Baha’is in trouble with new constitution
As work proceeds full speed at drafting Egypt’s new constitution, vociferous calls for maintaining rights and freedoms are raised. And even though Egypt’s population is composed of mainly Muslims and a relatively large minority of Christians, this does not mean small minorities of other religions—or even non-believers—do not exist.
The new constitution has, so far, acknowledged only the “three heavenly religions”, meaning the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Other religions are simply not acknowledged; their members have no rights under the new constitution. This has been a source of severe concern for rights activists who insist that full freedom of belief should be recognised.
Among the prime victims of the new constitution’s concept of freedom of belief are the Shia, Baha’is, Sufis, and others. The Baha’is especially feel threatened, since they had gone through several battles in court during the years before the 25 January 2011 Revolution, according to which they had gained significant rights. Major among them was that they were able to have the religion box in their IDs vacant, instead of having to choose between one of the three heavenly religions.
Saïd Abdel-Messih, the lawyer who represents the Baha’is says that the new constitution, as such, curtails freedoms and threatens the civil character of the State. In comparison with other constitutions of civil States, he says, in which the freedom of the individual is the basis of all freedoms, Egypt’s new constitution places the Baha’is in a position where they are prime targets for discrimination. It also defies all the court rulings that were issued in their favour, he says.
According to Ishaq Ibrahim, a rights activist and researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the new constitution violates the basic principle of freedom of belief, and violates international treaties to which Egypt is signatory. Freedom of belief, Ibrahim reminds, secures the freedom to adopt whichever faith an individual chooses, as well as the freedom to move from one faith to another, and not be forced into a certain faith.
The new constitution, Ibrahim says, not only threatens freedom of belief; it is also a potential cause for land disputes. This relates to a general confusion in Egypt between freedom of belief and the freedom to practice religious rites, which in turn implies the right to build places of worship. It is important, he points out, to make a distinction between freedom of worship, which can be practised at any time and in any place; and the right to build places of worship, which is regulated according to rules and laws.
For his part, the head of Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination calls upon all the national forces to stand up to the curtailed freedoms in the new constitution which, if passed as such, threatens the entire community and its social peace on account of the discrimination it is bound to foster.
“Religious belief is, in the first place, a relation between an individual and his or her god,” says Baha’i activist Basma Moussa. “And the new constitution should represent every sector, no matter how small, in the Egyptian community.”
13 July 2012