Two years on, what’s happened to Egypt’s dream of religious freedom?

مقالة للاعلامية شهيرة امين عن الاقليات فى مصر وهذا الجزء كتبه من ضمن المقال عن البهائيين على موقع UNCUT فى 27 فبارير

While the country’s new constitution grants Christians, Jews and Sunni Muslims the right to “worship freely”, that same right is not afforded to other religious minorities in the country — such as Baha’is — who are banned from building places of worship.

For decades, Egypt’s estimated 4,000 Baha’is have been kept on the margins. The current discriminatory policies against them are a carry over from successive regimes. Unrecognised by the state, Baha’is were in the past, unable to obtain national ID cards (which allow holders to vote, buy and sell property and open bank accounts.) That changed in 2008 when a Cairo Court granted Bahais the right to issue Identification documents — albeit without stating their religion on the cards. All IDs of Baha’is are marked with a dash, thus distinguishing them from followers of the three officially recognised faiths (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). While the IDs have given Bahais certain rights (allowing them to issue other documents like birth, marriage and divorce certificates and enabling them to vote), they’ve also contributed to deepening the discrimination and stigma associated with the yet-unrecognised faith.

“I’ve heard stories of Bahais who’ve been rounded up and detained for nothing more than their faith,” said Somaya Ramadan, an Egyptian academic and award-winning writer who follows the Baha’i faith. She recalled that armed security forces had stormed the home of a Baha’i family in Tanta some years ago and arrested a Baha’i woman in the middle of the night , leaving her young children unattended. Like many followers of her faith, Ramadan is worried that Islamist rule in Egypt could lead to an upsurge in religious intolerance against members of her community and subsequently, restrict their freedom of expression, religion and assembly.

Recent statements by Education Ministry officials advocating that “Bahai children may have difficulty enrolling in government schools in future because the constitution only recognises the three Abrahamic faiths,” have confirmed Bahais’ worst fears.

“The January 2011 Revolution raised our hopes for justice, equality and freedom but now, we feel let down,” Ramadan told Index .

“The current government favours Muslims over people of other faiths. This attitude can only reinforce hypocrisy, encouraging people to lie about their religious beliefs. Islamising the society will only deepen the sectarian divisions in the country — The disenfranchisement of Bahais and other religious minorities must end.”

Still, she remains hopeful and is confident that change will come.

For that to happen, Egyptians need to take some bold steps to put their country back on a path of reconciliation and compromise — including amending provisions to the constitution that are ambiguous or unpopular with the public. President Morsi has recently appointed a committtee of legal experts and representatives of opposition political parties to discuss amendments to the charter. For the secular opposition activists and religious minorities in Egypt, the talks are a new opportunity to press for a document that truly secures freedom of religious expression and respects human rights — necessary conditions for a viable democracy.

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