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Religious Discrimination In Egypt

According to a report by Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Egyptian government is refusing to recognize the conversions of converts from Islam and some minority religions in official state records, even though Egypt's constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The report accuses Egyptian officials of withholding national identification cards and birth certificates from members of the Baha'i faith.

Egyptian identity cards are mandatory for all citizens over sixteen years of age. They contain a field designating the religion of the holder. But the Ministry of Interior, which issues the cards, does not accept a religious designation other than one of the three, what the government calls, "heavenly" religions – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. This excludes Baha'is and other religious minorities and thus marginalized them in Egyptian society.

Converts from Islam are also denied new identity cards with changes to their religious affiliation. According to the Human Rights Watch report, Egyptian officials refuse to register the change and in some cases attempt to reconvert the cardholder to Islam. In some cases, the converts have resorted to obtaining forged documents indication their religious conversion and have been charged with forgery.

Joe Stork is deputy director of the Middle East and North African division of Human Rights Watch. He says "Officials [in Egypt] apparently believe that they have the right to choose someone's religion when they don't happen to like the religion that person. . . .has chosen". He urged the Egyptian government to ensure that Egyptians are able to have their real religious affiliations reflected in state records:

"We think that if the government just does the right thing by simply complying with existing Egyptian law on these matters, it will set an example of tolerance, as opposed to an example of intolerance, and will be one step - one constructive step, albeit a small step - towards addressing those larger social prejudices."

"Freedom," says President George W. Bush, "is a gift from the Almighty, written in the heart and soul of every man, woman, and child, and we must continue to promote the importance of religious freedom at home and abroad."