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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 18:16 GMT
Egypt 'denies minority beliefs'
Egyptian Bahais
Bahais are not recognised in all-important Egyptian ID papers
Rights groups have criticised Egypt for forcing converts from Islam and members of some minority faiths to lie about their true beliefs in official papers.

Egyptians over 16 must carry ID cards showing religious affiliation. Muslim, Christian and Jew are the only choices.

Human Rights Watch says the requirement particularly hits members of the small Bahai community, and Coptic Christians who became Muslims but want to go back.

It says there are about 200 such people who converted for reasons like divorce.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says that without the all-important IDs, members of minorities face enormous problems in education and employment.

Ministry of interior officials apparently believe that they have the right to choose someone's religion
Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also highlights the plight of other Egyptians who complain that they have been designated as Muslims against their will.

These are mostly members of Christian families whose fathers converted to Islam and left them.

When the children get their ID cards they find they have been listed as Muslims whether they like it or not.

'Arbitrary refusal'

The report is jointly issued by HRW and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

"Ministry of interior officials apparently believe that they have the right to choose someone's religion when they don't happen to like the religion that person, him or herself, has chosen," said Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork.

"So we are asking the government today to end this arbitrary refusal to recognise someone's actual religious beliefs," he said.

Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim state. Conversions from Islam are viewed as apostasy, although Muslim scholars differ on the what action should be taken.

Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court is shortly to rule on whether seven Christian-to-Muslim converts who converted back can be recognised as Christians.

A ruling is also expected on whether the government must recognise minority Bahais.

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