CAIRO: In violation of a court order, the official university admissions office is denying Bahai applicants the right to leave the religious denomination field blank on applications, giving them the option to list their religion as either Muslim or Christian.
Abdel Hamid Salama, supervisor of the admissions office, refused parents’ requests that a ‘Bahai’ field be included in application documents, local media reported.
Salama reportedly told them to choose either Muslim or Christian and then change this to Bahai upon the student’s enrolment at university.
Adel Farag, whose daughter Latifa is currently applying, told Daily News Egypt that Coordination Office administrative staff listed her religion as Muslim despite the fact that she is Bahai.
“Since Latifa was born we have always been allowed to put a dash in the religious field of her birth certificate and other official documents, Farag said.
“This changed when she went to sit her secondary school exams and we were told that we had to list her religion as either Muslim or Christian, he continued.
Egypt recently replaced handwritten personal identification documents printed on paper with computerized ones, but the Ministry of Interior has reportedly been stalling on issuing them for Bahais.
While under the system involving paper documents the religious affiliation field on birth certificates and ID cards could be left blank, a 2006 Supreme Administrative Court decision held that Bahais had to either list themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jew (the only religions recognized in Egypt) or be denied the official documents necessary for them to access state services such as education and healthcare.
The Administrative Court overturned this verdict in January, stating 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 themselves as one of these religions. It also said that members of the Bahai faith have the right to access state services.
The Interior Ministry, however, has been slow in implementing the court decision and producing identity cards with a blank religious affiliation field.
Bahai parents attempting to enroll their children in state primary schools have also experienced similar problems.
Adel Ramadan, a lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) told Daily News Egypt in July that the decision to refuse paper documents was taken in pursuance of the state’s policy of forcing people to issue the new computerized identification papers, but has the effect of discriminating against Bahais who either hold the old identification documents or have not been issued new documents following the Interior Ministry’s failure to implement the Administrative Court’s decision.
Latifa was eventually allowed to sit the secondary school exams without being forced to lie about her religion.
“I petitioned the minister of education and Latifa sat the exams and passed, Farag told Daily News Egypt.
“However, I have now discovered that they have listed her as Muslim in her Coordination Office papers.
“I have contacted the National Council for Human Rights and the ministries concerned and I am waiting for them to take action.
Farag says that if the Coordination Office does not change its position he will take legal action.
However, with the academic term scheduled to begin on Sept. 20, this may mean that his daughter will not be able to begin her university studies this year.