Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a U.S. government group, harshly criticized Egypt for discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violations affecting Coptic Christians, Bahais, Jews and other religious minorities.
The Baha’i Faith is the most recent monotheistic religion. It originates from Iran and believes in the progressive revelations of God. Baha’is 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.
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.
The Baha’i Faith calls for the oneness of humanity. In doing so they espouse peace and justice as the means to creating a more united world. The holy temples of the Faith are located in Haifa and Accre, Israel.
Reuters quoted Zainab Radwan of the ruling National Democratic Party, last month, stating that she favored recognizing the Baha is 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.
Bahaism is not a religion and therefore cannot be registered on national identity cards or birth certificates, the Supreme Administrative Court said, according to an official speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
Over the course of the past month, Baha’is and Egyptian human rights organizations had been optimistic that this case would change the way the government deals with religious minorities.
Saad Eddin Ibrahim, professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo and a leading democracy advocate, believes that despite any differences people have with the Baha’is they deserve to be a part of society.
“We support Baha’is always whether we personally agree with their religious views, Ibrahim says. “We must have an open society no matter how much we dislike certain views.
Ibrahim believes that the pending court case is as important as anything else currently going on in the country. “They will show us where the government is heading on the issue of freedom.
“Now it seems that they are falling back on their fear . that we are heretics and don’t deserve to live in Egypt, the Bahai states. “It really bothers me that they [the government] doesn’t try to understand who we are and what we stand for . if they did they would not have a problem with our community.
“Yes our holiest temples are in Israel, but that doesn’t mean we are agents of Zionism as the government would have people believe, the Bahai continues. “We have our temples there because that is where the Prophet was sent during his exile and he died there.
“Israel didn’t even exist then.
Information from AP was used in this report.