Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Hamdi Zakzouk told parliament the government would base its appeal on the opinion of the country’s leading Muslim cleric, the Sheikh of al-Azhar, that Baha’ism is not a “revealed religion” recognised by Muslims.
Zakzouk was speaking in a parliamentary debate in which many members opposed the ruling last month by an administrative court in favour of the Baha’i couple who have been fighting for two years to make the government register them as Baha’is.
Civil society groups welcomed the court ruling as a victory for freedom of belief, as the constitution guarantees in theory. In practice the authorities impose many restrictions.
Members of parliament attacked Baha’is as deviants and extremists and noted that the group’s international headquarters is in the Israeli city of Haifa.
One member of parliament, Gamal Akl of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, said the Baha’is were infidels who should be killed on the grounds that they had changed their religion.
“The problem with the Baha’is is they are moved by Israeli fingers. We wish the Ministry of the Interior would not yield to the cheap blackmail of this deviant group,” added another Muslim Brotherhood member, Mustafa Awadallah.
Zainab Radwan of the ruling National Democratic Party, however, said she favoured recognising the Baha’is on identity cards issued by the state.
”There is an interest in them being known rather than unknown so that they do not succeed in infiltrating the ranks of society and spreading their extremist and deviant ideology,” she said.
The Egyptian constitution guarantees religious freedom but in practice officials are reluctant to recognise religions other than Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which many Muslims believe to have a special elevated status.
The Baha’i faith, an offshoot of Islam, originated in Iran 150 years ago and claims five million members in 191 countries.
The treatment of Egypt’s Baha’i community, estimated at 2,000 people, has been an irritant for many years in relations between the government and human rights groups.
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