Saturday, June 24, 2006

Baha'is in Egypt: The Quiet Dignity

The Egyptian Baha'i community, in spite of the several challenges to its existence, managed to thrive from the time of its inception until 1960 when the sudden Presidential Decree #263 put a stop to all its functions and activities. The decree stated: "all Baha'i Assemblies and Centres" are "hereby dissolved, and their activities suspended. Individuals, bodies and institutions are warned to refrain from any activity." Several senior Baha'is were arrested, humiliated and interrogated. A well documented narrative of the history of the Baha'i community of Egypt could be found at this link.

All Baha'i properties were immediately confiscated. It included a 17,000 square meters parcel of land on the banks of the Nile, intended to become the site for building a Baha'i House of Worship for North East Africa. Other properties included the National Headquarters building in Cairo, a Villa in Port-Fouad that housed the Baha'i Centre for the Port-Said area, a Baha'i Centre structure in Ismailia, a summer school site in Alexandria, all Baha'i cemeteries, and all Baha'i funds and other assets. Even, books, supplies, photographs, valuables, chairs, desks and bookcases were confiscated. To this day, the Baha'is are still awaiting the return of their properties.

This old photograph shows the delegates to the National Convention posing at the front steps of the Baha'i National Headquarters in Cairo, two years before the storm. It was one of the properties confiscated by the government in 1960. It was taken away for use by the Ministry of Interior. Later after much neglect, this dilapidated building became one of the centres for the ruling national party, as is shown in this recent colour photograph published on 15 June 2006 in the Egyptian "el-Wafd" newspaper (See comments for details).

After the banning of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, its followers were placed under constant surveillance, its activities came to a halt, and the Baha'is were permitted to worship only in the privacy of their homes. Some Baha'i university students were harassed, interrogated and abused, and their grades were altered. The Baha'is were allowed to celebrate their major Holy Days in public parks as shown in this photograph taken in 1965 in Alexandria.

These men, who exude dignity and peace, were frequently harassed, and followed by secret agents everywhere they went, to the extent that they came to personally know their watchers and greet them with a smile in the mornings on their way to work. Some of them even got to know the agents by name and invited them to a coffee or a cup of tea. Many of these gentlemen were frequently arrested, temporarily banished, interrogated and tortured. But they had always maintained their Quiet Dignity!

6 comments:

  1. Egyptian newspapers reported in 1970 and 1971 that the Haziratu 'l-Quds was torn down and a mosque was supposed to be built in its place. Now you write the building is still there? That's interesting.

    In any case, the Ministry of the Interior had given the building to the "Gami'at al-muhafaza 'ala l-Qur'an al-Karim" in 1960, as far as I know.

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  2. After the initial occupation by the Ministry of interior and the Qur'anic association, it was given to the Socialist Union. When socialism was dissolved and the party system allowed, it was taken by the ruling National Democratic Party. It continues to occupy the building until now. The Qur'anic, Islamic association "Gami'at al-muhafaza 'ala l-Qur'an al-Karim" continues to use part of the building as one of its medical clinics.
    Here is the link to the article:
    http://www.alwafd.org/front/detail.php?id=3295&cat=invest&PHPSESSID=d0486460758bd968817bc6a4f93b8cbd

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  3. بمزید الشکر یا سیدنا لهذا التقریر الرائع والمفید فيما یتعلق بتاریخ المجتمع البهائي في مصر فکنت أدرس اللغة العربیة في جامعة میدلبري السنة الماضیة وفیها تعرفت علی ممثل مصري مشهور جدا وهو کان یزور کلیتنا في نهایة البرنامج فعندما ذکرت له أنا بهائي فابتبسم لي ابتساما عریضا وهو یقول لي عن الرجل العظیم السید بیکار الله عز وجل یرحمه وأضاف الممثل هذا الی أنه کان حزینا حینما اخرج السید بیکار من وظیفته ومع أنني لم أتعرف علی السید بیکار مطلقا فأعتقد بأنه کان مثلا من الامثال الأعلیة « للشرف الهادئ » الذي تکلمت حضرتک بصورة جمیلة عنه في هذه الرسالة والسلام علیکم ورحمة الله.

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  4. Hopefully, there will be a future post about the late Mr. Bikar.

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  5. Were the Baha'is ever compensated for seized property, lost jobs, times spent in prison, harrassment, wrongdoing, etc.? Is this the reward of good citizenship?

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  6. No compensation, or even an apology, was ever offered or received by the Baha'is.

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