It was only in 1924 that the Baha’i Faith first gained legal recognition as an independent religion by a Muslim-majority country, and that country was Egypt. However, the Baha’i Faith has since lost its recognition, and all Baha’i institutions and activities are currently banned by Law 263, which was enforced in 1960.

Egypt has arguably made great strides over the years in correcting its human rights record, but that has not been the case as far as it concerns the rights of its Baha’i minority.

The decision to computerize Egypt’s national identification system was soon followed by a system upgrade that only allowed three religions – Christianity, Judaism or Islam – to be entered into the required religion field. What the Baha’i minority has since been demanding is not official recognition of their religion, or the right to list their faith in official documents (a right that was denied to them in 2006), but the ability to simply leave the religion field blank.

On the 29th of January, 2008, Cairo’s Administrative Court issued verdicts in two separate court cases in favour of Baha’is, and yet another victory was handed down on the 11th of November, 2008 in the case of a youth who was unable to continue his education due to his lack of documents.

However, none of the rulings has been implemented as of yet. Each court victory was soon followed by appeals and challenges launched by opponents with the intention of preventing the course of justice.

But in a few days, Egypt’s courts are set to deliver final verdicts, and needless to say, the the upcoming ruling is extremely detrimental for the Baha’i minority in Egypt.

We spoke with Dr. Basma Moussa, a Baha’i blogger and activist, on the upcoming ruling:

Q. Just how significant is the upcoming ruling for Egypt’s Baha’is?

It’s significance is that it would finally allow Baha’is to practise their civil rights like all other Egyptian citizens, after a period of suffering that has lasted for over 5 years – a suffering that was caused by our inability to obtain identification papers. Baha’i parents have been unable to obtain birth certificates and immunize  children who were born during this period, and those who passed away have yet to be issued death certificates, in effect denying their widows the right to pensions. And due to the inability to obtain ID cards, all Baha’is – both children and adults – face the following problems:

  • They cannot move freely within Egypt [as those found without ID cards are subject to imprisonment]
  • They cannot certify their marriage certificates
  • They cannot obtain passports
  • They cannot perform any bank transactions
  • They cannot carry out transactions in traffic departments
  • They cannot enrol their children in schools or universities
  • Their children cannot clarify their position concerning conscription
  • They cannot apply for jobs or obtain work permits
  • They are denied health care
  • They cannot buy, sell, or own property

And many others.

Q. We are all hopeful that the rulings will be in favour of Baha’is, but should the opposite occur, what plan of action do Baha’is and activists intend to take?

I hope the ruling will be in favour of Baha’is, as we forfeited on our right to list our religion in official documents, and instead gave the courts 3 alternatives for the religion field – either write “Other”, a “-” or leave it blank. In January 29 the Administrative Court decided that a dash “-” can be listed.

We actually agreed to this solution so as to bring an end to our civil problems, but the ruling was prevented from implementation after lawyers launched an appeal soon after the verdict was issued. We now await a final verdict on the challenge launched on the 17th of January, and a final verdict on the appeal on the 19th of January. We acheived a third victory on the 11th of November with the ruling in favour of the student Hadi Hosni obtaining an ID card with a “-” on it.

I cannot say what steps we’d take should the ruling be against the Baha’is because I see no reason for that to happen. In the 2006 case, we were demanding the right to list the Baha’i Faith in identification papers, but we’ve now given the court three alternatives.

Q. Given the severe discrimination the Baha’i minority has had to endure, do you feel any form of resentment towards your country or your government?

No, and I say that in all honesty. I love Egypt dearly as I was born and raised here, I was educated in its schools, I ate from the produce of its land, and I drank from its Nile that nourishes all Egyptians without discrimination. And as a Baha’i, I know that all religions sent by God to humanity were met with resistance from followers of earlier religions, due to their strong commitment to their faith and belief in the importance of defending it, and that with time this resistance will wane. The Baha’i Faith is the religion that is needed by the world, as it offers solutions to all its current problems.

The problems faced by Baha’is in Egypt will come to an end, God willing, and the Egyptian government will understand our position as Egyptians who love their country, but demand their right to full citizenship.

Q. Have any Muslim clerics reached their hands out to the Baha’i community and condmened the state-sanctioned discrimination?

We found support from the human rights organizations that operate within Egypt, such as the National Human Rights Council and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization and Misriyon [Egyptians] Against Religious Discrimination and other civil society organizations.

As for clerics, some (such as Jamal Al Banna) have affirmed the right of Baha’is to equal citizenship, and that that is firmly based in Islamic principles.

We also found support from journalists and opinion writers whose articles have contributed to finding temporary solutions for a few (and not all) Baha’i students. And all these journalists firmly believe in religious freedom.

Q. Do you believe that the day would soon come when Egypt reverses Law 293 and permits Baha’i institutions?

I hope so; Egypt is an ancient country that has absorbed people from across the world over the centuries – people who blended with the local population to form a unique cultural heritage. Egypt has always enjoyed intellectual and religious diversity, and many different groups have lived – and continue to live – in Egypt such as Armenians, Druze, Ismailis, Sunnis, Shiites, Sufis, Jews, Christians and many others. My intention is not to enumerate the different groups present in Egypt, but to give an example of the diversity present in Egypt.

And in the middle of the 19th century, a new group calling for the elimination of all impediments that create conflict and disagreement between humanity has been added to this rich mix, and that group is the Baha’is.