The ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court issued in December 2006 canceling the ruling of the Administrative Judicial Court in April 2006 granting the Bahaais the right to have their religion established in their official papers and IDs raised many concerns regarding the freedom of thought and belief within Egypt, which in turn is reflected in the discussions run by CIHRS in a workshop held on 24th of December 2006 under the title: “Dilemma of the Freedom of Thought in Egypt…in light of the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court in the Bahaais case”.
Moataz Al-Fogeiry, CIHRS Programs Director, stated that the ruling overrode the discussion about freedom of belief to discuss the content of the Bahaai faith per se, considering that the reactions to this case give an indicator to the crisis in the prevalent political and social climate in Egypt.
Ahmed Seif Al-Islam, Director of Hisham Mubarak Law Center, pointed out that the ruling and the case of the Bahaais in general, opens a discussion about the stance to the freedom of belief in Egypt. He drew the attention to the articles from the Egyptian Constitution ensuring the protection to the freedom of thought, belief and expression. Seif Al-Islam mentioned that the State only has to find a solution to the problem of the Bahaais because the State is who created it in the first place, after it had refused to give the Bahaais the official papers and documents which proves their identity and which they need in their day to day life, e.g. their IDs, passports…etc.
Mr. Seif Al-Islam said the solution could be either by canceling the item of religion from the ID or use the word “other” in the cell of religion, to refer that this religion is neither Islam, nor Christianity, nor Judaism. He pointed out that if the situation continued as is, it would mean a “civil death” for the Bahaais, since they are not existent in the official papers or documents in the State.
Hussam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights” stated the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court suspending the recognition of the Bahaais in the official papers puts the government in a crisis in relation to the Bahaais who are unable to have any birth certificates, IDs or even death certificates issued. At the same time, he made a reference that the intervention of human rights organization came too late.
Bahgat also said that in the eighties and nineties, the Bahaais went through very harsh conditions and were arrested and detained, were also targeted in media campaigns aimed at challenging even their personal ethics. He stressed that the final ruling in that case doesn’t mean the end to it, and human rights organizations should continue to deal with this issue and file new law suits in this connection. In doing so, the organizations must learn from the mistakes they made in dealing with the case in the past.
Bahgat stressed that the Islamic Law supports the Bahaais, so do all books of jurisprudence. He pointed out that those who defend the Bahaais benefited a lot from this fact and used it in their pleadings before the court, though such wasn’t considered. Bahgat clarified that in this case, the court ruling considers that the Islamic Law is the public order and the main values the society is based on; which is very dangerous for any future case to deal with the freedom of belief.
Bahgat also highlighted that if the majority of people in the community can’t obtain their rights, this shouldn’t be a justification to accept violating the rights of the minority. In this regard, he drew the attention to the fact that the Islamic current didn’t have the issue of the Bahaais as an item on its agenda, and this issue was transformed to the Parliament by the Ruling National Democratic Party not by the representatives of the Muslim Brothers group who are members to the parliament.
Dr. Ahmed Rasem Al-Nafees, Univerity Professor and Shiite Islamic Intellect, addressed the cultural dimension of the issue of freedom of belief and human rights. He pointed out that there are a number of intellectual “Taboos” perceived by some people as sacred, while they are in reality subject of great controversy and are not yet decided upon or settled as some may think.
Al-Nafees mentioned that there is a big portion of Muslims who live like minorities in other non-Islamic, non-Christian countries or even a country that relies on any Holy Book, like India; which raises the question about the way and means that minority of people can apply something like “Hadd Al-Redda” (which is the punishment imposed on those who retreat from Islam or convert to any other religion), within the communities they live in. He stated that by virtue of the “Sharieea” (Islamic Law) and law, Muslims have to fulfill their commitments and obligations, be them local laws or international instruments signed by their governments, like the instruments on the freedom of belief and human rights. He mentioned that the Islamic Countries are like the Western ones, both apply their own double standards.
Al-Nafees stressed that the Quran does not state explicitly any punishment for the “Redda. He added that that the war against Shiites and those who embrace the Shiite doctrine tempted the rulers and their supporters to establish a law based on steel and fire. He then warned that some are currently establishing a new category of Sheiks, the “Faith Protectors” kind of Sheiks.
He stressed that granting the right to judge the beliefs and thoughts of people, not their respect to the applicable law to any group whatsoever in society, is a true disaster that we have to address and deal with.
Dr. Basma Moussa, an Egyptian Bahaai, Professor at the Faculty of Dentistry, Cairo University, talked about the root causes of the problem. She said that the problem started when a Bahaai engineer tried in 2004 to get official papers issued for himself and his family after the civil registration department refused to register him as Bahaai, based on decision number 49 of 2004 which stipulates that in official papers, only one religion of three has to be stated; Islam, Christianity or Judaism. She pointed out that the engineer who encountered that problem filed a law suite where a decision made by Counselor: Farooq Abdel-Qader allowed him to establish his religion as Bahaai in his ID.
She emphasized that the media dealt with this ruling in a very negative manner in more than 400 media articles in more than 50 newspapers and magazines which dealt with the issue of the Bahaais in a very strange way, and showered them with insults.
Basma pointed out that the Bahaais claim their right to citizenship and not recognition of their religion. She mentioned that there are some Bahaai kids who are now older than 14 years old and don’t have a birth certificate and they never received the different vaccinations given to children at different ages. She wondered how thousands of people would be accommodate while they walk down the streets with no official papers.
In the comments by the participants, Hamdy Abdel-Aziz, Director of Sawaseya Anti-Discrimination Center, linked the issue of the Bahaais with what he described as the tyranny, which spoils both the religion and life all together. He said that the rights to citizenship shall be claimed to all, not only for the minorities. In this regard, he pointed out that the majority suffers this as much as the minorities do. Ayman Akeel. Director of Maat Center for Legal Studies, called for a campaign to activate the application of the international instruments ratified by the Egyptian government.
Ameen Abul-Fottouh Betah, a Bahaai, mentioned that Bahaaism existed in Egypt since 1864, and there were centers and special events for it in about 17 Egyptian cities. He explained that Bahaaism has been introduced and presented to the late President Nasser in a malicious way, whereby he made the decree terminating all Bahaai events and dissolving all centers. Betah said that we believe in Islam, the Prophet and all divine books and prophets, but we believe that Bahaaism is a new religion and Al-Bahaai is the “Awaited Mahdi”. He pointed out that the Bahaais do not claim recognition of their religion, but of their rights as citizens, and they want to be given official papers which prove that they are Egyptian citizens. In this context, a lady Bahaai mentioned that her son couldn’t issue an ID though he is in the second year in university, and her second son, 14 years old, doesn’t’ have a birth certificate.
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