Friday, 17 April 2009


Decree Ends ID Bias against Baha’is in Egypt

  • Friday, 17 April 2009
  • Fouad GM
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  • After a series of court rulings by Egypt's various courts, including the constitutional one, the Minister of Interior responds with action. Three days after the latest ruling by a Supreme Administrative Court ruling upheld the right of Egypt’s Baha’i minority to obtain official documents, Minister Habib el-Adly signed a ministerial decree which entered into effect on April 14.

    According to the decree Egyptian nationals following the Bahai faith will no longer be forced to officially identify with one of the three "acknowledged" faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) in order to obtain official documents, such as identity cards and birth certificates. Egyptian Bahais, and Egyptian nationals in general will now be able to obtain these documents without revealing their religious convictions or having to identify themselves incorrectly.

    The problem has existed for years, and has been highlighted furthersince the initiation of computerised electronic ID cards in Egypt which deprived followers of "non-acknowledged" faiths from entering their faith (or leaving it blank) on official documents. And despite several court ruling in the past few years, the problem had all but been resolved due to the Ministry of Interior's reluctance.

    This step has probably been helped by the statements made by various officials in the Egyptian government and bureaucracy asserting that religious convictions and faith needn't be stipulated upon in official documents and that they will have no/little effect in daily errands such as the admission of children to state schools (see attached picture-article).

    However, and to use the words of EIPR's Hossam Bahgat, “with this decree, the Interior Minister resolved a serious problem, albeit one that the ministry itself created,” said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “We will monitor how officials implement the new regulations over the coming weeks to ensure their swift and smooth enforcement.”

    For the Arabic:
    For the English:

    Discussing the new decree, state-owned Nile TV LIVE hosted EIPR director and Human Rights lawyer Hossam Bahgat, Dr. Mahmoud Shaaban (Al Azhar Shariah Professor) and Labib Iskander (prominent Bahai Egyptian Academic) on the 14 April 2009 episode of KOL LEILA (Every Evening). Discussing the issue on Nile TV LIVE remains a substantial and principled departure towards the dissemination and popularisation of the debate on civil rights. Until 14 April 2009, debate regarding the religious, cultural and civil dimensions of Egypt's Bahai community has been discussed on private-owned TV channels aired exclusively on satellite. Although these channels are hosted by Egypt's state-owned satellite, NileSat, and have been much more popular in street cafés and coffeehouse than state-run TV for years, the airing of the debate on state-owed and state-run TV signifies the success of human rights organisations, private TV channels and private media in highlighting the debate, giving it momentum and pushing it further.

    You can watch the debate (in Arabic) on EIPR's Facebook Group at:

    It's always good to hear good human rights news and a movement towards civility wherever it may be. However, the best part of it is that it resolves a question I raised with an Italian-acquaintance-turned-friend I met in Ljubljana a few weeks ago (thanks to the word KHALAS). We met days after the Court ruled in favour of Bahai's civil rights and we both treated it with skepticism wondering if it "will be followed by any action from the Ministry of Interior to enforce it" or will it join the many other rulings piled on the ministry's "to-be-ignored" shelves. I think Minister General Habib al-Adly has just sent us his pleasant answer, and Bahais (and followers of other "non-acknowledged" faiths) might start reporting good news from Egypt's civil service bureaus.

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