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EGYPT: A breakthrough for Bahais

April 16, 2009 |  6:57 am

Baha ullah shrine

This week, human-rights groups hailed a government directive acknowledging the right of the Bahai religious community to receive identification documents -- without having to choose another religion on the application -- as “a positive step that came very late.”

This decision "puts an end to the official policy that forced Egyptian Bahais to claim being either Muslim or Christian,” said a statement issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the human-rights group that spearheaded the years-long legal battle between Bahais and the government.

The interior ministry handed down its new directive last month following a court verdict that granted those of the Bahai faith the right to obtain identification cards and birth certificates without having to choose a religion. The court ruled that they could leave the religious-affiliation spot empty. The ruling was not subject to any further appeal.

The new directive became effective this week, according to the human-rights group's statement.

Bahais are expected to rush to government offices to apply for their identification documents under the new regulations.  

However, this breakthrough does not necessarily mean a higher level of tolerance. Recently, the houses of some Bahai families were set on fire  in an Upper Egypt province. Families fleeing the attacks were uprooted from their hometown.

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: The shrine of Bahaullah, founder of the Bahai faith, in the Israeli city of Haifa. Credit: Nelson Ashberger / Bahai Media Bank

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