An administrative court in Alexandria, Egypt, issued a ruling on 27 December 2021 that could potentially be used to deny burial rights to members of unrecognised religious and belief groups.
Egypt’s Constitution only recognises Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Other religious and belief groups, including Ahmadis, atheists, Baha’is and humanists, do not enjoy the same legal and constitutional protections.
In response to a case filed by lawyers from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) (case 7060, January 2021), the court in Alexandria ruled that local authorities were not obliged to allocate land to be used as a cemetery for unrecognised religious and belief groups
Local authorities in Alexandria have repeatedly rejected requests from citizens belonging to unrecognised religious and belief groups and whose identity documents do not reveal whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jewish. According to the EIPR, between the 1920s and 1960s the authorities allocated 1850 plots of land for burial purposes, but this practice has since stopped, particularly with regard to the country’s Baha’i community.
The EIPR argued that Order 520, 2009, by the Minister of Interior, which allows authorities to use a ‘dash’ sign in personal documents to indicate that the person belongs to an unrecognised religious and belief group, confirms that the government recognises the existence of this category and therefore has a duty to provide burial grounds for them.
During the course of this case, the governor of Alexandria requested the opinion of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, who replied in June 2021, stating that unrecognised religious and belief groups should not be allowed their own burial grounds because this would cause division and discrimination within Egyptian society.
The EIPR intends to appeal the decision.
CSW's Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: "We are deeply concerned that this ruling will have a severe impact on the lives of Egyptians who belong to unrecognised religious and belief groups. It could effectively deprive members of unrecognised religious and belief communities of their entitlement as Egyptian citizens to a burial place in their own country. It is also indicative of the ongoing societal hostility which underpins sectarianism and fosters extremism. CSW calls for this decision to be overturned and for the government to ensure an end to all discriminatory practises that militate against the personal commitment of President Sisi to combat sectarianism and religious discrimination between citizens."