Tuesday, November 13, 2007

HRW on Egyptian religious discrimination

From McClatchy Newspapers:
CAIRO, EGYPT - Citing a long list of chilling testimonials, human rights groups Monday called on the Egyptian government to stop discriminating against converts from Islam and members of some religious minorities who want their faiths reflected on their national identity cards.

Egyptians must list their religion on their ID cards, which are required for enrolling in a university, starting a job, opening a bank account and most other aspects of public life. But authorities, drawing on Islamic law, essentially refuse to acknowledge Muslims who convert to other faiths and recognize only the three "revealed religions": Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Egyptians who belong to minority groups such as the Baha'i often find themselves stateless if they refuse to list "Muslim" or "Christian" on their IDs.

Two advocacy groups, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, spent two years documenting such cases and released their joint report Monday in Cairo.

The report's authors stressed that they weren't seeking new laws or provoking a debate on Islamic doctrine. They say they merely want authorities to apply existing civil law, which permits Egyptians to change or correct information on their ID cards. As it stands, the activists said, many Egyptian officials take it upon themselves to refuse the changes. In several cases presented in the report, Egyptians faced harassment, job termination and detention for challenging the authorities.

The report is filled with examples such as elderly Baha'i retirees unable to receive their pensions, Baha'i parents unable to get their babies immunized, mixed-faith couples prevented from marrying, and the children of Christian converts being forced to study Islam in public schools. In some cases, families paid for bogus documents in order to conduct their lives and later were prosecuted for forgery.