Sunday, December 31, 2006

Egypt: The Baha'is With Another Court Date

The Daily Star - Egypt of The International Herald Tribune published an article on 23 December 2006 reporting on another case for the Egyptian Baha'is to be decided in court on 23 January 2007.

This case is in regards to an ongoing three year litigation concerning the 13 year old twins named Emad and Nancy. Their Baha'i parents have been attempting to acquire Egyptian birth certificates for them.

The children were born to their Egyptian parents in one of the gulf States, and were issued birth certificates from that country which were certified by the Egyptian consulate, but since they now reside in Egypt they are required to present Egyptian birth certificates in order to attend school.

The Daily Star article reports again on the controversy regarding the Baha'i identification matter in Egypt. It presents the arguments put forth by those who insist on their flawed point of view, and the rumor-mongering being propagated by these extremists. Furthermore, the reporter presented the response by some of the Baha'is interviewed and their clarification of the issues at hand.

In the printed version of the report, a separate article entitled "A brief look at the Baha'i Faith" was also published as a compilation done by "The Daily Star Egypt staff." Both articles can be seen by clicking on the accompanying images. The article published on the newspaper's website can be accessed here....

The compilation published by The Daily Star staff quotes from the following passage:

"...'Abdu'l-Bahá expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father's Faith, which together with the laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of God's latest Revelation to mankind. The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind -- these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys...."
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Egypt: Baha'is Refuting Slander

An Egyptian newspaper entitled Al-Mesryoon (The Egyptians) published an article on 22 December 2006 in which it reports on impending legal action by Egyptian Islamist groups intended to strip the Egyptian Baha'is of their citizenship. The article appears to advertise their intention and it repeats the slanderous accusations used by the extremists in their case.

This post is intended to accomplish two objectives:

1) The article: expose the slander by reporting the accusations made by the Islamists and published in the article.
2) The Response: to refute these accusations by using quotes from the Baha'i sacred writings.

1) The Article

The newspaper article begins with a catching title stating "They refuse fasting Ramadan and pilgrimage to the Kaaba, and they permit exchanging wives: Islamist activists litigate the Ministry of Interior to force it to strip off Egyptian citizenship from Baha'is."

It continues by stating that the newspaper "has learned that a number of Islamist activists decided to file lawsuits against the Ministry of Interior to strip off the Egyptian citizenship from the so-called Baha'i congregation in Egypt. These activists--who belong to more than one Islamist group--within the next week will resort to the Administrative Judiciary to produce a verdict forcing the Ministry of interior to strip the Baha'is of their citizenship, confirming that [the Baha'is] have excluded themselves from the law and the official constitution of the land, and stating that Islam is the official religion of the State and that Shari'ah is the principal source of legislation. Additionally since the Egyptian constitution does not recognize but the three divine religions, proving that those calling themselves Baha'is have violated the constitution and the law."

"The lawsuit confirmed--a copy of which was acquired by Al-Mesryoon--that the Baha'is permit adultery in the general sense and the forbidden adultery in the specific sense, which is a cause resented by the righteous, additionally they destroy the fundamental Islamic cornerstones as they refuse to fast Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca like all Muslims do, but instead their pilgrimage is to Iran, and Haifa in occupied Palestine. Also, their prayer rituals are completely the opposite of Muslim prayers, as they shortened it to only three prayer sessions per day."

"The lawsuit also stated that the presence of 2,000 Baha'is in Egypt threatens the security of the country and points to spreading "fetnah" Sedition [sectarian strife], depravity and debauchery within the society, especially that they are the first to invent the decadent exchange of wives."

"It is also worth mentioning that the Ministry of Interior was successful in winning a legal verdict last week in the Supreme Administrative Court overruling the previous verdict which was given by the Administrative Court granting the Baha'is the right to enter their religion in identification cards and official documents. This verdict [by the supreme court] was regarded by a number of secular society organizations and human rights organizations as an assault on freedom of belief, and they announced that they will exercise all sorts of pressure on Egyptian authorities to recognize the rights of Baha'is, and that these affirmations were interpreted by the political circles that they indicate that these organizations will recruit the assistance of the American and Israeli embassies for that purpose."

2) The Response:

In refuting these slanderous allegations, it would be futile to descend to their level, or get engrossed in their mire. Instead, it will suffice to simply present only a couple of quotes from the vast ocean of Baha'i sacred writings that will clearly show the essence of the Baha'i Faith and its teachings regarding behavior, character and conduct. This will help elevate the standard by which such unfortunate and ill-advised attacks can be refuted.

"Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer to the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility. We pray God to protect thee from the heat of jealousy and the cold of hatred. He verily is nigh, ready to answer." Thus hath My tongue spoken unto one of My Branches (sons), and We have mentioned it unto such of Our loved ones as have cast away their idle fancies, and clung unto that which hath been prescribed unto them in the day whereon the Daystar of Certitude hath shone forth above the horizon of the will of God, the Lord of the worlds. This is the day on which the Bird of Utterance hath warbled its melody upon the branches, in the name of its Lord, the God of Mercy. Blessed is the man that hath, on the wings of longing, soared towards God, the Lord of the Judgment Day.
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

"...Apart from these provisions Bahá'u'lláh exhorts His followers to consort, with amity and concord and without discrimination, with the adherents of all religions; warns them to guard against fanaticism, sedition, pride, dispute and contention; inculcates upon them immaculate cleanliness, strict truthfulness, spotless chastity, trustworthiness; hospitality, fidelity, courtesy, forbearance, justice and fairness; counsels them to be "even as the fingers of one hand and the limbs of one body...."
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 214)

These accusations and slanderous assaults presented by the extremist Islamist groups and propagated by fringe segments of the Egyptian media have no basis in fact or in reality. They only serve one purpose: to betray the nature and intent of those who propagate them.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

To the Baha'is of Egypt: From the Universal House of Justice

The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Baha'i Faith has just released its message addressed to the Baha'is of Egypt in response to the recent developments affecting the Egyptian Baha'is in their homeland. The original text of the three page letter can be accessed here in English and here in Arabic.

Images of the letter are published here and accompanied by some comments and relevant illustrations. In order to see each page clearly, please click on each image.

In the first paragraph, the Universal House of Justice refers to the recent unjust ruling of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court, the disappointment it has produced, and the need for the Egyptian Baha'is to stand firm in their quest for their rights, thus not to deprive the Egyptian authorities from the opportunity before them to "correct a wrong which has implications for many others."

The letter then addresses the brave efforts made by the many members and agencies of the Egyptian society that stood in support of their Baha'i brothers and sisters when it stated "Moreover, to relent would be to disregard the moral courage of these organizations, media, and persons of goodwill who have joined their voices to yours in the quest for a just solution to a serious inequity."

In the second paragraph, the letter addresses the issue at hand, and that the presiding judge in his statements "misses the essence, obscures the issue" of the case before the court, which is the necessity for Egyptian Baha'is to "...simply wish to be free to carry out the requirement of civil law that you [they] must obtain identification cards without making false statement about your [their] religious beliefs."

It also comments on the court's misuse of the validity of the other "three of the divine religions" in its attempt to discredit the Baha'i Faith and to "justify the exclusion of certain citizens from exercising their civil rights..." amounting to "a misuse of the authority of these Faiths to perpetrate an injustice that offends the high standard of justice to which they hold their adherents...."

It then states "The ruling was unreasonable not only because it is contrary to prescriptions set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, but more especially because the sacred scriptures of Islam extol tolerance as a precept of social stability."

The third paragraph addresses the landmark decision of 1925 in which a southern Egyptian [Beba] religious court in its attempt to denounce the Baha'i Faith and annulling the marriages of three men because of becoming Baha'is has "arrived at the accurate conclusion that the Baha'i Faith was a new religion, entirely independent, with beliefs, principles and laws of its own." And that "verdict was sanctioned at the time by Egypt's highest ecclesiastical authorities." For further reading regarding that historic event, one can refer to this previous post.


Baha'i women and girls in an Egyptian prison in Tanta in 1972 (93 Baha'is were arrested then)

In the fourth paragraph, the Universal House of Justice refers to the history of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt when it took root during the lifetime of Baha'u'llah. It spoke of the freedoms enjoined by the Baha'is and their Institutions, particularly when the National Spiritual Assembly was incorporated as early as 1934, and until "...suddenly in 1960, without forewarning, Presidential Decree no. 263 was issued, banning your national and local institutions and confiscating your properties and other assets." It then spoke of the five decades of "humiliation of all kinds, including the harassment of police surveillance and false arrests." The letter then addressed the misinformation being propagated in the Egyptian society in attempts to prove the unworthiness of Baha'is of the public's trust, while there has been much to confirm the noteworthy contributions by Egyptian Baha'is "towards fostering the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural character of the Egyptian people."

A clear representation of this has been the example of their "late Baha'i compatriot Hussein Bikar, who, despite having received a presidential award honoring his outstanding achievements as an artist, was denied an Egyptian identification card up until the time of his death." Mr. Bikar, for his exceptional talent was recognized by all Egyptians as a National Treasure. A tribute to his life and works of art can be viewed at this previous post.

The next three paragraphs reflect on "the broad context in which the recent action of the Supreme Administrative Court occurred, that from it you [Egyptian Baha'is] may derive an ever-larger sense of meaning and purpose." Here, the Universal House of Justice demonstrates how the Egyptian Baha'is have been put into a position, not only to defend their rights in their homeland, but also to uphold justice and defend the rights of minorities everywhere else. The letter speaks of the widespread presence of injustice throughout the world afflicting "every department of life whether in the home, at the workplace, or in the public sphere as a consequence of the ill conduct of individuals, groups, or governments." It also speaks of the current crisis taken in the context of "global connotation" and the responsibility placed on Egyptian Baha'is to strive, "...guided by the principles of the Faith and in collaboration with others whenever possible, to combat injustice, for the common good."

Labib Mu'awad and several other attorneys defending the 93 arrested Egyptian Baha'is in 1972 (some of whom were under-aged girls)

In its last paragraph, the Universal House of Justice addresses the various groups in Egypt who have shown their staunch support for the rights of the Baha'is. The whole paragraph is quoted here:

"Those groups supporting you in your current encounter are of a world-embracing vision and are themselves prepared to withstand the harsh resistance to their selfless occupation, sustaining blows of injustice in the process. As the rise of justice ensures the appearance of unity in the world, all who take on the formidable challenges of struggling for it have indeed captured the spirit of the age epitomized in the principle of oneness."

Bloggers and Human Rights Activists Supporting the Baha'is at the Supreme Court on 16 December 2006

"To the extent that the fight for justice contributes to the establishment of a single global standard of human rights, the organizations in Egypt so engaged are working towards achieving the unification of their nation's peoples. They are thus committing themselves in large measure to the vital task of reconciling the tensions that bedevil their society and delay the attainment of its unity. Such reconciliation should not be impossible to Egypt's people, who can take pride in the celebrated enlightenment that in a glorious past ensured their unity in a flourishing society. Undoubtedly, Egypt will rise to participate, as befits its stature, in the fruition of that destiny of world peace and prosperity of which all nations dream."

The letter concludes by offering prayers in the Holy Shrines, not only for each and every one of the members of the Egyptian Baha'i community, but also for all their compatriots "in that land of ancient splendor."



Relevant and Subsequent Development

Today, President Hosni Mubarak gave an important speech (Arabic Version) to a joint session of the Egyptian Parliament and to the nation regarding his plans to amend 34 articles of the Egyptian constitution. Here are some quotes from his truly enlightened speech:
(read complete English version here)

"Today, as we take this historic step towards developing our democracy, and as we recall our past progress and what we managed to achieve in the face of internal, regional and international challenges, I thank God, and am proud of this nation. And my confidence in our future progress is multifold"

"I had a clear vision of future of the country that won the confidence of the people and their support last year. I have vision of a modern Egyptian society which preserves freedom, elevates the value of citizenship and strengthens the role of citizens in the political process; A modern and developed society that lays the foundations of democracy and supports its day to day practice."


"The people entrusted and supported me in their first competitive presidential elections on Egyptian soil. As president of all Egyptians, I am responsible before the people; bearing the burdens of leadership and protecting the interest of the nation and her citizens. In fulfillment of the pledge I made last year, and of my responsibility as President, and exercising my competencies under Article 189 of the Constitution, I call upon the People's representatives to amend 34 articles of the Constitution, with the aim of bringing about a tangible leap that will open new horizons for our democracy."

"My request is meant to assert the idea, value and principle of citizenship. We are all Egyptians. We are all citizens of this homeland and we are all equal in rights and duties before the law without discrimination based on creed or religion [in the Arabic version (on Radio) he used the words Aqyida, Ta'effah & Deen; meaning belief, congregation & religion]. Over the course of our history, we have never been exposed to religious or sectarian division."

"Being aware of this and as I follow the sectarian and confessional divisions that the region is witnessing, I am determined to protect our society, Muslims and Copts, and confront practices that seek to circumvent the law and undermine the cultural heritage of the Egyptian people; practices that mix religion with politics and politics with religion, which spread discord and extremism, and which seek conflict between the two wings of our nation."

"Yes, I am responsible for all this before the people, as I am responsible before history. I speak to you and behind me lie long years I have spent in the service of the nation, protecting its skies, territory and sovereignty, preserving her independence and self determination, and fulfilling the responsibilities with which I have been entrusted."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Egypt: No ID Card = You Are Fired!

Early Casualties: The Firing of Baha'is Without IDs Began

Among several articles regarding the recent court verdict concerning the Baha'is, published on 23 December 2006 in Egypt's Sawt al-Umma [Voice of the nation] newspaper, was this one regarding a young Egyptian man who was fired from his university teaching position simply because, as a Baha'i, he was unable to obtain the new national number ID Card.

Bassem Wagdy Nassif is a 24 year old physics junior faculty member recently hired by one of Cairo's universities. He graduated from Cairo's Ein-Shams University with honours and was one of the top three graduates of his class. He had a very promising career as a university professor of physics. He had just begun his academic career when he was hired by the German University in Cairo as a junior teacher of physics. When it was time for him to receive his first salary cheque, he was required by the university to open a bank account in order for his employer to deposit his salary installments.

When he went to the bank he was refused to open a bank account because the bank would only accept the new computerised national ID cards, and not the old paper ones which expire on 31 December 2006. His efforts to explain to the bank his inability to obtain the new ID card because of being a Baha'i fell on deaf ears.

As he was so disappointed, having been deprived of his first earned salary of which he was so proud, he approached his university employer in his attempts to find a solution to his problem. The university administration, considering his circumstances, finally agreed to hand him a cheque based on his old paper ID card.

A month later he was surprised with his sudden firing from the university based on the order of the Ministry of Higher Education under whose authority the university operates. Subsequently, this intelligent and promising young man found himself with no employment and of no use to a country that had already invested so much in educating him for the purpose of serving and advancing his society.

His only "fault" is that he was born into a Baha'i family. Children born into Baha'i families have the freedom to choose their religion by age 15, at that age after having been exposed to the teachings of the Baha'i Faith as well as other religions, these youth are supposed to be mature enough to make their choice of religious denomination they would want to adopt. As many other youth end up doing, this young man has decided to remain in the Baha'i Faith despite all the obstacles anticipated in his path by living in the Egyptian society.

This case represents a flagrant violation of human rights and all forms of decency. The reason given for his firing cannot be justified.

The facts are: He is a law abiding Egyptian citizen, he is highly educated, he is one of the brightest young minds in the Egyptian society, he holds the highest moral and ethical standards, he has not deviated a hair from any regulation, he was formally hired by a university who had known his religious affiliation, he was refused to acquire the new computerised ID Card because he would not lie about his religion on official documents. He was then fired as a result of the orders of the Ministry of Higher Education, a government agency parallel to another government agency who had refused him an ID Card, namely the Ministry of Interior.

There is no humanly possible justification for such an act, and this Ministry who claims to uphold the standards of learning and public education, has failed its citizens by acting in direct opposition to the standards of enlightenment it is charged with promoting.

This is a perfect example of how a misguided segment of society can fold on itself and an example of a civilization depriving itself of its own promising bright minds. With such acts, the ultimate loser will be Egypt!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Egypt: Need to Apply the True Teachings of Islam

The Teachings of Islam: What is Right for Muslims Must Also be Right for Baha'is

In an "OPEN LETTER TO HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI" [Arabic version linked here] sent on 12 October 2006 in response to the Pope's statements in a lecture he has given at the University of Regensburg in Germany on 12 September 2006, thirty eight Islamic religious leaders, thinkers and scholars have presented their response to the Pope's injudicious comments about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and his references to Islam and to religious violence which had aroused a great uproar, violence and many demonstrations by outraged Muslims throughout the world.

The statements were in regards to the Pope's use of a debate between the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a “learned Persian” as the starting point for a discourse on the relationship between reason and faith. Among the thirty eight co-signatories of this open letter were, H.E. Shaykh Professor Dr. Ali Jumu‘ah Grand Mufti of the Republic of Egypt and Professor Dr. Abla Mohammed Kahlawi Dean of Islamic and Arabic Studies, Al-Azhar University (Women’s College), Egypt.

This letter pointed out to the Pope the true nature of Islam and very eloquently corrected misrepresentations of it and its Prophet. As will be quoted below, the letter emphasized the merciful, tolerant and compassionate essence of Islam.

Under the title, There is no Compulsion in Religion, the letter states the following: "...There is no compulsion in religion was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force another’s heart to believe. There is no compulsion in religion addresses those in a position of strength, not weakness...." It continues by stating, "...Moreover, Muslims are also guided by such verses as Say: The truth is from your Lord; so whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. (al-Kahf 18:29); and Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (al-Kafirun: 109:1-6)."

Under the title, What is "Holy War"? it states: "We would like to point out that “holy war” is a term that does not exist in Islamic languages. Jihad, it must be emphasized, means struggle, and specifically struggle in the way of God. This struggle may take many forms, including the use of force. Though a jihad may be sacred in the sense of being directed towards a sacred ideal, it is not necessarily a “war”...."

It continues: "...Moreover, the emperor’s statements about violent conversion show that he did not know what those instructions are and have always been. The authoritative and traditional Islamic rules of war can be summarized in the following principles:

1. Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets. This was emphasized explicitly time and again by the Prophet, his Companions, and by the learned tradition since then.
2. Religious belief alone does not make anyone the object of attack. The original Muslim community was fighting against pagans who had also expelled them from their homes, persecuted, tortured, and murdered them. Thereafter, the Islamic conquests were political in nature.
3. Muslims can and should live peacefully with their neighbors. And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God (al-Anfal 8:61). However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defense and maintenance of sovereignty.

Muslims are just as bound to obey these rules as they are to refrain from theft and adultery.... God says in the Holy Qur’an:
Let not hatred of any people seduce you into being unjust. Be just, that is nearer to piety (al-Ma’idah 5:8)."

Under Forced Conversion it states: "...The command There is no compulsion in religion means now what it meant then. The mere fact of a person being non-Muslim has never been a legitimate casus belli in Islamic law or belief.... We emphatically agree that forcing others to believe—if such a thing be truly possible at all—is not pleasing to God and that God is not pleased by blood. Indeed, we believe, and Muslims have always believed, that Whoso slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, it shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether (al-Ma’idah 5:32)."

Under Something New it states: "...and, Say (Muhammad): I am no new thing among the messengers (of God), nor know I what will be done with me or with you. I do but follow that what is Revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner (al-Ahqaf, 46:9). Thus faith in the One God is not the property of any one religious community. According to Islamic belief, all the true prophets preached the same truth to different peoples at different times. The laws may be different, but the truth is unchanging."

And finally under Christianity an Islam it quotes the Bible: "...particularly ‘the two greatest commandments’ in Mark 12:29-31 (and, in varying form, in Matthew 22:37-40), that, the Lord our God is One Lord; / And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. / And the second commandment is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these."

Last week, shortly after this enlightened and eloquent letter to the Pope, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court gave its final judgement against the Baha'is' basic rights, which denounced them as infidels and apostates of Islam, echoing the adamantly held attitude of al-Azhar towards the Baha'i Faith; there was no uproar or demonstration by Baha'is in Egypt or anywhere else, instead they continued their peaceful and rational appeals for their citizenship rights.

Furthermore, the Egyptian Baha'is are being told by the officials that in order to obtain ID Cards and recognition in Egypt they must either lie on official documents by denying their religion or convert to Islam!

These two events occurred within a few short months of each other. The Baha'is in Egypt, as a result of the recent Supreme Court verdict, are currently being treated as a non-entity in direct violation of the stated sacred teachings of Islam and the Holy Qur'an that has been clearly voiced by these respected Islamic leaders and scholars, including those from Egypt.

Would it not be deemed obedient to the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), righteous, sincere and honest for these honorable Muslim leaders to put into action their pronouncements and elucidations, and similarly, advice the Supreme Court of Egypt as well as the Egyptian Government to apply these essential and basic teachings of Islam to their Baha'i religious minority which has been cruelly persecuted and deprived of its basic civil and human rights?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Egypt: An Example of Objective Journalism

The following article is reprinted from Al-Ahram Weekly issue of 21-27 December 2006. Al-Ahram is the leading Egyptian newspaper with its Arabic version published daily and its English counterpart published weekly. The article is self explanatory and presents the Baha'i case very clearly.

Rendered faithless and stateless

The Supreme Administrative Court's ruling intensifies the fight for Baha'i Egyptian citizenship rights, writes Gamal Nkrumah
____________________________________________

Egypt's Baha'is won a historic victory when their right to be certified as Baha'is on official documentation was recognised by a ruling of the Egyptian Administrative Court on 4 April 2006. This week, the country's Baha'is suffered a disastrous setback. The Ministry of Interior appealed against the April ruling, which was overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court last Saturday, 16 December. Baha'is and human rights activists, both at home and abroad, argue that last Saturday's ruling was a gross human rights violation.

The conservative approach has disappointed the hopeful expectations of both secularists and religious minorities. In the months leading up to last Saturday's ruling, the law was increasingly interpreted by the courts to suit the more conservative elements. That law is intended to discriminate against Baha'is, Buddhists, agnostics or atheists alike. An Egyptian national can only be a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. No other religious affiliation is officially admissible.

After months of speculation, historians may see 2006 as the year that civil liberties in Egypt took a giant leap backwards. The insistence on the recognition of the Baha'i is not a modish secularist fad, but a fundamental human right.

"Did the constitution change? Did the Islamic Sharia change? I cannot understand," Iskandar sighs in palpable despair. "We do not want the state to recognise our religion, we only want to be able to go about our business in peace and without red tape and bureaucratic hassles."

"Inability to produce an ID card entails a five-year prison sentence. Still, we have faith in the legal system," Basma Moussa, a dentist and an assistant lecturer at Cairo University, yet another outspoken Egyptian Baha'i concurred.

"The court ruling appears to be based solely on a public rejection of the Baha'i faith," Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told the Weekly.

"The court didn't respond to a single legal argument by the defence," he added. "The civil status law makes it compulsory for every Egyptian citizen to carry on his or her person an ID card." He said that the court ruling was prejudiced by religious scholars and Al-Azhar, the country's Sunni Muslim religious institution, the most important in the world for that school of Islam.

"The civil status law prohibits students who don't have an ID card from enrolling at universities and other institutions of higher learning. This is an especially problematic issue for young Egyptian Baha'is who can be suspended from studies and may not even acquire a university degree. Baha'i men are barred from conscription which is compulsory for Egyptian males. This failure to undertake National Service is a serious offence unless waived because of health or other specifically- stated reasons," Bahgat explained.

He singled out the Baha'i youth as especially susceptible to persecution because of their religion. They face discrimination when applying for jobs -- the Egyptian legal system criminalises both employers and employees who do not have computerised ID cards and other personal documentation like birth or marriage certificates, all of which must clearly state the religion of the individuals concerned.

Last Saturday's court ruling effectively bars Baha'is from enjoying fully-fledged Egyptian nationality status. "We do not particularly care if the Baha'i faith is not recognised as a religion. What we do need is the right to have a valid identity card -- either the authorities state on the card that we are Baha'is or they leave the space where one's religion is specified vacant," Iskandar explained.

The government may not recognise the Baha'i faith in official personal identification documents, but the pretense of the law at present is that the Baha'is are not able to obtain necessary documents such as birth or death certificates and identity cards.

"I am 60 years old and it is stated in my birth certificate that I am a Baha'i. My eldest sister is 80 years old and she also is stated as a Baha'i in her birth certificate."

Another sister, Salwa Iskandar Hanna, passed away last year and it was sheer hell trying to issue a death certificate, let alone get permission for burial.

The problem was exacerbated in 2000 when computers were introduced at the general registrar office at the Ministry of Interior.

Iskandar explained that officials refused to leave the space allotted for the registration of one's religious affiliation blank. Some said one can only state Muslim, Christian or Jewish as his religion -- other religions such as Baha'is, Buddhists or Hindus cannot be registered, for example. In other words, Egyptians can only be religiously affiliated to one of the three revealed religions -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

"Don't force us to state a wrong religion in my ID card," Iskandar protested. "Neither of my sons Ragy, 25, nor Hady, 20, have an ID card. In their birth certificates it is stated that they re Baha'is, however. We cannot have a valid driver's license, we cannot register our cars, we cannot be employed in the public sector, or much of the private sector for that matter."

Iskandar hails from a Coptic family, but his great grandfather converted from Christianity to the Baha'i faith, and the family has been Baha'i ever since. They have no intention of reverting to Christianity.

A presidential decree promulgated as Law 260 in 1960, closed down Baha'i public places of worship, confiscated Baha'i property and banned the public worship of Baha'is in Egypt.

The Baha'i faith is not recognised in Egypt as a religion. With one accord, and with an anxiety that wrenches their hearts with cruel fears, the Baha'is of Egypt are bracing themselves for a long period of trials and tribulations. They are often denounced as heathens and apostates by a public that is by and large ignorant of the tenets of their faith. "We are not concerned whether we are acknowledged as a heavenly revealed religion. This is not the legal question before the court."

The ruling also reversed the position of the Supreme Administrative Court which had found in 1983 that Baha'is had the right to have their religious affiliation included in official documents.

"Today's regrettable decision throws the ball back in the government's court," Bahgat explained.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Egyptian Baha'is Without Rights: Public Outrage

Except for the extremist and hateful few who have called the Baha'is "microbes in the bodies of Egyptians" or screamed while holding up their Qur'an "expel them all" and "kill them all," the rest of the Egyptian public as well as the world's public have been outraged at the recent developments in the case of the Egyptian Baha'is as they were denied their due civil rights.

The extent of this disgraceful violation of basic human rights is just being grasped by the public after their gradual recovery from the initial shock induced by the verdict of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court which, in its misguided ineptitude, has managed to dodge the real merits of the case and went on its rampage attacking the religion itself rather than dealing with the issue at hand.

As is well known, this case has nothing to do with the question of the recognition of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt. It is about the right of a group of Egyptian citizens to their constitutionally guaranteed ability to coexist with their fellow citizens and to be able to carry on with their life in peace.

Without ID Cards, as of 1 January 2007, Egyptian Baha'is will not be able to collect their salaries or pensions, get their money out of their bank accounts, register the birth of their children, vaccinate their children, obtain death certificates, inherit their dead parents or family members, obtain employment, obtain or renew a driver's license, obtain a mobile telephone, purchase a vehicle or a property, get treated in a hospital, purchase medicine from a pharmacy, admit their children to schools, enroll in a university, obtain a national draft number, travel, marry, divorce, obtain any sort of public service, obtain social services, sleep in a hotel room, graduate from a university, and the list goes on, as was best put by one of Egypt's Baha'is "it affects us from birth to death." Furthermore, without an ID card, any of these citizens can get arrested in the streets on the spot and for no reason.

To say the least, the magnitude and the implications of that recent court decision are enormous. Sadly, this outcome was not at all unexpected considering the expressed bias of the court, the State Commissioner's report prepared by many of the judges sitting on the Supreme Court, and the leaks from the court to the media prior to the verdict.

Since Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has shown, without a doubt, its utter ineptitude, its unethical bias and its clear inability to rule on a simple legal matter, showing a frightening degree of corruption and indecisiveness by avoiding the issue brought to its respected chambers, it is time for the highest levels of the government to step in and uphold its sacred responsibility to protect its own citizens and grant them their civil rights...anything less is unacceptable.

It is becoming vividly clear that the reason for including religious classification in ID Cards and all other official documents is to discriminate against minorities.... Excuses given by the 'Establishment' are: "so that marriage, burial and inheritance laws can be applied." It is hoped that the government is savvy enough to realize that there are many other ways to identify a person's religion for these given purposes, a simple example: the religious authority to whom a person belongs can issue a separate document for such uses.

Religion has no place on ID Cards which are used for daily transactions, employment matters and the several other uses indicated above. Why must a car salesman know your religion in order to sell you a car? How about a banker? Does your religion matter for you to withdraw cash from your account?

I will leave this to the wisdom of the authorities to clarify to us the real reasons for insisting on the inclusion of religion on ID Cards....

Public and Media Reaction:

On the day of the verdict several Egyptian non-Baha'i bloggers and human rights activists went to the court to show their support and solidarity with the Baha'is. They carried signs of blown-up old ID cards of Egyptian Baha'is. One of the demonstrators carried a sign indicating that even though he does not agree with the Baha'is, he does support their right to be recognized and be provided with ID cards. Some of the extremists present tried to engage these demonstrators in arguments. Some of the misguided media reported erroneously that the Baha'is were demonstrating and that they got into fights with the Islamists. Of course this misrepresentation was later corrected by the bloggers themselves in their posts following the verdict.

Immediately after the verdict was read by the chief justice, the Islamist extremists shouted and screamed insults at the Baha'is and proclaimed their victory and the victory of Islam. They chanted "Allah'u-Akbar" along with other slogans. The Baha'is did not respond to that emotional and hateful outburst, but simply smiled in serenity and dignity. These reactions can be easily seen in the video clips which have been attached to the sidebar of this blog during the last few days, and can be reviewed on "youtube' at the same link.

A media frenzy in Egypt immediately followed the verdict, most of which has been supportive of the Baha'is. Prominent world news agencies and foreign media (linked here) have provided extensive coverage and expressed their outrage at this flagrant violation of civil and human rights. Several television and radio interviews were conducted with the Baha'is, who were provided with a forum to express their needs and their reaction to the verdict.

All human rights organizations within and outside Egypt released strong statements in support of the civil rights of the Baha'is and have expressed their disgust with the verdict and with the total lack of regard to the merits of the case shown by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court.

On the side bar of this blog I have linked to several of these press releases, statements as well as the Egyptian blogs reporting on this historical event. Also, attached with this post are several Egyptian newspaper articles that were just released, one of which was published on the same day of the verdict, as a continuation of a previous publication, and reported extensively on the Baha'is' Most Holy Book [al-Kitab al-Aqdas].

Overall, even if the verdict has left a sad mark on Egypt's contemporary history, oddly the Baha'is emerged from this feeling victorious, and are certain that in due time their full rights will be granted.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Egypt's Baha'i Case: THE REAL ISSUES AND FACTS

It should be understood precisely what is at issue in this case. Egyptian Baha'is must have in hand the new National ID Card before the deadline of 31 December 2006, on which all Egyptian citizens must carry the new ID Card at all times. The application form requires the applicant to state his or her religion. It also requires the applicant to declare “that all details in this application are correct and real; I accept responsibility for consequences, with the full knowledge that providing any incorrect information in this application is considered forgery of official documents and is legally punishable according to the articles of the penal code”. This, of course, places the Baha’is in an untenable situation, since they have been told explicitly by government officials that they are not permitted to hold identification in which the space for religion specifies “other” and that they must “choose one of the three religions”

Here are the real issues and facts pertaining to this case:

1) This case is not about the Egyptian government’s accepting the divine origin of the Bahá’í Faith.

2) It is, rather, about how Egyptian Bahá’ís, who are under the same obligation as all other Egyptian citizens to obtain government-issued identification cards, can do so without being falsely identified on these documents.

3) The government has an application form for the identity card in which a person has to state his or her religion. That same application form requires the applicant to declare “that all details in this application are correct and real; I accept responsibility for consequences, with the full knowledge that providing any incorrect information in this application is considered forgery of official documents and is legally punishable according to the articles of the penal code.”

4) For a Bahá’í to declare his or her religion as something other than the Bahá’í Faith is both untruthful and unconscionable as a matter of Bahá’í principle; the foregoing statement on the application form also makes it an offence punishable by law, and yet Bahá’ís are being told by officials of the Egyptian government that they must declare themselves to be either Muslim, Christian or Jew (i.e., make a false statement and thereby commit a legally punishable act).

5) Bahá’ís have been told explicitly by government officials that they are not permitted to hold identification in which the space for religion specifies “other” and that they must “choose one of the three religions.”

6) Nevertheless, a few Bahá’ís have been issued identity cards in which their religion is specified as “other”, and, in at least one case, a death certificate with a dash in the space for religion, both of which are acceptable to the Bahá’ís. It is, therefore, possible to have this designation on the card, but government officials are refusing to allow for it and in at least one instance have stated that a card that has “other” written in the space for religion is illegal.

7) Unworkable suggestions, such as using a passport in place of the identity card, will not alleviate the daily practical problems faced by Bahá’ís. Such approaches also discriminate against the Bahá’ís, as all other Egyptian citizens are issued identification cards.

8) Since the identity card is essential for daily transactions and the leading of a normal life in Egypt, it follows that to receive the identity document is the civil right of all citizens. The government requires by law that all citizens carry such a document; therefore, it is wrong to make this a matter of religious fervor. Many Muslims live in countries where the majority of the people and religious institutions do not accept the divine origin of Islam but such Muslims rightfully expect to be granted their full civil and human rights, which is merely what the Bahá’ís are asking: to be granted their right as loyal citizens of Egypt to receive government-mandated identity documents that do not misrepresent their religious faith.

9) In view of the foregoing circumstances, the burden is on the government to define the procedures so that Bahá’ís can obtain official identity documents that do not misrepresent their religious affiliation. The government cannot deny civil rights to its citizens, who have demonstrated their obedience and good faith, simply because of their personal beliefs.

The English translation of the application form for the Identity Card is posted below. The original Arabic version is also posted as attached images. To read the form clearly, please click on each image:

[TRANSLATION FROM ARABIC]

[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets [ ].]

[Page 1]
Arab Republic of Egypt Total Cost: 15 E.G.
Ministry of Interior National Number [Project/Bill?]
Civil Affairs Section Application for Personal Identification Card
0371920327 According to Law 143 of 1994

1st time/replacing lost/replacing damaged/change in details

Personal Details
Name: 1st Name Father’s Full Name:
Date of Birth: Mother’s Full Name:
Place of Birth: Province Centre/Sector Village/Sheikhdom
Religion: Type [sect]: Social Status: Single/Married/Divorced/Widowed
• Where National Number is obtained: National Number:
• Where National Number not obtained:
• No. of current card: Personal/Family: Civil Register: Province:
• No. of Foreign Passport: Country Issued: Date of Issue:

Residential Details
Bldg. No.: Street:
Floor: Apartment: Tel.: Village/Estate/Farm/Lot:
Sheikhdom/Village: Sector/Centre: Province:

Employment Details
Employed: Unemployed:
Current Proven Employment: Date Started:
Address of Work Place:
Government: Public sector: Private sector: Other:
Commercial Register Office: File No:

Declaration by Applicant and Employer
I, ……., declare that all details in this application are correct and real; I accept responsibility for consequences, with full knowledge that providing any incorrect information in this application is considered forgery of official documents and is legally punishable according to the articles of the penal code.
Applicant’s signature:
All details above have been checked and are identical to employment file.
Name of Body:
Name of Responsible Person: Signature: Work Stamp:

[Page 2]
Educational Details
Highest qualification: PhD / MA / High Qualification / Above Average Qualification
High Sch. or Intermediary Diploma/Intermediary Sch/Primary Sch./Read &Write/
Illiterate
Name of qualification: Year Obtained:
University/Ministry: College/Institute/School:

Military Service Details
Armed forces / Police:
Status of conscription:
Temporary Exemption/ Permanent Exemption/ Have served/service postponed/ not called yet/position not yet decided.
Military Service card No.: Date of Application:

Voting Area Details
Citizen chooses his voting area from one of the following:
Birth Place: Place of Residence: Place of Work: Place of Family Residence:
Place of a business interest:
Province: Sector/Centre: Sheikhdom/ Village:

For Official Use Only
Place of Issue: Place of
Name of Applicant: Result of Application: Stamp or Signature:
I have perused supporting documents supplied by the citizen:
Proof of place of residence Commercial register
Personal Identification Document Educational Qualification
Marriage certificate Proof of profession or employment
Name of Person checking legal matters: Result: Signature:
Work Order No: / Photocopy: Signature:
Name of Person following up: Checker:
Production Order No:
Quality 1: Quality 2: Retain:
Reason for re-production:
Photocopying: Preparation: Follow-up: Revision: Quality: Citizen:
No. of order for re-production: Signature:

[Page 3]
Family Details
This section must be filled out for every marriage, current or ended which results in children.

Name of Wife/Husband:
If National No. has been obtained. National No:
If National No. has not been obtained:
No. of current card: Personal/Family: Civil Register: Province:
No. of Foreign passport: Country of Issue: Date of Issue:
No. of Marriage Certificate: Date of Marriage: Place of Marriage: Province:
Status of Marriage: Current: Ended by Divorce: Ended by Death:
Date of Divorce/ Death:

Children from this Marriage
*Date of death should be noted in the space for notes for deceased children
Name of son/daughter Date of Birth Place of Birth Type Notes Result
of search
Province Sector/Centre Sheikhdom/
village
[the information in this section is in a table format]
.............................................................

Arab Republic of Egypt
Ministry of Interior - Civil Affairs Section

Application for Personal Identification Document
Name: Date for receiving document:
1st Place for receiving document : 2nd Place:
In the case of applicant not arriving at 1st place for receipt of document, forward after 2 weeks to 2nd place.

[Page 4]
General Instructions
Documents Required:
- Copy of personal or family ID or any official document that can prove identity (authenticated copy)
- Copy of birth certificate, if available.
- For wives, bringing authenticated copies of marriage certificate or family ID or husband’s family ID.

Employment Documents:
- Signature of the relevant Union on the application for unionized professions (engineers, lawyers, journalists, etc.)
- Signature on application from government civil service, or work sector or educational authority.
- Signature from social works departments for those employed by others.
- Enclosing an authorized copy of educational qualification if required and not documented with previous ID.
- Signature from support agency (for those receiving benefits) if not part of previous ID documentation, or enclosing a statement of benefit income.

Place of Residence Documents:
- Address on application must be proven by personal or family ID; if to be changed, a recent electricity, water, gas or telephone receipt; or a confirmation from government employee or current rent payment, must be submitted.
- It is possible to change the place of residence for a relative if relative authorizes this in front of relevant officer.

General Instructions:
- Details must be carefully filled in clear handwriting for those who are 16 years and above, males and females.
- The citizen is responsible for expenses incurred for re-issuing ID in cases of incorrect or unclear details, as well as legal consequences.
- Please check all details on the issued document.
- In cases of multiple wives, additional family forms must be filled (free of charge) and enclosing copy of marriage or divorce certificates.
…………………………………………………………………………..
Arab Republic of Egypt 0371920327
Ministry of Interior – Civil Affairs Section
Receipt
Application for Personal Identification Document
Keep this receipt and submit on the appointed day to receive your new ID.
..............................................................................................
Translated by: MW

Saturday, December 16, 2006

World Press Coverage of Egypt's Baha'i Verdict

Among many news agencies, the Associated Press (AP), Reuters, the BBC, International Herald Tribune (1), International Herald Tribune (2), Guardian Unlimited, Agence France Presse (AFP), Copts United, Al Bawaba, All Headline News, The Daily Star, Arab News, The Washington Times-1, The Washington Times-2, al-Jazeera (Arabic), al-Jazeera (English), al-Arabiya, Middle East Online and Yahoo News have published Press Releases similar to the one below:

The verdict throws the status of Egypt's Bahai community into limbo

Egypt Bahais lose battle for recognition

Supreme administrative court describes Bahais as pro-Israeli apostates whose principles contradict Islam.

By Jailan Zayan – CAIRO

An Egyptian court denied Bahais Saturday the right to state their religion on official documents and described them as pro-Israeli apostates, in a landmark case condemned by rights organisations.

The appeal, seen as a test of religious freedom in the Arab world's most populated country, left Egypt's 2,000-string Bahai community suspended in a constitutional vacuum.

The supreme administrative court ruled against the right of Hossam Ezzat Mussa and his wife, Rania Enayat, to state their religion on official documents.

Judge Sayed Nofal, speaking after reading out the verdict, said "the constitution promotes freedom of belief for the three recognised heavenly religions and they are Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

"As for the Bahais, Islamic jurists have all agreed that the Bahai faith is not one of the three recognised religions," he said.

"Those who belong to this religion are apostates of Islam, because the faith's principles contradict the Islamic religion and all other religions."

The couple had filed the case in 2004. In April this year a lower court ruled in their favour.

In May, however, the decision was suspended by the Supreme Administrative Court pending an appeal by the interior ministry, and the couple's identity cards were confiscated.

Saturday's verdict throws the status of Egypt's Bahai community into limbo, in a country where carrying identity papers at all times is required by law and essential for access to employment, education, medical and financial services.

Without the official ID cards, Bahais cannot apply for jobs, buy property, open bank accounts or register their children in schools. They are also subject to arrest for not carrying valid identity papers.

Human rights organisations condemned the court's decision.

"It's a regrettable decision, but it's a crisis for the government more than for the Bahais," said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who has closely monitored the case.

"Now the government is forced to find a solution for the hundreds of citizens who have no papers," he said.

About 20 Bahais attended Saturday's court session with large ID cards hanging around their necks, with the word 'Bahai' written in large letters. [Correction: those demonstrating with signs were not Baha'is, but rather human rights activists supporting the Baha'is].

A handful of other people attended the session and broke out into the Islamic chants of "God is Greatest" and "There is no god but God" as soon as the verdict was read out.

Despite the fact that Bahais have been in Egypt for as long as the religion has existed -- 163 years -- most Egyptians had not heard of the religion until the April ruling.

The faith was founded in 19th-century Persia. It promotes the idea of progressive religious revelation, resulting in the acceptance of most of the world's religions.

Under the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Bahais were suspected of collaborating with Israel because the faith's highest governing institution is based in Haifa. In 1960, Bahai assemblies and institutions were dissolved.

The Judge in Saturday's hearings reiterated the accusation.

"One of the first goals of the Bahai movement is to maintain their relationship with the occupying powers, which embraces them and protects them," he said.

Of the faith's 12 principles, which include the unity of mankind, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, gender equality and independent investigation of truth, it is obedience to government that is most highlighted in Egypt.

Egyptian Bahais do not join political parties, take part in demonstrations or hold elections for their spiritual assemblies.

"We don't want to cause problems. We just want to exercise our rights as Egyptian citizens," Labib Hanna, professor of engineering at Cairo University recently said.

Egypt: Press Release from Baha'i World News Service

Egyptian court rules against Baha'is, upholding government policy of discrimination

CAIRO, 16 December 2006 (BWNS) -- In a closely watched case that has become the focus of a national debate on religious freedom, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court today ruled against the right of Baha'is to be properly identified on government documents.

The decision upholds current government policy, a policy which forces the Baha'is either to lie about their religious beliefs or give up their state identification cards. The policy effectively deprives Egyptian Baha'is of access to most rights of citizenship, including education, financial services, and even medical care.

"We deplore the Court's ruling in this case, which violates an extensive body of international law on human rights and religious freedom to which Egypt has long been a party," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"Since this was the last avenue of appeal in this particular case, the Court's decision threatens to make non-citizens of an entire religious community, solely on the basis of religious belief," said Ms. Dugal.

"Our hope now is that the public debate over this issue will cause the Egyptian government to rectify its discriminatory policies," said Ms. Dugal. "This could be accomplished either by allowing Baha'is to be listed on government documents, by abolishing the religious affiliation listing entirely or, simply, by allowing the word 'other' to be legally included on state identification forms."

The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the government by a married couple, Husam Izzat Musa and Ranya Enayat Rushdy, who had their identification cards and passports confiscated after they applied to have their daughters added to their passports, which listed the Baha'i Faith as their religion.

In Egypt, all citizens must list their religious affiliation on state ID cards and other documents, and current policy requires that they choose from one of the three officially recognized religions - Islam, Christianity or Judaism.

In April, a lower administrative court ruled in favor of the couple, saying the state must issue them ID cards that properly identified their religion. The ruling said that even if the government did not recognize the Baha'i Faith, adherents should still have their religious status properly stated on official documents.

That ruling provoked an outcry among extremist elements in Egyptian society, who objected to any official mention of a religion other than the three mentioned in the Qur'an, opening a vigorous debate over issues of religious freedom and tolerance here.

Since April, more than 400 articles, stories, commentaries and programs have appeared in the Egyptian and Arabic news media about the case or its fallout. As well, independent human rights organizations here and abroad have closely followed the issue.

In May, the government appealed the lower court's ruling, which brought the case before the Supreme Administrative Court.

On 2 December, a final hearing was held on the case, at which Bahai lawyers argued for rejection of the government's appeal, on the basis that the lower court's ruling is fully supported by Egyptian law. The Court said at that time that it would release its final ruling today.

uno-bp-06 12 16 -1-EGYPTNOID-495-N

For the Arabic version, please click here and here....

Egypt Plunges Deeper into the Abyss

A sad day for human rights: A sad day for Egypt

In the midst of media frenzy, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled in favour of the Ministry of Interior’s appeal, and to reverse the lower court’s ruling of 4 April 2006 that favored the Baha'is right to being identified as such for the purpose of official documents. It also ordered the Bahá’í couple who had initiated the original lawsuit against the Ministry of Interior--demanding to be granted the right to obtain identification documents--to pay all court costs.

Present in and outside the courtroom were those who support the Bahá’ís in their plight. They were carrying large signs of blown-up old ID cards of Egyptian Bahá’ís—highlighting the word "Bahá’í" and the word "Egyptian" written on the cards. Another man was carrying a sign stating that he is a Muslim, believing in Muhammad, but that he also supports the rights of the Bahá’ís to be recognized and be granted equal civil rights. There were many bloggers, human rights activists and free thinkers who had come for a stand-in outside the courthouse in solidarity with the Bahá’ís.

Also present in and about the courtroom, were extremist Islamists and their attorneys voicing their hatred and resentment of the Baha'is.

National and international major television and radio news agencies as well as all newspapers, and news service agencies were present in the courtroom filming, interviewing and reporting on this event.

There was tight security. Barriers were placed, armed national security anti-riot troops were deployed and surrounded the courthouse.

After the verdict was announced, several Bahá’ís were interviewed by the news agencies present for this event.

Al-Jazeera news channel asked one of the Baha'is for an interview before the court session indicating to her that they already knew the verdict (being against the Bahá’ís). She declined stating that she would rather hear the actual judgement in the courtroom before she can discuss any such verdict with Al-Jazeera.

When the verdict was announced, many of those present in the courtroom shouted “Allah’u-Akbar,” and “Long Live Justice!"

Naturally, the Baha'is are a bit disappointed, but do understand that this crisis will ultimately lead to many victories, many of which can be seen already--a direct result of their suffering.

As a direct consequence of this verdict, the Baha'is continue to have no rights in their own homeland. They cannot obtain ID Cards, they cannot obtain birth certificates, they cannot obtain death certificates, they cannot obtain marriage or divorce certificates, they cannot obtain passports, and they cannot obtain any other official documents.

Without all this, Egyptian Baha'is cannot be employed, cannot be educated, cannot be treated in a hospital, cannot travel, cannot obtain any social services, cannot be legally married, cannot be declared dead, cannot open a bank account, cannot obtain a driver's license, cannot vote, cannot purchase a property, and the list goes on.... And, yes they can be arrested on the spot for not carrying an ID Card!

It is now up to the Egyptian government to step in and end this atrocious violation of all known values, all known civil and human rights. It is time for it to recognize its own law-abiding citizens according to its own constitutional guarantees.

Press Release:

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Right to Privacy Program
Press Release- 16 December 2006

Government Must Find Solution for Baha'i Egyptians

Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court today found the government may not recognize the Baha’i faith in official identification documents, leaving Baha'i Egyptian citizens unable to obtain necessary documents that must include a citizen's religion, such as birth or death certificates and identity cards.

"Today's regrettable decision throws the ball in the government's court," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), which represented the Baha'is in the case. "The government must find a solution now for the hundreds of citizens who used to be able to obtain official documents recognizing their faith for more than five decades until the government decided recently to change its policy and force them to choose between Islam and Christianity."

The EIPR said the press release issued by the Chief Judge of the Court today did not respond to any of the legal arguments and evidence submitted by the EIPR in the case. The press release only discussed the tenets of the Baha'i faith, which fell outside the scope of this lawsuit. The question before the court was about the legality of forcing Egyptian citizens to falsely adopt Islam or Christianity in order to obtain official documents that are necessary in their daily lives.

Today's decision overturned an April 2004 ruling by the lower Administrative Justice Court in favor of Baha'i Egyptians. The decision also reversed the position of the Supreme Administrative Court which had found in 1983 that Baha'is had the right to have their religious affiliation included in official documents even if the Baha'i faith was not "recognized" in Egypt as a religion.

The EIPR will wait for the written decision to be issued in the coming days before determining its new legal strategy in the fight for Baha'i Egyptians citizenship rights.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Egypt: Extensive Article on the Baha'i Faith in Al-Fagr


This article in Egypt's Al-Fagr newspaper was published on 11 December 2006, and is entitled "First photographed journalistic report on the Baha'i temple in New Delhi."

As a footnote, the writer announced "Next issue: the complete text of the Baha'is' al-Kitab al-Aqdas [The Most Holy Book]."

A summary in English will follow soon. This article can also be reviewed at the newspaper's website linke here.

Egypt: Test for Religious Freedom

Test for Egypt religious freedom in Bahai verdict
Jailan Zayan
AFP
December 15, 2006

CAIRO -- Ragi Labib, a young Egyptian university graduate, cannot find a job, buy a car, or open a bank account. By next year, he may not even be able to prove his identity. Why? Because he is a Bahai.

When the government announced four years ago that only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism were recognized as religions on official papers, the ID card on which he had scribbled the name of his faith became invalid.

"We don't mind omitting religion from ID cards altogether, or being allowed to insert 'other' in the religion field. But we don't want to lie about our religion on official documents," the 25-year-old said.

Now he fears that, despite being born in Egypt to Egyptian parents, his own children will not be recognized as Egyptian citizens.

Egypt's small Bahai community - fewer than 2,000, according to official figures - is eagerly awaiting a December 16 court ruling on the right of Bahais to obtain legal documents that state their religion.

In Egypt, carrying identity papers at all times is required by law and essential for access to employment, education, medical, and financial services.

The Bahai case gained local attention and sparked more than 400 press articles after an April ruling upheld Bahais' right to state their religion on their ID papers, but it is being appealed by the interior ministry.

Before April, most Egyptians had not heard of the Bahais, who are often registered by clerks as Muslims or Christians.

"I had to study the Christian religion at school, because Labib is traditionally a Christian surname in Egypt," said Ragi.

The case has exposed a loophole in Egypt's constitution, which assures that all citizens are equal before the law but also states that laws are to be derived from Sharia - Islamic law - which recognizes only three religions.

Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, argues that the case transcends the small Bahai community in Egypt, and says that it will have a wider impact on religious freedom.

"The case will define the boundaries of the state's involvement in people's personal affairs," he said.

"We're not sure what will happen to us if the court rules against us," said Anwar Shawki, 29, who like Ragi is a fifth-generation Bahai. "But we won't leave Egypt, it's our country," said the entrepreneur who could not get his private furniture business running for three years because he lacked a valid ID. He had to register the business in a friend's name.

"I even had to buy his mobile phone for him because he didn't have the right paperwork," said Alaa Al Battah, 33, who is registered as a Muslim, as he and Anwar showed their almost identical mobile phone numbers.

Bahais have been in Egypt for as long as the religion has existed - 163 years.

The faith, which was founded in nineteenth-century Persia, promotes the idea of progressive religious revelation, resulting in the acceptance of most of the world's religions.

Sheikh Ali Gomaa, Egypt's grand mufti, the government-appointed interpreter of Islamic law, has refused to recognize the faith, and said that all Bahais should be registered as Muslims on the country's new electronic ID cards, which will have replaced the old paper ones by next year.

"There are only three religions in Egypt, and there is no place for anyone to come after that. Bahais, just as Muslims, believe in all three religions and therefore should be listed as Muslims, not Bahais," he told Egyptian satellite television.

Under the late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Bahais were suspected of collaborating with Israel because the faith's highest governing institution is based in Haifa. In 1960, Bahai assemblies and institutions were dissolved.

"Israel was created in 1948 and our faith has been around for a lot longer," said Ragi's father Labib Hanna, professor of engineering at Cairo University.

The former grand imam of Al Azhar, Sunni Islam's main seat of learning, Gad Al Haq Ali Gad Al Haq, described the Bahai faith as an "intellectual plague" that works "for the benefit of Zionism."

Between 1910 and 2005, five fatwas - or religious edicts - were issued declaring Bahais apostates. In 1946, a woman was forced to divorce her husband after he converted to the Bahai faith.

Of the faith's 12 principles including the unity of mankind, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, gender equality, and independent investigation of truth, it is obedience to government that is most highlighted in Egypt.

Egyptian Bahais will not join political parties, take part in demonstrations, or hold elections for their spiritual assemblies.

"We don't want to cause problems - we just want to exercise our rights as Egyptian citizens," Hanna said.