CAIRO: Cairo’s Administrative Court today recognized the right of Egyptian Bahais to leave the religious affiliation field on birth certificates and identity cards blank.
Landmark verdicts were issued in two cases yesterday. The first suit concerned 14-year old twins Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who have been unable to obtain birth certificates. As a result, they have been unable to enroll in school without official documents and their father Raouf Hindi was forced to send them to a British school in Libya.
The second case involved Hosni Hussein Abdel-Messeih, a Bahai student who had to abandon his university studies because he could not obtain a national ID card.
Islam, Christianity and Judaism are the only religions recognized by state authorities in Egypt. Until now, Egyptian Bahais have been forced to list themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jew in order to obtain the official documents necessary for them to access state services such as healthcare and education.
A 2006 Supreme Administrative Court decision held that Bahais did not have the right to list their religion as such on official documents, but neither could they leave the religion field blank.
The effect of the policy was to force Bahais to commit fraud by falsely listing a religious denomination in order to obtain the documents necessary for them to open bank accounts, apply for jobs and enroll in education.
Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the human rights NGO that brought the two cases, said, “This is a very welcome decision. It addresses a great injustice suffered by Bahai citizens who face arbitrary and discriminatory practices based on their religious beliefs. We urge that the authorities implement the Administrative Court’s decision, Bahgat told Daily News Egypt.
While a written verdict has not yet been issued, Bahgat told Daily News Egypt that the Administrative Court’s chief judge stated that even though Bahais do not belong to one of the three religions officially recognized by the state, they enjoy the right to refuse to identify himself as one of these religions. He also said that members of the Bahai faith have the right to access state services.
Egyptian Bahai Labib Hanna told Daily News Egypt that he welcomed the decision but that questions remained about its scope.
“Egyptian Bahais experience problems in obtaining any official document.
The question now remains whether this verdict applies only to birth certificates and national ID cards or whether we will be able to get all documents without problems, Hanna said.