CAIRO: Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has denied Saturday an Egyptian citizen of the Bahai faith the right to a birth certificate for his daughter, arguing that “the national government has the right not to acknowledge the Bahai faith in official identification documents .
The constitution promotes freedom of belief for the three recognized heavenly religions and they are Islam, Christianity and Judaism, judge Sayed Nofal said in the appeal ruling.
As for the Bahais, Islamic jurists have all agreed that the Bahai faith is not one of the three recognized religions, he said.
Those who belong to this religion are apostates of Islam, because the faith s principles contradict the Islamic religion and all other religions.
A group of enraged Bahai activists, lawyers, and human rights advocates attended the court session on Dec. 16 holding banners with enlarged photocopies of Egyptian identification cards with “Bahai written in the “religion slot.
“I had a feeling that the verdict was going to be rotten and that the government would keep implementing its institutional racism in this case, said journalist and activist Hossam El-Hamalawy.
The consequences of Saturday’s ruling may be devastating for the Egyptian Bahai community, who now run the risk of being denied vital official documents such as identity cards, driver’s licenses and birth certificates, simply because of their religious status.
Dr Labib Iskandar Hanna, a Bahai university professor, was shocked by the verdict. He told The Daily Star Egypt “The result wasn’t what we wanted and I find it strange. Has the constitution changed since 1983? Because we have one constitution but two different verdicts.
Hanna was referring to a 1983 ruling allowing the Bahais to state their faith on their IDs and other government documents. In 2004 however, the Interior Ministry reinstated the policy of Bahais having to pick another religion on their IDs.
“Today s regrettable decision throws the ball in the government s court. The authorities must immediately find a solution for the hundreds of citizens who have been able to obtain official documents recognizing their faith for more than five decades.
“Now, the government’s new policy forces them to choose between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, Hossam Baghat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), stated in a press release issued by the organization yesterday.
EIPR, whose lawyers represent the Bahai man claimant in the case, claims that the chief judge at the hearing did not address any of the evidence and relevant arguments submitted by the legal advisors, but instead only discussed the tenets of the Bahai faith.
On the question concerning the legality of forcing Egyptian citizens to falsely adopt Islam, Christianity of Judaism in order to obtain necessary official documents, the court found that the government “does not need to recognize the Bahai faith .
In a previous interview with The Daily Star Egypt, Hanna stressed that this was not an issue of recognition of the Bahai faith but rather a matter of citizenship rights. “Writing “Bahai on the ID is not recognition of the faith. We are legally required to have an ID.
Saturday’s hearing was further exacerbated when two Islamists reportedly screamed “Allahu Akbar! [God is Great] Islam is victorious! and a veiled woman shouted “God’s religion is Islam! Bahais are infidels! inside the courtroom.
The court decision overturned an April 2006 verdict issued by the lower Administrative Justice Court in favor of Husam Izzat Musa and Ranya Enayat Rushdy, who had their identification cards and passports confiscated after applying to have their daughters added to their passports, which had them listed as followers of the Bahai faith.
EIPR is currently determining a new legal strategy in the fight for citizenship rights of Egyptian Bahais.
Hanna told The Daily Star Egypt that the Bahais will continue pursuing a solution for their plight through the legal system.
“We will continue seeing this through the judicial process, there is another case next month, he said.
The EIPR will wait for the written decision to be issued in the next few days before determining its new legal strategy.