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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2008

Egyptian court says Baha'is don't need ID

CAIRO - An Egyptian court on Tuesday ruled that members of the Bahai faith can get new ID cards that don't state their religious affiliation, ending four years of court controversies, including rulings that denied Bahaism exists as a religion.

The decision followed an appeal filed by two Bahai families who were refused ID cards by the Egyptian interior ministry because their religion is not recognized under the law here. Egypt recognizes only Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and requires all identification papers and other documents, such as birth certificates, to state an individual's religion.

The court said the Bahais would be "allowed to put a hyphen" in the "religion" column in documents, instead of filling it out. The two Bahai families had asked the court allow them to leave the column blank.

But in its decision, the Supreme Administrative Court in Cairo also stated that Bahaism is not a recognized religion in this country.

"The officially recognized religions are Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and there are no other recognized religions," it said.

The phrasing reflected a compromise - while not going against the law, it allowed for the Bahais, who are estimated at about 2,000 people in Egypt, to get documents.

The Bahai Faith was founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman, Baha'u'llah, who claimed to be a new prophet in the series of prophets that included Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. Islam considers Muhammad to be the last of the prophets.

In April 2006, a lower court in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria granted a Bahai family permission to list their religion on ID cards, after a nearly 30-year ban. The interior ministry contested the ruling, claiming it violated the constitution and a higher court later froze the lower court's ruling.

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