Setting the record straight about Egypt's Baha'i

Followers of the Baha'i faith in Egypt are living as second-class citizens because the authorities do not recognize their religious affiliation on official documents. MENASSAT met with Baha'i blogger Shady Samir, who uses the Internet to advocate for the rights of Egyptian Baha'i.
Shadi ID
Shady Samir, and the old ID card that allowed Egyptians to avoid stating their religion. The new ID cards no longer have that option. © Alexandra Sandels

CAIRO, October 29, 2008  (MENASSAT) – It has been fours years since Shady Samir lost his father, but the Egyptian state still doesn't consider him to be officially dead.

Samir's father was an adherent of the Baha'i faith, and in order for him to obtain a death certificate, he would have to posthumously convert to one of Egypt's three official faiths – Christian, Muslim or Jewish.

It is only one of many problems faced by the adherents of the Baha'i faith in Egypt.

It was issues like these, coupled with the misinformation being spread about the Baha'i faith that prompted Samir to join the information war and "set the record straight" with his blog Egyptian Baha'i.

The Baha'i religion was founded by Bahá'u'lláh in nineteenth-century Persia. It emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. There are an estimated five to six million Baha'i around the world in more than 200 countries and territories


Samir's father may remain officially "alive" for some time to come, seeing that he specifically asked his family not to resort to a posthumous conversion to obtain the death certificate.

"It was his last will to die as a Baha'i," Samir told MENASSAT.

Official papers like identity cards and birth certificates are obligatory in Egypt and not having them can cause immense obstacles. Egyptians cannot enroll in schools or universities, receive medical treatment, or even buy a car without a national ID card.

Those Baha'i who refuse to change religion on their official papers effectively become  "stateless" in their own country, without the right to access the most elementary public services.

Instead, most Baha'i tend to possess passports – the only official Egyptian document that doesn't require statement of religious affiliation.

"The government certainly makes it easy for us to leave. Is it done on purpose? I don't know," Samir shrugs.


In a bid to regain their basic rights in their own country, Egypt's Baha'i community has been fighting a court battle since 2004 to get their faith recognized on the new, computerized ID cards. Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court reversed a December 2006 ruling in favor of the Baha'i after the government appealed.

Legal battle

Since then, the Bahai community have gone back to demanding the right to leave the religion field on official papers blank.

"We want our documents without being forced to write something we're not. It's as simple as that," says Samir.

A court case involving three Bahai citizens demanding this right has been on-going for some time.

The suit concerns 15-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Raouf Hindi, who found themselves unable to obtain birth certificates unless they claimed to be Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

It also involves 19-year-old Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from his university due to his inability to present an identity card.

On January 29, 2008. Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice again ruled in favor of the Baha'i plaintiffs, allowing them to obtain birth certificates and identification documents without being required to state a religious affiliation.
But Egypt's Ministry of Interior has yet to implement the ruling and Egyptian Baha'i remain in a legal vacuum.

"Now when you ask for ID papers, they tell you to wait for the final verdict in the case," Samir sighs.

After the initial December 2006 ruling, there was a lot of coverage of the Baha'i in the Egytpian media. But Samir felt it often misrepresented his religion or in some cases even slandered it.

It was what spurred him to start his blog, Egyptian Bahai.

"It is an outlet for me to correct false information that is said about us on blogs and in the media. I mainly target news that spreads untrue information about the Baha'i," he says.

Death threats

Samir gets "lots of feedback" on his blog, he says. but the majority of it is negative.

"I get comments like 'The Bahai faith is not a religion. Stop and think about what you are doing.'"

One message read, "If I see you I will kill you."

The situation of the Egyptian Baha'i has attracted the interest of Egyptian and international human rights organizations.

Several protests were staged in Cairo during in 2006 and 2007 in support of the Baha'i, in which activists held up enlarged versions of Baha'i ID cards.

In February 2007, freelance Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Ezzat released the documentary "Identity Crisis," in which he portrayed the situation of the Baha'i.

The film focuses in part on the December 2007 verdict. It shows a group of Islamist activists at the courthouse triumphantly shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Great) while holding up the Quran before a stunned group Baha'i, human rights activists and journalists.

One of the Islamist activists, Mohamed Salem, proceeds to state before the camera that Baha'i are apostates and that "infidels should be killed."

The film goes on to interview rights activists and Egyptian Baha'i such as Dr Basma Moussa, an assistant professor in oral surgery at Cairo University, who claims that Egypt's highest Islamic institution, Al-Azhar, issued a certificate stating she was an apostate, which delayed her tenure for several years.

Ezzat's film was banned from several Egyptian film festivals, including the Alexandria Film Festival.

Samir, whose wife is American, recently obtained his Green Card for the US, but he says that he won't leave his country until he is granted his rights.

"I don't want to run away. I will receive all my rights. I believe that," he says.

Baha'i have lived in Egypt for more than a hundred years. In 1924, Egypt became the first Muslim country to recognize the Baha'i faith as an independent religion apart from Islam.

But ever since President Nasser shut down the Baha'i national assembly in the 1960s, and the government proceeded to confiscate Baha'i properties such as libraries and cemeteries, there has been no official record of the group.

Baha'i institutions and community activities remain banned under Egyptian law to this day.