January 2013- Despite the new year, Egyptian Minister of Education Ibrahim Deif reiterated his old comments about the (lack of) acceptance of Baha’i children in Egyptian government schools in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper “Al Akhbar al Yowm”.
The newspaper asked:
ما موقف الوزارة من أبناء من يعتنقون الديانة البهائية, و هل لهم الحق في الالتحاق بمدارسها بعد اعتراف الدستور الجديد بالديانات السماوية الثلاث فقط؟
What is the position of the Ministry regarding the children of Baha’is, and do they have the right to register in government schools after the recognition in the new constitution of only the three monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism)?
The Minister of Education, Ibrahim Deif, replied:
هناك ديانات ثلاث معترف بها، و لن أعتزف بأي ديانة أجري، والتربية الديانية مادة اساسية و إذا استطاعوا استيفاء شروط الالتحاق بالمدارس فأهلا و سهلا بهم، و من لا يرضي بشروطي فلا مكان له عندي لأن الديانات المعترف بها دستوريا هي الديانات السماوية الثلاث فقط ولم يعترف بسواها
[The monotheistic faiths] are only three recognized religions, and no other faiths are recognized. Religion is a crucial subject in school, and if [a student] is able to full the conditions of enrollment in government schools, then they are welcome. However, there is no place for anyone who does not accept these conditions because the only constitutionally recognized religions are the monotheistic faiths, and no others.
If readers find the tautologically confusing and meaningless response of the Minister of Education frustrating, then so do many others. Professor Basma Moussa, a Baha’i activist in Egypt, has a response of her own to the Egyptian Minister:
I have a question for the Minister. What are these conditions that are required for a Baha’i child to enroll in a public school, a school that we all used to attend without conditions, a school from which we succeeded and went on to hold prominent positions that serve our dear country, Egypt? According to the new constitution itself, education is the right of every child, so please tell us, what are your conditions for an education so that Baha’i parents can figure out how to enroll their children in Egyptian schools, school that are built from the taxes that are taken from us, like they are taken from all Egyptians without discrimination. Please respond, thank you.
The Minister of Education’s remarks are an echo of his comments to another newspaper on November 30th, where he claimed “State law in accordance with government procedures only recognizes three religions, and the Baha’i faith is not among them. Thus their children do not have the right to register in government schools.” His new comments add unidentified “conditions” to the enrollment of Baha’i children in school, which is in fact more dangerous than closing the door entirely.
By claiming that there is a vague method for inclusion, the Egyptian government has the ability to discriminate against Baha’i children and the entire Baha’i community while claiming that there is nothing inherently discriminatory about their laws. Just like the new constitution affirms that “Freedom of belief is an inviolable right” while denying the legitimacy of any faith other than Islam, Christianity, or Judaism, the Minister of Education’s comments pave the way for a discriminatory policy against Baha’is that is given constitutional legitimacy.