CAIRO: An interior ministry decree has for the first time recognized the right of Egyptian Bahais to obtain personal ID cards and other essential documents without having to lie about their faith.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) announced yesterday that Interior Minister Habib El-Adly s decree was published in the official Gazette on March 19, three days after the Supreme Administrative Court recognized the right of Egyptian Bahais to obtain personal documents without having to list their faith as one of the three religions officially recognized by the state.
Decree number 520 amends the executive statute of Law 143 on civil affairs by allowing the insertion of a dash in the religious field on personal documents such as birth certificates and ID cards.
The decision applies to individuals who have documents in which a religion other than Islam, Christianity or Judaism, or a dash is recorded, or where their parents hold such documents. It also applies to individuals who have won court rulings.
EIPR director Hossam Bahgat told Daily News Egypt that decree 520 is a major step.
“We are particularly pleased that the interior ministry adopted the least restrictive language in its decree. It states that any Egyptian citizen who is not an adherent of the three recognized religions or has won a court ruling has the right to official documents. This is the first legal recognition of the fact that Egyptian society does not consist exclusively of Muslims, Christians or Jews, Bahgat said.
Egyptian Bahai Ramy Raouf – whose father, Raouf Hindi, was one of the applicants on whose behalf EIPR brought its case – said that he was pleased with the decree but envisaged problems for Bahais who do not possess the necessary legal documents.
“I know many Bahai families who don t have documents in which either Bahai or a dash is recorded, and I think they will have a problem obtaining documents, Raouf said.
Bahgat told Daily News Egypt that EIPR will begin by assisting the “vast majority of Bahais who hold the necessary documents to obtain official papers before turning to cases where the required documents do not exist.
Decree number 520 brings to a close a five-year legal battle. After the introduction of computerized ID cards and birth certificates, 2,000 Egyptian Bahais were prevented from obtaining or renewing documents unless they lied about their faith.
In 2004 EIPR brought an unsuccessful action which sought to allow Bahais to list their religion as such in official documents.
The Administrative Court subsequently recognized the right of Bahais to leave the religious affiliation field blank on official documents, but this decision was appealed by a number of lawyers.
The interior ministry had relied on these appeals since January 2008 in order to justify the continued application of the policy implemented from 2000 onwards.