IV. Egypt’s Baha’is and the Policy of Erasure

Diya’ Nur al-Din is a 24-year-old Egyptian who in November 2005 had just graduated with a university degree in aeronautical engineering. The handwritten birth certificate his parents acquired when he was born, in 1982, recognizes his Baha’i faith. In 2001, Diya’, like most Egyptians his age, had to acquire a new computerized birth certificate in order to be admitted into a public university. His new certificate dropped the mention of his true religious affiliation and replaced it with the word “other.” Since September 2005, he has been trying unsuccessfully to obtain a national ID card, known in Arabic as the raqam qawmi, or “national number,”the now-mandatory computerized identification document, with either Baha’i or “other” listed in the space reserved for religion. After nearly two months of negotiations, officers at the Interior Ministry’s Civil Status Department (CSD) told him that they would shelve his application until he chose one of the three “recognized” religions: Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. In his case, because he has a Muslim name, CSD officers told him he had no practical choice but to identify as Muslim.52

Diya’s 23-year-old sister, Sama’, has a dash in the religion entry on her birth certificate. Her 2001 computerized ID card, however, identifies her as Muslim. Their father, Nur al-Din Mustafa, has a birth certificate that says he is Baha’i and a paper ID card with a dash in the religion line. Their mother, Tahra, has a paper ID card that identifies her as Christian, in accordance with her family name, despite the fact that her birth certificate leaves her religion blank, indicating that she comes from a Baha’i family.

The Nur al-Din family has been Baha’i for at least three generations, but the four members of the family have obtained official identification documents in the last fifty years that list their religious affiliation alternately as Baha’i, Muslim, Christian, “other,” or simply a dash. Most Baha’i families in Egypt have the same bouquet of official religious affiliations today, reflecting the government’s arbitrary and discriminatory policy when it comes to recognizing the Baha’i faith in essential personal identification documents. Since the 1960s, the ability of Baha’i Egyptians to acquire identification documents listing their actual religious affiliation has largely depended on the disposition of local CSD officials. Fortunate individuals have been able to obtain documents with “Baha’i,” “other,” or a dash. Others have been forced to identify themselves as Muslim, like Sama’ Nur al-Din, or Christian, like her mother Tahra, depending on how officials arbitrarily classified their family names. This policy of denying Baha’is the right to adhere publicly to their true faith, and in this way pressuring them to lie in order to obtain necessary documents, makes it impossible for them to simultaneously adhere to their religious identity and obtain official identification documents necessary for daily life.

Official discrimination against and hostility towards Baha’i Egyptians started when late President Gamal `Abd al-Nasir issued decree Law 263/1960, which ordered the closure of Baha’i assemblies and centers and confiscated their assets.53 The government issued the law during a state of emergency and under the 1958 Interim constitution of the United Arab Republic (the political union of Egypt and Syria from 1958 to 1961), the only modern constitution in Egypt that did not include any provisions for the protection of freedom of religion. The legislation was limited to the community’s public activities and did not criminalize adherence to the Baha’i faith per se, but it marked the beginning of decades of violations of Baha’is’ basic human rights that continue to this day.54

Egyptian security services have exploited the decree to orchestrate six major crackdowns on the Baha’i community, in 1965, 1967, 1970, 1972, 1985, and 2001. The authorities arrested a total of 236 Egyptian Baha’i s in these crackdowns, on grounds they had violated the decree or on charges of “contempt of religion.” On the few occasions on which arrests were followed by prosecutions, none of the defendants were ever found guilty of violating Law 263/1960 or any other law.55

The government continues to use this decree to justify discriminatory policies and attitudes toward the Baha’i community. These policies affect the daily lives of all Baha’i Egyptians who attempt to obtain mandatory identification documents, and their concomitant access to education, finding employment, registering children’s births and family members’ deaths, and collecting pensions.

As noted, in the years following the promulgation of Law 263/1960, Egyptian officials denied Baha’is the right to identify themselves as Baha’is in a haphazard manner. Starting in 2004, official correspondence began referring to an Interior Ministry directive that transformed what had been arbitrary practice into official policy. Several government documents dealing with applications for identification documents, obtained by HRW/EIPR, cite “Circular 49/2004 regarding the rules of recognizing religions in birth records and identification cards,” but never actually describe what the circular says.56 The government has not responded to a Human Rights Watch request for a copy of the document.57 Baha’is interviewed by HRW/EIPR for this report said that officials have consistently denied their requests to obtain or even to read that circular.

Ra’uf Hindi Halim was among the first Baha’i Egyptians to confront the 2004 directive. Halim’s twin children, Nancy and `Imad, were born in Oman in 1993. He was able to obtain Omani birth certificates for the two children listing them both as Baha’i and get them officially recognized and stamped by the Egyptian embassy in Oman. When Halim returned to Egypt with his family in 2001, Egyptian law required him to obtain Egyptian birth certificates for his two children in order to enroll them in Egyptian schools. In 2001, he went to the central office of the CSD in al-`Abbasiyya in northern Cairo. That simple administrative procedure proved to be more difficult that Halim had anticipated.

They looked at my children’s birth certificate and said, “No, we can’t give you new birth certificates because you have a Christian family name and your wife has a Muslim family name.”58 They cited the 2004 circular. We asked to see it many times but they always refused.59

Halim tried to explain to CSD officials that his wife was a third-generation Baha’i and was never Muslim, but they were adamant that, because under Shari`a a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man, he had to convert to Islam as a first step in order for the state to recognize his children and issue birth certificates. Knowing that the decision was largely in the hands of the Interior Ministry’s State Security Intelligence (SSI), Halim decided to speak to them directly.

I took an appointment with one of the generals from SSI and went with my wife. The meeting was polite. I told him what happened. He said we cannot, by law, give you Egyptian birth certificates listing Baha’i. OK, I said, just put a dash. No, he said, I can’t. I showed him my older son’s birth certificate, born in 1987, with a dash in front of “religion.” He said, “Sorry, I know you are not Christian or Muslim, but you need to choose one of them.”60

Halim asked the general what he thought the solution was. “Dr. Ra’uf,” the officer said, “go to court.”

Halim followed the officer’s advice and filed a lawsuit before the Court of Administrative Justice against both the Interior Minister and the president of the CSD.61 The first of many hearings on the case was held on October 19, 2004. The case is still pending before the court.

In November 2005, the same SSI officer summoned Halim to his office in Lazoghly. The officer advised him to withdraw his court case.

I said, “But we went to court based on your advice.” “Things are different now,” he said. “It’s better to withdraw, and we will try and resolve this out of court.” He was more aggressive this time and said we were damaging Egypt’s image abroad with our court case. He also made indirect threats this time. “You should watch out for your children,” he said. I refused to withdraw the case. His last words were, “Now you know what you have to do.” I said, “I know exactly what I have to do.”62

Later, at 10 p.m. in the evening of the same day, Halim received a phone call from SSI asking him to go back to Lazoghly for another meeting, at 11 p.m. He went and waited for more than three hours before he met with a more senior official. This official was even more aggressive, Halim said.

He asked me again to withdraw the case. I said, “Your office advised me to go to court.” “OK,” he said, “we will deal with this by the law. Since you came back to Egypt, you have been sending reports to Baha’i s outside. Your reports cause the world outside to disrespect us. We can punish you.” I asked if I could speak. ”Of course,” he said. I said, “The world will not respect us as long as we deny rights. I’m not the cause. You are the cause.”63

The meeting lasted more than 30 minutes, until 3 a.m. At the end, the SSI senior official threatened Halim. “Take it as a fatherly advice,” he said. “You should focus on your work. You could lose your job because of your actions.”64

Three days later, on November 2, 2005, the beauty center where Ra’uf Halim taught massage classes called to tell him that they no longer needed his services.

So now I no longer have a job. But I can’t prove [the cause]. These people are very clever, like mercury; you can’t catch them. But I will not withdraw the court case, no matter what happens. Why do they want me to withdraw? I think because they want to tell the world, “Look, Baha’is in Egypt have no problems, they even withdrew in court. They don’t have a case.”65

While Ra’uf Hindi Halim was struggling with the CSD in Cairo, Hosam `Izzat, another Baha’i Egyptian, was having a similar struggle in Alexandria. `Izzat is a civil engineer whose paper ID card states his Baha’i faith. His wife, Rania `Inayit, is a dentist with a dash in the religion entry in both her birth certificate and her ID card. They have three daughters, aged 12, 10, and 6, for whom they managed to acquire birth certificates listing them as Baha’is.

In April 2004 the `Izzats approached the Immigration and Passports Department to list the three daughters on their mother’s passport so they could travel to visit relatives who lived abroad. They thought there would be no problem, since passports are among the very few identification documents that do not list the holder’s religious affiliation. However, after long negotiations, the department agreed to add the daughters to their mother’s passport only if the `Izzats agreed to put a dash in front of “religion” on the passport application, which asks applicants to state their religion.66

A few weeks later, in May 2004, the Civil Status Intelligence Unit in Alexandria, a law enforcement arm of the CSD, summoned Rania `Inayit. She went with her husband, and they met with an officer.

He asked to see our IDs, so we handed them to him. He said we had to change the religion entry on our IDs and on our daughters’ birth certificates. When we asked why he said that public order required that we list one of the three recognized religions. Before we left, we asked to get our IDs back. He said, “No way.”67

The CSD officials did not stop with confiscating the IDs cards of Hosam and Rania. In August 2004, Mo`taz Siddiq Radwan, chief of the Lower Egypt Intelligence Department, sent a letter to the private school that their three daughters attended, informing the school’s principal that they have “amended the religion [of the three girls] in records and on the computer” and asking him to:

Kindly confiscate the [birth] certificates, dispatch them to the Middle Delta Criminal Intelligence Administration…, request that their father submit new birth certificates where religion is listed as ”Muslim” and refrain from accepting any birth certificates where religion is recognized as “Baha’i” since they violate public order.68

“I have no idea why this happened when it did,” Hosam `Izzat said.

We’re not the exception. There seems to be a policy change emanating from the Civil Status Department to recognize only three heavenly religions and prevent any mention of the Baha’i faith. In our case, I think the passport application is what opened their eyes. They provided the passport, but confiscated everything else.69

The experience of Hosam `Izzat’s family marked an apparent turning point in the governmental discrimination against Baha’is. Not only was the government refusing to grant Baha’i individuals identification documents listing their faith, but state officials were also actively seeking to confiscate any documents that mentioned the Baha’i faith as a religious affiliation. The government, it appears, wanted to erase any official trace of Egypt’s Baha’i community.

On June 10, 2004, Hosam `Izzat and his wife Rania filed a lawsuit before the Court of Administrative Justice, asking the Interior Minister and the CSD to issue ID cards for them and new birth certificates for their three daughters, all recognizing their Baha’i faith. On April 4, 2006, the court issued a decision in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the CSD to grant them the requested documents. The decision relied almost entirely on a 1983 decision by the higher Supreme Administrative Court in a similar case, which had reached the same conclusion.70 The earlier ruling reasoned that recognizing the Baha’i faith in official documents not only did not violate Shari`a but was in fact a requirement under Shari`a in order to regulate the rights and duties of distinct religious communities:

The Shari`a provisions require, as explained by Muslim scholars, a disclosure that would allow a distinction to be made between Muslims and non-Muslims in the exercise of social life, so as to establish the range of the rights and obligations reserved to Muslims that others cannot avail [themselves] of, for these [rights and obligations] are inconsistent with their beliefs.71

The court further reasoned that the CSD was obliged to recognize religious affiliation even for adherents of religions that the state does not recognize:

It is not inconsistent with Islamic tenets to mention the religion on this card even though it may be a religion whose rites are not recognized for open practice, such as Baha’i faith and the like. On the contrary, these [religions] must be indicated so that the status of its bearer is known and thus he does not enjoy a legal status to which his belief does not entitle him in a Muslim society.72

Significantly, the court asserted that the position of Islam and official Islamic institutions vis-à-vis the Baha’i faith had no relevance to the right of Baha’is to acquire official documents. Government lawyers submitted to the court a 1986 fatwa issued by Al-Azhar’s governing body, the Islamic Research Council (majma` al-buhuth al-Islamiyya), which concluded that the “Baha’i faith is not a religion, is not endorsed by Islam and sows the seeds of discord among the Muslim nation.” The court responded that “the scope of the case under consideration is merely confined to mentioning the Baha’i faith on the identity card of the plaintiffs and the birth certificates of their daughters,” implying that the beliefs of the plaintiffs may not be invoked to prejudice their right to obtain necessary official documents.

While this April 2006 decision merely reiterated the position of Egypt’s administrative judiciary, it received unprecedented media attention, and for the first time in decades, Egyptian newspapers and talk shows interviewed Baha’is extensively. Most Egyptians had never heard of the Baha’i faith or met Egyptian Baha’is before this court decision. Many media outlets and Muslim religious scholars misrepresented the court ruling as a decision to recognize a new religion after Islam, rather than a corrective measure to restore the rights of a community of citizens that had lived in Egypt for over a century.73

In addition to media attacks on the court ruling, several members of parliament representing the ruling National Democratic Party and the largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, moved to discuss the issue in the People’s Assembly two weeks after the ruling. During this parliamentary hearing, state representatives announced that they would appeal the decision, and the speaker of parliament vowed to “monitor the government during the appeal process.”74

On May 15, 2006, the Appeals Inspection Chamber of the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) declared admissible the government’s appeal against the decision and granted the government’s request to suspend the implementation of the lower court ruling pending the appeal. The SAC held one hearing, on December 2, 2006, on the merits of the appeal. On December 16, 2006, it found that the state was under no obligation to issue ID cards or birth certificates recognizing the Baha’i faith, overturning the lower court decision and reversing its 1983 position on the rights of Baha’i Egyptians to acquire documents reflecting their true religious affiliation.

The SAC, in its decision, reasoned that while freedom of religion was absolute and could not be subject to limitation, the government could restrict the practice of religious rites on the grounds of “respecting public order and morals.”75 In upholding the government's restriction on the right of Baha'is to identify their faith on record, the court improperly classified the compulsory listing of religious affiliation in necessary identification documents as a religious rite, which may be limited by the state. It went on to argue that the mention of the Baha’i faith in identity documents constitutes a religious rite that violates public order, which in Egypt is based on Shari`a:

This is established on the grounds that the legal provisions that regulate all these issues [including the issue of religious affiliation in identification documents] are considered part of the public order. Therefore no data that conflicts or disagrees with [public order] should be recorded in a country whose foundation and origin are based on Islamic Shari`a.76

The SAC decision did not respond to any of the nine arguments submitted by the lawyers representing Hosam `Izzat’s family. Rather, most of the decision was dedicated to an attack on the tenets of the Baha’i faith, which fell outside the scope of the lawsuit:

They [Baha’is] absolutely and totally forbid the jihad77 that is provided for in the Islamic Shari`a, because they want people and nations to submit to their executioners without any resistance, in return for poetic and sweetened words calling for the establishment of a world government, which is the main purpose of the Baha’i movement. This is one of the secrets of their ties with the colonialists, old and new, who embrace and protect them. Furthermore, they made up a “Shari`a” for themselves in accordance with their beliefs which forfeits the provisions of fasting, praying, family law in Islam and makes new and different provisions.78

A main premise of the SAC decision was the assertion that Shari`a only allows freedom of religion for the “recognized” religions. Neither government lawyers nor the court provided evidence to support such claims. Lawyers representing the `Izzat family argued that the Qur’an does not restrict religious freedom to the three religions, and that there is no evidence in the practice of the Prophet Muhammad or his followers that co-existence was only allowed among Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Distinction must be made, the lawyers argued, between the Islamic notion that Islam is the last revealed religion and that no other legitimate faith will follow it, on the one hand, and the civil rights afforded to citizens who adhere to other faiths even if they emerged after Islam and were not recognized or legitimized by the Muslim majority, on the other. The lawyers challenged the government’s claim that adherence to the Baha’i faith, in itself, violated public order. The SAC decision did not include any response to these pleas.

The SAC decision in the `Izzat case is final and cannot be appealed before any other court. `Izzat’s three daughters faced the choice of converting to Islam, being expelled from their school, or leaving the country. As of this writing (November 2007), the private school they have been attending has allowed them to remain enrolled using their passports as IDs, but this is a fragile arrangement and will not suffice when they have to take national secondary school final exams.

While SAC rulings are technically not binding to the lower courts, they have an authority that usually influences lower courts. Fearing a negative decision on his pending case in the lower Court of Administrative Justice following the `Izzat ruling, Ra’uf Hindi felt compelled in January 2007 to amend his pleas there. Instead of asking for birth certificates recognizing his children’s Baha’i faith, Hindi’s request is now confined to birth certificates with a dash inserted in the religious affiliation line. This case was still pending before the court at the time of this writing.

Like Ra’uf Hindi Halim’s twins and Hosam `Izzat’s three daughters, children have been paying a high price for the government’s arbitrary and discriminatory policy toward Baha’i Egyptians. HRW/EIPR are aware of at least 13 cases of Baha’i families whose children face serious problems in obtaining birth certificates.

Until recently, the most frequent problem faced by Baha’i Egyptians wishing to register the birth of their children has been their inability to list their Baha’i faith in their birth certificates, or to replace their old handwritten birth certificates with the new computerized ones. However, HRW/EIPR have documented several cases in which the authorities in the last four years refused to record the birth of children unless their parents produced Islamic or Christian marriage contracts.

In addition, Baha’i parents report that children without birth certificates are now being barred from receiving immunizations from the Health Ministry and its local branches. `Asir and Cinderella Hani Fawzi were born in Isma`iliyya in 2002 and 2003, respectively. For four years, the local health department refused to recognize their existence. As a result, the local hospital consistently refused to give the children the immunizations mandated by the state.79

HRW and EIPR are aware of three other children born to Baha’i parents in 2006 alone who still have no birth records. One of the parents told HRW/EIPR of the difficulties he faced in order to immunize his son, who was born on June 13, 2006.

My wife gave birth at the Demerdash hospital [in Cairo]. I went to the Wayli Health office to issue the birth certificate for my son, Omar. The director was very polite, but said that the only thing he could do is to seek instructions from the Civil Status Department in Wayli. They instructed him not to accept my application unless I chose one of the three recognized religions. When the time for the first immunization came, I told the hospital officials that I was late in picking up the birth certificate. The second time I explained the situation and told them I didn’t know what to do. The doctor was sympathetic and agreed to give Omar the immunization. We still don’t know how we’re going to manage in the future without a birth record.80

In another case documented by HRW/EIPR, the public hospital where she worked denied a Baha’i mother of a child born on August 23, 2006, her right to a maternity leave because of her failure to provide her son’s birth certificate.81

In addition to violating the right to freedom of religion, such state practices violate the right to enjoy the highest obtainable standard of health as set out under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which Egypt ratified in 1982.82

In addition, children need birth certificates to enroll in public or private schools. Next year, for instance, `Asir Hani Fawzi will reach the age of compulsory primary schooling but will not be able to start school as long as local Isma`iliyya officials deny him a birth certificate.83

Baha’i students currently enrolled in schools and universities are hardly more fortunate than their co-religionists who are barred from enrolling. The state has stepped-up enforcement of its anti-Baha’i policy in the last few years, leaving many students either suspended or under the constant threat of suspension. Sarah Mahir Nasif, for instance, a 15-year-old senior at a private secondary school in Minya, has a handwritten birth certificate that identifies her as Baha’i. The school insists that she provide a computerized birth certificate. When she applied for one, she learned she was listed in the government electronic database as Muslim.84 Worried that she might not be able to take her general secondary school examination if the school decided to suspend her for not having the new computerized birth certificate, Sarah and her family decided to move to the United States where she is currently pursuing her studies.85

Suspension remains a grim reality that Baha’i students face at university. Husain Husni Bakhit, 15 years old at the time, enrolled in the Higher Institute of Social Work in Port Sa`id in September 2005. The institute accepted his paper birth certificate, which recognized his and his parents’ Baha’i faith. In January 2006 he became legally obliged to acquire an ID card. Bakhit explained that when he attempted to obtain his national identification card:

The CSD office in Tanta refused to accept my application. An official there told me they couldn’t issue IDs for Baha’is. I tried to get an official copy of my birth certificate from the CSD office in Shabin al-Kum, but they refused and told me I had to go to the same office that issued the original birth certificate, in Cairo. When I went to that office, in Zaitun, an official told me the only way I could get any documents was to go to Al-Azhar mosque and get a certificate of conversion to Islam.86

In February 2006, when the school announced grades for the fall semester, Husain’s grades were blocked because of his failure to provide an ID card to the institute’s administration. The same thing happened with his grades for the spring semester.

I went to the student affairs office at the institute and explained the whole situation. They told me this was my problem to solve with the Civil Status Department and there was nothing they could do.87

Husain never knew whether or not he passed his first year exams at the university. In September 2006 he went to the institute on the first day of classes, only to learn that he had been suspended. They told him that he could not start his second year of university without an ID card.

Losing hope in being reinstated by the social service institute, Husain decided to enroll in the Film Institute in Cairo. “They didn’t even let me take the admission test without an ID,” he told HRW/EIPR.88

Academic institutions, as well as public and private employers, are legally prohibited from hiring or admitting anyone without an ID card. Article 56 of Law 43/1994 on Civil Status reads: “No one without usable, valid identification cards may be admitted, hired, or employed as a civil servant, employee, worker, or student.” And Article 70 of the same law punishes any official who violates this requirement with imprisonment for up to three months or a fine between 200-500 Egyptian pounds (US $35-88).89

This regulation forces some Baha’i parents to send their sons and daughters to expensive private universities, which allow more latitude when it comes to official documents required for admission. These more fortunate students are only able to defer the problem for a few years. They cannot graduate without an identification card.

Through these actions, Egypt is violating the right of everyone to education as provided under the ICESCR.90

Male students face an additional problem. When they reach the age of 18, the law requires them to either perform their mandatory military service for one to three years or obtain a ”red card,” which defers their military service until they finish their university education. The Defense Ministry refuses to deal with applicants who do not have an ID card. The parent of one student said:

[My son] now has finished his American high school diploma, and we sent him to a local private university. They accepted him on the understanding that he would provide his ID soon. But at age 18, he has to register with the military to get the red card for his student file. He won’t be able to graduate without it.91

The parent said his son bears the psychological burden of being under the constant threat of expulsion from university.

He is not happy. There is lots of pressure on me to resolve this. He doesn’t want to leave the Baha’i community. I asked him to write what he wants for “religion” [in his ID card application]. We don’t force our kids to be Baha’i. He had to write it himself. He chose to write Baha’i.92

Wafa’ Hindi Halim managed to send her son to a private university.

My son is now 19 years old. His university expects us to get his military service deferment papers now, but we can’t get it without an ID. We tried to get him a passport, but they can’t issue it without the military service papers, because students aren’t allowed to leave the country while on reserve. So now he has no ID, no passport, no military service card, nothing.93

“My son is now 18.” another parent said. “He doesn’t have an ID though he tried to get one. If the military discovers he doesn’t have one, they will treat him as a draft dodger.”94

The lack of a military service deferment card could obstruct a Baha’i student’s education even if he has an ID card. Nayir Nabil `Ali is a 21-year-old senior in the physical education college of the public Suez Canal University. In the summer of 2005, the university administration informed Nayir that he would not be able to start his last year without a “red card.” When Nayir went to the local military service office, officials there told him that the Defense Ministry had a new rule: anyone born during or after 1985 had to produce the computerized national ID card for his application to be processed. They refused to accept Nayir’s paper ID card, since he was born in 1985.

I tried to obtain the national ID card. In the application, I wrote that my religion was Baha’i. The officer refused to accept the application and asked me to present my birth certificate. I showed it to him. It stated that I was Baha’i and so were my parents. He still refused to accept the application and asked me to apply in Cairo. When I went to Cairo, I met an officer called Wa’il who opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a big pile of documents and said, “You see, all these applications are from Baha’is who want IDs. You will never ever get them.”95

Nayir’s university wrote to the military service office to seek instruction. On September 3, 2005, the chief of the military liaison office at the university wrote to Nayir’s college administration: “We wish to inform you that religion is not relevant for conscription and that only the nationality of the student matters.”96 The letter stated that Nayir’s birth certificate should be sufficient for the purpose of the military service deferment.

But when Nayir went with his birth certificate to get his “red card” on September 11, 2005, the officials still refused to process his application when they saw “Baha’i” on his birth certificate. On February 15, 2006, three weeks into his last semester before graduation, Nayir received a letter informing him that the “faculty board meeting number 131, held on February 12, 2006” had decided to suspend him due to his “failure to clarify his military service situation.”97

Now I’m not even allowed access to the university campus. The guards were ordered to deny me access. I had checked out a book from the university’s library that was due, and I tried to go to return it. The guards had to call their boss. He allowed me to go to the library with a university security guard, who then escorted me back to the gates like I was some criminal.98

In the summer of 2006, the EIPR filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nayir before the Court of Administrative Justice, in Cairo, against the ministers of Defense and Higher Education and the president of the Suez Canal University, seeking that the university reinstate him and allow him to take his final exams for graduation.99 “I sent several complaints to President Mubarak, the Defense Minister and several other officials, but received no replies from anyone,” he told HRW/EIPR.100 On May 29, 2007, the court granted an urgent motion filed by EIPR’s lawyers ordering the university to reinstate him and allow him to take his final exam notwithstanding the final outcome of the lawsuit.101 The decision, which barely made any reference to Nayir’s religious beliefs, constituted a significant positive development in ensuring young Baha’i Egyptians their right to education, even if their faith was not recognized by the state. Instead of using this court decision as an opportunity to remedy the injustice inflicted upon Nayir, the ministries of defense and higher education decided on July 2, 2007, to appeal the decision before the Supreme Administrative Court. While the appeal is pending before the court, Nayir is unable to find employment without a university degree.

The law prohibiting employment of anyone without a valid ID document has affected many young Baha’is. One is Samih Nabil Habib, born in 1982. His birth certificate indicates that he and his parents adhere to the Baha’i faith. Since 2000, he has been unable to acquire a computerized birth certificate without converting to Islam or Christianity. After obtaining a technical school diploma in 2004, Samih could not find employment because his paper ID card was worn out and he was unable to get the new computerized ID. He attempted to obtain a passport to use as an identification document in work interviews, but officials told him that he had to produce an ID card in order to get a passport. “Now he has no ID, no passport, no birth certificate,” Samih’s father said. “He says he will go to prison, but he will not give up his religion.” 102

In late 2005, Samih was finally able to find a job at a small hotel in Alexandria. His father said the wage was low and the conditions were poor, but the employer was willing to take the risk of hiring him without an ID.103 Several months later, Samih was fired and once again unemployed after tourist police launched a routine inspection of the hotel staff’s papers.104

Samih’s case is not unique. Basim Wajdi, 23, was appointed as a lecturer in physics at the German University in Cairo (GUC) on July 16, 2006. After starting his new job, the human resources department of the university asked him to open a bank account at a certain large private bank in Egypt where they would transfer his salary every month. Like most banks in Egypt, the bank refused to accept Basim’s paper ID card and asked for the computerized national ID card. Basim explained the situation to the finance department of the GUC and asked them to pay him by check. On September 25, 2006, an email from the human resources department director informed him that his employment with the university had been terminated on the grounds that his “legal documents are incomplete.”105

Basim met with the human resources director and argued that his paper ID was still valid and that there were no legal grounds for terminating his employment solely on the basis that he did not have a computerized ID card.106

At this point [the human resources director] made it clear that this decision comes from "a higher authority." When I asked who, she said she didn't know but it could be national security and other higher authorities. She further stated that the university's position is sensitive and therefore they are unable to contest the decision. She also assured me that this decision is not GUC's, and that it was the higher authorities who did not approve my employment.107

In addition to discrimination in education and employment, the inability to obtain official identification documents renders young Baha’i individuals vulnerable to arrest on criminal charges. Article 48 of Law 43/1994 on Civil Status obliges each citizen to apply for an ID card within six months of reaching the age of 16. Article 68 of the same law stipulates a punishment of up to six months in prison or a fine between 100-500 Egyptian pounds (US$18 – 88) for the violation of Article 48. Failure to produce a valid national ID card “to representatives of public authorities immediately whenever requested” is punishable with a fine of between 100-200 Egyptian pounds (US$18-35).108

Many banks and official bureaus now refuse to accept paper ID cards in any dealings and transactions. Basma Musa’s driver’s license expired in June 2006. When she went to the Interior Ministry’s Traffic Police to renew it, they told her she had to acquire a new national ID card first.

I told them my paper card has always been sufficient, but they said these were the new regulations. I met with a senior official and explained to him the difficulty Baha’is have in obtaining national IDs. Eventually they agreed to renew my license but only for one month, with a note saying, “one month for the national number.”109

It is also impossible to collect a pension without an ID. Qudsiyya Husain Ruhi was 75 years old when she spoke with HRW/EIPR in late 2005. For three years she had been struggling to have access to her deceased husband’s pension, to which she is entitled under law. She tried to acquire an ID with “Baha’i” or a dash inserted for religion, but the CSD told her she had to convert to Islam first.

My husband died in 2003. He worked for Al-`Amiriyya Oil Company. To pick up my pension from the bank or the post office, I need an ID card. I’m supposed to get 70 percent of my husband’s salary, but I’ve gotten nothing since he died. I have to rely on my kids to help me because I have no other income. Everyone should be free. The state should not be responsible for anyone’s religion.110

Nabil Habib, a 67-year-old retired physical education teacher, relies on his pension to support his family. Habib cried as he described how he lived under constant threat that his pension will stop once his paper ID card is declared no longer valid.

Both of my parents were Baha’i. I applied for a family ID in 2001 but they refused to give me one. Then I applied for the national ID card in 2005, and again they refused. Every official I went to said, “You’re a Baha’i, we can’t deal with you. We’re just applying the law.”111

Most Baha’i Egyptians must endure the uncertainty of what will happen to them when paper ID cards are finally no longer valid at all – perhaps as soon as early 2008. A few Baha’i s were able to secure computerized national number cards with the word “other” inserted for religion when the system was first introduced. Even this lucky minority is under pressure to hand these cards back. One said that, after receiving such an ID card in September 2000, “I learned later that the person who issued it for me had a problem and was interrogated by SSI,” referring to the State Security Investigations arm of the Interior Ministry.112 Throughout 2006, the CSD local office that issued the ID has been pleading with this person to return this ID card.113

Perhaps the most absurd case of discrimination against Baha’i Egyptians remains that of the late Salwa Iskandar Hanna. Ever since she died in October 2005, the government has been insisting that Salwa posthumously convert to a “recognized” religion in order for her relatives to get a certificate proving her death. “My sister died on October 4, 2005. We obtained a permission to bury her, but we can’t get a death certificate,” said Labib Iskandar Hanna.

We tried, but were told we had to choose Muslim, Christian or Jew. Her son Ra’uf and I went to the local health department where we got the burial permit. They told us to come back the next day. The next day we saw [the head of the department] who told us, “according to the law, we can’t issue a death certificate because she is Baha’i.” We had no option to leave it blank or write “other.”114

After the government established the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) by presidential decree in 2004, a delegation of Baha’i Egyptians approached its leadership and described the problems they were facing in obtaining official documents. In April 2005, the NCHR informed the Baha’i delegation of an agreement it had reached with the Interior Ministry by which Baha’is would be able to obtain passports but not other forms of identification.115 An NCHR official told Human Rights Watch,

We asked them, why do you need IDs? Use passports, which have no religion line. We proposed to help them get passports. Some agreed, but others insisted on IDs. Unfortunately 75 percent of them refused.116

Baha’i Egyptians had their reasons to refuse the offer. They said that their problems with official documents go far beyond obtaining passports, which would not resolve issues such as children’s birth registration, immunizations, school enrollment, or military service. Labib Iskandar Hanna said,

The NCHR told us to use passports for IDs and leave the religion line blank in the passport application. We said, “It doesn’t work. We need birth certificates. We need death certificates. And passports expire every six years and cost 65 Egyptian pounds each time. Birth certificates cost only five pounds and only one time.”117

Such an arrangement would have also violated Baha’i Egyptians’ constitutional right to equality and non-discrimination. Furthermore, the offer sent Baha’i Egyptians a dangerous message: the only identification document that the government is willing to offer Baha’is is the one that would make it easier for them to leave the country.

More importantly, Hanna said, Baha’i Egyptians were concerned that the offer was an attempt by the government to erase any trace of Baha’i s from official records.

Without national ID cards issued to Baha’is, suddenly, voila, there are no Baha’is in Egypt.118


52 HRW/EIPR interview with Diya’ Nur al-Din, Cairo, November 13, 2005. Diya’ had obtained a paper, handwritten ID when he turned 16, as required by law, which identified him as Muslim even though he had indicated his Baha’i faith in the application.

53 The Central Spiritual Assembly of Baha'is in the Egyptian State was registered on December 26, 1924, by the Cairo Mixed Court, contract copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

54 In 1975 the Supreme Court (now Supreme Constitutional Court) upheld the constitutionality of law 263/1960. The court found that the law did not restrict the freedom to adhere to the Baha’i faith and, therefore, did not violate the constitutional protection of freedom of religion under the 1971 Constitution. Forty-three Baha’i Egyptians had filed the appeal. Supreme Court ruling, case number 7/2, issued on March 1, 1975.

55 HRW/EIPR interview with Amin Battah, a leading Egyptian Baha’i community figure.

56 See for example the letter from Muhammad Naguib, Director of Legal and Technical Research Administration, Civil Status Department, Interior Ministry, regarding an application by a Baha’i citizen for a national number card, November 2, 2004, copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

57 The Human Rights Watch letter requesting a copy of the circular is reproduced in the appendix to this report.

58 Egypt’s personal status law follows the prevalent interpretation of Islamic Shari`a, which prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men.

59 HRW/EIPR interview with Ra’uf Hindi Halim, Cairo, November 11, 2005. Prior to this incident, Halim had tried to apply for birth certificates for his children in 2001. A letter dated November 30, 2004, from the Legal and Technical Research Department, Civil Status Department, Interior Ministry stated that “[i]t is imperative that the applicant belongs to one of the three divine religions (Islam, Christianity, Judaism). Accordingly, it is not permissible in this case to issue replacement birth certificates for the two children of the applicant.” Copy of letter on file with HRW/EIPR.

60 HRW/EIPR interview with Ra’uf Hindi Halim, Cairo, November 11, 2005.

61 Case number 18354/58 before the First Circuit of the Court of Administrative Justice.

62 HRW/EIPR interview with Ra’uf Hindi Halim, Cairo, November 11, 2005.

63  Ibid.

64  Ibid.

65  Ibid.

66 HRW/EIPR interview with Hosam `Izzat, Cairo, November 13, 2005.

67  Ibid.

68 Letter signed by officer Mo`taz Siddiq Radwan, Chief of the Lower Egypt Intelligence Department, August 11, 2004. Copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

69 HRW/EIPR interview with Hosam `Izzat, Cairo, November 13, Cairo, November 11, 2005.

70 Decision of the Supreme Administrative Court in Case no. 1109/29, issued on January 29, 1983.

71 Decision of the First Circuit of the Court of Administrative Justice in Case no. 24044/45, issued on April 4, 2006.

72 Ibid.

73 For an analysis of how Egyptian media addressed the case, see the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Non-Violence Studies, “Freedom of Belief in the Eyes of Egyptian Media: Baha’i faith as a Case Study,” Cairo, July 2006.

74 “People’s Assembly says no to Baha’i faith,” Al-Akhbar, May 4, 2006.

75 Decision of the Supreme Administrative Court in Case no. 16834/52, issued on December 16, 2006.

76 Ibid.

77 Jihad literally means “striving.” The website of a US-based school of Islamic studies defines it as “[a]ny earnest striving in the way of God, involving personal effort, material resources, or arms for righteousness against evil, wrongdoing, and oppression. If it involves armed struggle, it must be for the defense of the Muslim community or a just war to protect even non-Muslims from evil, oppression, and tyranny.” (

78 Ibid.

79 HRW/EIPR interview by phone with Hani Fawzi, October 21, 2006.

80 HRW/EIPR interview by phone with Khalid Mohi, October 21, 2006.

81 Complaint from Dr. Samah al-Hadi to the National Democratic Party, September 2006. Copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

82 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force Jan. 3, 1976, article 12. See also, Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), G.A. res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force Sept. 2, 1990, article 24. Egypt ratified the CRC in 1990.

83 HRW/EIPR interview by phone with Hani Fawzi, October 21, 2006.

84 Complaint from Sarah Mahir Nasif to the National Democratic Party, September 2006. Copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

85 HRW/EIPR phone interview with Sarah Nasif’s aunt, Wafa’ Hindi Halim, September 24, 2007.

86 HRW/EIPR interview with Husain Husni, Cairo, September 17, 2006.

87 HRW/EIPR interview with Husain Husni, Cairo, September 17, 2006. In February 2007, the EIPR filed a lawsuit on behalf of Husni before the First Circuit of the Court of Administrative Justice against the Interior Ministry’s refusal to provide him with a nation identification card with a dash inserted in the religious affiliation line. The case was still pending before the court at the time of writing.

88 HRW/EIPR interview with Husain Husni, Cairo, September 17, 2006.

89 Law 43/1994, article 70.

90 ICESCR, article 13. See also the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 28.

91 HRW/EIPR interview, name withheld, Cairo, November 11, 2005.

92 HRW/EIPR interview, name withheld, Cairo, November, 2005.

93 HRW/EIPR phone interview with Wafaa Hindi Halim, October 18, 2006.

94 HRW/EIPR interview, name withheld, Cairo, November 9, 2005.

95 HRHW/EIPR interview with Nayir Nabil, Cairo, June 27, 2006. 

96 Letter signed by Lieutenant Ahma Hanna d Hilmi al-`Adawi, 3 September, 2005. Copy on file with HRW/EIPR.  

97 Letter from Professor Yasin Kamil Habib, Deputy Dean of Physical Education Faculty, Suez Canal University. Copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

98 HRHW/EIPR interview with Nayir Nabil, Cairo, June 27, 2006.

99 Case number 37774/60. The first hearing was held on September 23, 2006.

100 HRHW/EIPR interview with Nayir Nabil, Cairo, June 27, 2006.

101 Decision on urgent motion of Case number 37774/60, issued on May 29, 2007. Copy on file with HRW/EIPR.

102 HRHW/EIPR interview with Nabil Habib, Alexandria, November 14, 2005.

103 HRHW/EIPR interview with Nabil Habib, Alexandria, November 14, 2005.

104 HRW/EIPR phone interview with Nabil Habib, October 14, 2006.

105 Written statement by Basim Wajdi to the EIPR, October 15, 2006. Copies of letters of appointment and termination on file with HRW/EIPR.

106 Article 50 of Law 43/1994 on Civil Status states that it is “impermissible for governmental or non-governmental authorities to refrain from accepting identification cards” as long as the cards where “usable and valid.” Unlike other provisions, however, the law does not stipulate any penalty for the violation of this article.

107 Written statement by Basim Wajdi to the EIPR, October 15, 2006.

108 Articles 50 (2) and 68 (2) of the Civil Status Law.

109 HRW/EIPR with Basma Musa, Cairo, September 18, 2006. Copy of driver’s license on file with HRW/EIPR.

110 HRW/EIPR interview with Qudsiyya Husain Ruhi, Alexandria, November 14, 2005.

111 HRW/EIPR interview with Nabil Habib, Alexandria, November 14, 2005.

112 HRW/EIPR interview, name and location withheld, November 14, 2005.

113 HRW/EIPR phone interview, name  withheld, October 20, 2006.

114 HRW/EIPR interview with Labib Iskandar Hanna, Cairo, November 9,2005. Copy of Salwa Iskandar Hanna’s burial permit on file with HRW/EIPR.

115 National Council for Human Rights, Second Annual Report (2005-6), February 2006, p. 156.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with Ambassador Mukhlis Qutb, NCHR Secretary General, Cairo, November 8, 2005.

117 HRW/EIPR interview with Labib Iskandar Hanna , Cairo November 9, 2005.

118 Ibid.