CAIRO: An appeal made in the case of a Bahai couple against the government was postponed yesterday until September 16. Nothing substantial was reached at the hearing, with an advisory report that was supposed to be given to the court by the government failing to appear. The government asked for and received a postponement of the case.
The case, which has already seen a victory by the Bahais and a subsequent appeal by the government won, has put pressure on the government to ease the restrictions against the small minority group.
In April, 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 Bahais are already Egyptian citizens, says Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIRP). “Therefore, what they are asking is to have their full identity legalized by the government.
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. Sheikh 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.
“We all know the difficulty they [Bahais] have in dealing with the government and institutions and the arbitrary decisions that have been made against them, continues Bahgat. “They deserve full administrative process to be given, recognizing them as Bahai and ending the hardship that has been troubling them for such a long time.
The Bahai Faith is the most recent monotheistic religion. It originates from Iran and believes in the progressive revelations of God. Bahai’s 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.
Bahgat believes that because the government considers the Bahais citizens, only legitimizing their choice of religion is necessary. 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 Muslim Brotherhood has voiced concern over the Bahais being given full rights as a minority religion, arguing that the faith is heretical to Islam and should not be recognized by the state.
“The problem with the Bahai’s is they are moved by Israeli fingers. We wish the Ministry of the Interior not yield to the cheap blackmail of this deviant group, adds Brotherhood member of Parliament, Mustafa Awadallah, referring to the Bahai holy temples located in what is now Israel.
“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, says a Bahai man speaking on condition of anonymity. “That way, everyone can live peacefully as Egyptians.