Papers? What are they? They have none. They live in the shadows of the Pyramids. They walk through the ancient bazaars filled with familiar aromas: fresh baked bread, herb-scented clothing, and spice-filled air. The echoed chitter chatter of merchants wafts through the air. This is their home too. They feel the beauty and the turmoil that is now. In what other place could this be more ironic?
In a country where "Let My People Go" is the stuff of movies, they have no papers. Bahá'í's represent a small part of Egypt, numbering somewhere between 2,000 and 7,000 in a population of over 80 million. The history of the world is full of examples of the few being dominated by the many. They do not crave sympathy. All they want is justice, fairness, and identification papers.
Sunni Islam is the state religion, and the government recognizes only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as legitimate. Identification paperwork is issued based on religion. If you're not a member of one of those religious groups, you are persona non grata. Minority religions such as Bahá'í's are denied enrollment in public schools, driver's licenses, birth certificates, many types of employment, marriage certificates, death certificates, bank accounts, and passports.
It wasn't always like this. The highest Sunni religious court in Egypt unequivocally declared the Bahá'i Faith an independent religion in 1925. Bahá'í's organized their own religious governing bodies, purchased properties for religious purposes and for cemeteries, and, while still intermittently-persecuted, were able to function in Egyptian society. This changed in 1960 when President Gamal Abdel Nasser dissolved all Bahá'í assemblies and confiscated all Bahá'í-owned properties, save one small cemetery.
The situation for the Bahá'í's, as well as atheists, agnostics, and others who don't identify themselves as being a member of one of the three recognized religions was exacerbated in the 1990s by a new law requiring all Egyptians to have identification cards that state the holder's religion. Bahá'í's can't lie about their faith and this presented a serious problem. At length, a compromise was reached in 2009 allowing a dash on the card in place of one of the three recognized religions. However, because of a legal system that lopsidedly favors Sunni Islam, little has changed.
Bahá'í's remain to this day, in a sense, the walking dead living in a country that is their coffin. Any type of existence is without due respect or of any significance, they are irrelevant. Ironically, this is happening to a group whose teachings emphasize that all of us, as creations of one God, are part of one human family.
Despite the persecution, Bahá'ís remain steadfast, and stand ready to offer whatever assistance they can. Egypt is currently working on a new Constitution, to be submitted for referendum by November 8. To their credit, the Constitutional Committee recently met with a delegation of Bahá'i's. The Bahá'i's stood up not only for their own rights, but also for the rights of all Egyptians, regardless of creed. They suggested the new Constitution "reflect all Egyptians so that they shall see himself/herself in it."
At home, we must realize that beyond our borders people don't have the freedom and luxuries we do, there is danger and discrimination daily. Bahá'í's are asking for proper identification papers, to be sure, but more broadly, they are asking for the right to work with their fellow Egyptians to help build a great nation. This is the time, Egypt can finally serve humanity through the rewriting of this constitution and protect all its people!
For more information about Bahá'í's, please visit this site.
For more information about Egypt's new government please visit this site.
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