Egypt court sets date for full hearing on Baha'i case

25 November 2006

CAIRO, Egypt — The date for a full hearing on a closely watched court case over the right of a Baha'i couple here to have their religion properly identified on state identification cards has now been set.

At a procedural hearing on 20 November, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court continued the case to 2 December 2006, when it is now scheduled to be heard by the entire three-member court in a plenary session.

The decision comes a few days after the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued a press release urging the Egyptian government to end its current policy on identification cards, which requires citizens to list one of three officially recognized religions, even if they are members of a minority religion like the Baha'i Faith or another belief system.

"Current Egyptian policy essentially turns Baha'is into non-citizens because without an identity card they cannot gain access to government services like education and employment, or engage in basic financial transactions, such as opening a bank account or obtaining a driver's license," said Commission Chair Felice D. Gaer in a press release issued on 16 November. "It is even illegal to be in public without a card.

"This policy is highly discriminatory and is incompatible with international standards. The current court case provides the Egyptian government with an opportunity to change its policy and omit mention of religious affiliation from identity documents or to make optional any mention of religious affiliation," said Ms. Gaer.

In April, a lower administrative court ruled that the Baha'i couple should be identified as Baha'is on official documents, a decision that if upheld will essentially overturn the government's policy of allowing people to choose from only from Islam, Christianity or Judaism on state documents.

The lower court's ruling provoked an outcry among fundamentalist elements in Egyptian society and the case has since gained international attention in the news media and from human rights groups.

Because they are unwilling to lie about their religion on government documents, Baha'is in Egypt are increasingly unable to gain legal access to basic citizenship rights, including employment, education, medical and financial services.

The government appealed the lower court's ruling in early May, and a court hearing was set for 19 June. Subsequent postponements were made to 16 September, 20 November, and now to 2 December.