Test for Egypt religious freedom in Bahai verdict

CAIRO --  Ragi Labib, a young Egyptian university graduate, cannot find a job, buy a car, or open a bank account. By next year, he may not even be able to prove his identity. Why? Because he is a Bahai.

When the government announced four years ago that only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were recognized as religions on official papers, the ID card on which he had scribbled the name of his faith became invalid.

"We don't mind omitting religion from ID cards altogether, or being allowed to insert 'other' in the religion field. But we don't want to lie about our religion on official documents," the 25-year-old said.

Now he fears that, despite being born in Egypt to Egyptian parents, his own children will not be recognized as Egyptian citizens.

Egypt's small Bahai community - fewer than 2,000, according to official figures - is eagerly awaiting a December 16 court ruling on the right of Bahais to obtain legal documents that state their religion.

In Egypt, carrying identity papers at all times is required by law and essential for access to employment, education, medical, and financial services.

The Bahai case gained local attention and sparked more than 400 press articles after an April ruling upheld Bahais' right to state their religion on their ID papers, but it is being appealed by the interior ministry.

Before April, most Egyptians had not heard of the Bahais, who are often registered by clerks as Muslims or Christians.

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