Egyptian Baha'i case final arguments heard; judgment due in two weeks

3 December 2006

CAIRO — Lawyers representing a Baha'i couple seeking to have their religious affiliation properly identified on state documents presented arguments yesterday at a full hearing before the Supreme Administrative Court here in a case that has become the focus of a national debate on religious freedom.

The hearing was short, and the court adjourned until 16 December, when it is expected to render a judgment in the case, which is being closely watched by international human rights groups.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by a married couple, Husam Izzat Musa and Ranya Enayat Rushdy, who had their identification cards and passports confiscated after they applied to have their daughters added to their passports, which listed the Baha'i Faith as their religion.

In Egypt, all citizens must list their religious affiliation on state ID cards and other documents, and current policy requires that they choose from one of the three officially recognized religions -- Islam, Christianity or Judaism. As such, Baha'is are being forced to go without ID cards, which are the key to accessing most rights of citizenship, such as education, financial services, and even medical care.

In April, a lower administrative court ruled in favor of the couple, saying the state must issue them ID cards that properly identified their religion. The ruling said that even if the government did not recognize the Baha'i Faith, adherents should still have their religious status properly stated on official documents.

That ruling provoked an outcry among fundamentalist elements in Egyptian society, who objected to any official mention of a religion other than the three mentioned in the Qur'an, opening a vigorous debate over issues of religious freedom and tolerance here. Since April, more than 400 articles have appeared in the Egyptian and Arabic news media about the case or its fallout.

The government appealed the lower court's ruling in May, which brought the case before the Supreme Administrative Court.