WASHINGTON (BP)–Egypt’s government should “respect and enforce” two recent decisions by that nation’s highest court, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The decisions can advance religious freedom in Egypt, commission chairman Michael Cromartie said.
A Feb. 9 ruling reversed a lower court’s prohibition on citizens being allowed to return to Christianity after converting to Islam.
And in January, the high court overturned a government ban on the ability of members of the Baha’i faith to obtain official identity documents. Before this ruling, only three faiths had been approved for registration documents -— Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Without one of those faiths listed on an identity card, followers of the minority Baha’i faith could not gain official recognition necessary to have access to several public services.
“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that the freedom of religion includes the ‘freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of [one’s] choice,” Cromartie said in a written statement Feb. 13. “Egypt has a long and fabled history of religious diversity, and it is a tradition that can enrich the nation today. The government and the courts should protect the internationally recognized freedom of religion or belief for individuals of all faiths.”
Even with the recent rulings, the commission remains concerned over violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Egypt. The country is predominantly Muslim, and the government promotes and regulates Islam. The commission has placed Egypt on its watch list of countries that are not considered the world’s worst violators of religious liberty but require monitoring because of discriminatory or repressive policies.
Religious minorities in Egypt continue to be discriminated against, becoming the victims of police harassment and societal violence, according to the commission.
In one example, a man sued the government after it rejected his request to officially change his religious affiliation on identity documents from Islam to Christianity. Other citizens who returned to Christianity were required to list their affiliation as “ex-Muslim.”
The commission and the U.S. government recently urged the Egyptian government to remove or make optional the religious affiliation on identity cards in order to prevent discrimination against religious minorities.
“These twin decisions can be helpful steps toward meaningful reform if respected by Egyptian authorities,” Cromartie said. “After a long period of setbacks in the sphere of religious freedom, Egyptian courts have delivered some rulings that have the potential to help address aspects of these discriminatory policies. The next essential step is for these rulings to be fully implemented in practice.”
Katherine Kipp is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. More information on commission recommendations for Egypt can be found in its 2007 report at www.uscirf.gov.