Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Eventful Year in Egypt: Religion Vs. Citizenship!

In wrapping up the year's events and its significant developments, Al-Ahram Weekly, the English version of Egypt's semi-official newspaper, published an extensive article authored by several writers and under various titles. The main article carries the title "All's not well on the domestic front." One of the article's sections, with the heading "Much to be modest about," was written by one of Al-Ahram's most-respected editors, Mr. Gamal Nkrumah, who addresses the pressing issues of citizenship and religious freedom.

He begins by stating: MUDDLED expectations, more openness on religious freedoms and the correlation between religion and civil rights were defining features of 2007.

Perhaps one of the most determining characteristics of 2007 is not so much the manner in which religion generally has had an ever-increasing impact on public life. Rather, it is that the entire question of religious affiliation and the precise nature of its correlation to citizenship and civil rights have become the subject of a pronouncedly open public debate. The rough edges of the politico-religious debate have not been sanded off. What has changed is the nature of the debate and the fashion in which the media tackled the prickly question of religious rights.


Further down in his article, he addresses the crisis of identification documents for Egyptian Baha'is by writing the following:

How did other religious minorities fare in 2007? The Bahaai community in Egypt is among the most disgruntled. The Bahaai community is generally among the most prosperous and law-abiding in many countries around the world and not only in the West. In Egypt, however, they have had a rotten luck. That is a good cause for worry. Amid confusion and half-truths, the controversy surrounding the nature of the Bahaais of Egypt continues unabated.

As far as the Christian communities of Egypt are concerned, the most pressing issue is full citizenship and civil rights. The same goes for the Bahaai community in Egypt today. "The crux of the matter is our struggle for official recognition as Egyptians and for full citizenship rights," Labib Iskandar, a leading Egyptian Bahaai, and a professor of engineering at Cairo University told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We move about without personal identification cards. That is a criminal offence in Egypt. We could be stopped by police at any moment, anywhere and asked for our ID," he explained. The removal of religious affiliation slot on computerised ID cards has become not only a question of priority for the Bahaai community, but has also been advocated by non-other an influential organisation than the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).


"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 Bahaai concurred. Moussa, a vociferous spokeswoman on the plight of Egypt's Bahaais, told the Weekly that the conditions of Bahaais in Egypt has become untenable. "I am a university professor but cannot even withdraw money from my bank account because I do not have an ID card. I cannot even buy or register a car," she complained. "Worse, there are many Bahaai youngsters who cannot even enroll at schools or universities because they do not have birth certificates or ID cards. This causes serious psychological traumas. It is most distressing for the parents and disheartening for the youth. The right to education is a particularly important human right," she explained. "All Bahaai children born in 2004 and afterwards cannot have birth certificates. Shall we lie about our religion in order to secure false birth certificates," she demanded in desperation.

Ironically, in 1924, Egypt became the first predominantly Muslim state to legally recognise the Bahaai faith. However, this initial tolerance was repealed in the 1960s. Currently, Bahaai institutions and public practice of the Bahaai faith is prohibited by Law 263.

In an ideal world, they should. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former secretary-general of the United Nations and currently head of the National Council for Human Rights assured the Weekly that his organisation, an advisory body, had recommended to the government that the slot pertaining to religion on the ID cards be discarded. Conceivably in the not so distant future, this demand by Bahaais and others will be realised.

And, 2007 has been a year in which their specific grievances have come to the fore. "That is the only positive aspect of 2007. At least now we are discussing our predicament in public forums and that makes 2007 relatively better than 2008," Moussa concluded.

As Copts, too, contemplate a prouder future, positions differ on how precarious the situation is. Some Copts want to engage more prominently in peaceful politics, to partake of the democratisation process. But it is hard to determine precisely what degree of freedom the country's assorted religious minorities have attained in 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another Year Passes With No Solution for Egypt's ID Crisis

International Herald Tribune's "Daily News Egypt", the country's only independent English-language daily, has just published a story regarding yesterday's postponement of the two cases involving Egyptian Baha'is who are attempting to obtain their basic civil rights. Because of "Internet Explorer" incompatibility with the newspaper's website, the entire article is re-posted below:

BAHAI TRIAL POSTPONED FOR THE FIFTH TIME

By Alexandra Sandels
First Published: December 25, 2007

CAIRO: The Cairo Court of Administrative Justice postponed Tuesday its verdict in the two Bahai trials to Jan. 22, citing “continuing case deliberations.”

Postponed for the fifth time in a row, the verdict would determine whether Bahais could obtain official documents without affiliating themselves to a religion different than their own.

Many members from the Bahai community along with journalists and activists turned up for the session, which many believed would deliver the final decision.

“I’m disappointed. The plaintiffs are ready for the case to be closed. It’s been ongoing since 2004,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Daily News Egypt.

Shady Samir, a Bahai activist, said that “he’s become used to it” at this point.

“There seems to be a lot of debate about the case. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t been able to make a decision yet,” Samir told Daily News Egypt.

The first suit involves 14-year-old twins Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who have been unable to obtain birth certificates. Prohibited from enrolling in school without official documents, their father Dr Raouf Hindi had to send them to a British School in Libya.

The second lawsuit concerns Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih, a Bahai student who has been ordered to leave his university studies since he cannot obtain a national ID card.

In order to obtain any kind of official documents in Egypt — including birth certificates, identity cards and marriage licenses — one must state their religious affiliation. Currently, authorities only recognize Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Passports are the only exception, and do not require citizens to list their religious faith.

Citizens cannot enroll in school, receive medical treatment, take bank loans, or buy a car without government documents such as identity cards and birth certificates. Young children cannot receive vaccinations against diseases without a birth certificate.

Bahais want to either write their faith as is or leave a blank space on the religion entry in official documents.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cairo: Court Postpones Baha'i Cases Again!

The two Baha'i cases before Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice, involving the twin children's request for birth certificates and the university student's dismissal & demand for ID card, got postponed again today--in a very swift session--for a ruling until 22 January 2008.

Television news court interviews:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Egypt's Watany Newspaper on Mixing Citizenship with Religion

Cairo's Watany newspaper has just published an extensive article on the question of confusing citizenship with religion in Egypt. It gives examples of Egyptian Baha'is, Christians and free thinkers who have been deprived of their identity or even citizenship on account of their chosen religions, personal philosophy or thought. It poses clear and penetrating questions regarding the legitimacy of such procedures that are intended to deprive Egyptian citizens of their basic human rights.

The article explains that the Baha'is were placed in a sector of society that has been labeled "Fe'aat al-bedoon" meaning "the 'without' congregation!" It also quotes Dr. Fouad Abdel-Meneim Ryadh who described the situation of the Baha'is of Egypt to be equivalent to "exile." The author, then, likens this to a schizophrenic presentation and questions its conflict with the first article of the Egyptian constitution which guarantees the rights of citizenship.

النموذج الاول:-قضية البهائيين والمرتدين عن الإسلام
فى 16 ديسمبر حكم قضاء مجلس الدولة بعدم أحقية البهائيين فى الحصول على بطاقات الرقم القومى. والبهائيون متواجدون فى مصر منذ منتصف القرن التاسع عشر، وهم كمواطنيين متواجدون قبل ذلك بمئات السنيين وقد تحول بعضهم عن المسيحية واكثرهم عن الإسلام. ويشكلون الآن آلافا من المواطنيين فى مصر. وحرمانهم من ذكر كلمة بهائى فى اوراق الهوية وإمتناع الدولة عن إصدار بطاقات الرقم القومى لهم هو حرمانهم من أهم حقوق المواطنة، فبناء على الأوراق الثبوتية تسير كافة الأمور فى مصر بما فى ذلك الحصول على الوظائف وإستلام المرتبات والمعاشات ، والالتحاق بالمدارس والجامعات والحصول على رخص لقيادة السيارات، والالتحاق بالخدمة العسكرية، بل وإستخراج شهادات الزواج والطلاق والوفاة.أى إنهم عمليا جرودا من جنسيتهم المصرية واصبحو فى وضع " فئة البدون" فى الكويت، وهذا يمثل اسوأ تعسف فى الربط بين حقوق الجنسية والدين...فكيف تجرأ قاضى بالحكم على مواطنيين مصريين بهذا الموت الإجتماعى. لقد وصف د. فؤاد عبد المنعم رياض هذا الوضع ب "الافناء"، ووصف مفوض الأمم المتحدة لحقوق الإنسان من يتحولون عن الإسلام فى الدول الإسلامية بأنهم فى حكم الموتى إجتماعيا فى بلدانهم بحرمانهم من كافة حقوق المواطنة الأساسية.
ونفس ما يتعرض له البهائيون فى مصر هو نفس ما يتعرض له المتحولون عن الإسلام، بل ويضاف إليهم مخاطر مطاردتهم جسديا لقتلهم بعد الفتاوى التى صدرت ضدهم من بعض المشايخ بانهم مرتدون ، بالاضافة إلى مطاردتهم فى المحاكم وإعتقال الكثيرين منهم إداريا والهجوم على منازل أغلبهم مما اضطرهم لهجرة هذه المنازل خوفا من القتل.
هل يستطيع أحد أن يفسر لنا هذه الشيزوفرنيا؟ وكيف يستقيم مبدأ المواطنة الذى يتصدر المادة الأولى من الدستور مع هذا السلوك؟

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Egypt: Baha'i International Community on Upcoming Court Cases

Baha'i World News Service has published a news release on 20 December 2007 in anticipation for the upcoming "final judgement" by Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice, scheduled for 25 December. These cases, after many postponements, we last heard in court on 13 November 2007, as reported in this previous post.

The entire news release is posted below:

Egypt court to rule next week on new religious freedom cases

CAIRO
20 December 2007 (BWNS)

A court is expected to rule early next week on two cases related to the government's policy on religious affiliation and national identity papers, an issue that has been hotly debated here in recent months and a focus of international human rights concerns.

The first case involves a lawsuit by the father of twin children, who is seeking to obtain proper birth certificates for them. The second concerns a college student, who needs a national identity card to re-enroll in university.

Both are set for "final judgment" by the Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo on 25 December 2007. In both cases, the individuals involved are unable to obtain government identification papers because they are Baha'is.

"The world has increasingly come to understand the basic injustice imposed by the Egyptian government's policies on religious affiliation and official documents -- and the court has before it in these two cases the chance once again to right that wrong," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community.

"Last year, under pressure from Muslim fundamentalists, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected a lower court decision that had required the government to include the word 'Baha'i' on official documents. These two new cases offer a compromise solution, asking merely that the religious affiliation field be left blank or filled in with the word 'other,'" added Ms. Dugal.

The government requires all identification papers to list religious affiliation but then restricts the choice to the three officially recognized religions -- Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Baha'is are thus unable to obtain identification papers because they refuse to lie about their religious affiliation.

Without national identity cards -- or, as in the case of the twin children, birth certificates -- Baha'is and others caught in the law's contradictory requirements are deprived of a wide range of citizenship rights, such as access to employment, education, and medical and financial services.

More Details

These problems were highlighted in a report issued in November by Human Rights Watch and the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

"Employers, both public and private, by law cannot hire someone without an ID, and academic institutions require IDs for admission," said the report. "Obtaining a marriage license or a passport requires a birth certificate; inheritance, pensions, and death benefits are contingent on death certificates. The Ministry of Health has even refused to provide immunizations to some Baha'i children because the Interior Ministry would not issue them birth certificates accurately listing their Baha'i religion."

The issuance of birth certificates is at the heart of the first case, which concerns 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Rauf Hindi. Their father, Rauf Hindi, obtained birth certificates that recognized their Baha'i affiliation when they were born.

But new policies require computer generated certificates, and the computer system locks out any religious affiliation but the three officially recognized religions. And without birth certificates, the children are unable to enroll in school in Egypt.

The second lawsuit was filed by the EIPR last February on behalf of 18-year-old Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University's Higher Institute of Social Work in January 2006 due to his inability to obtain an identity card because of his refusal to falsely identify himself as either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

In both cases, lawyers representing the Baha'is have made it clear that they are willing to settle for cards or documents on which the religious affiliation field is left blank or filled in, perhaps, as "other."

This solution is what makes these two cases different from the lawsuit that was rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court last year, said Hossam Baghat, director of the EIPR.

"The negative ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court has forced us to file these new cases," said Mr. Baghat, whose organization has been at the forefront of defending Egyptian Baha'is in this controversy. "The facts are extremely similar to the case that we lost last year, but we are calling this time for documents without any religious affiliation.

"For us, this is really the test for the government and the judiciary on this issue. Because if the main problem is the fact that the Baha'i Faith is not recognized in Egypt, then there should be no grounds for them to deny these Egyptian citizens documents that are necessary for their daily life without any reference to religion."

Mr. Baghat said the cases also have implications for religious freedom in general in Egypt.

"So far, the problem only affects Egyptian Baha'is, but the same problem could arise in theory with Egyptians who are adherents of Buddhism or Hinduism," said Mr. Baghat. "But it is also important for people who do not wish to be identified with any religion, which is a right guaranteed by both Egyptian and international law."

For Egyptian Baha'is, the facts of life on the ground continue to deteriorate in the absence of a solution, said Labib Hanna, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Baha'i community.

"We are not able to do anything without valid identification papers," said Dr. Hanna, who is a professor of mathematics at Cairo University. "We cannot renew a driver's license, we cannot obtain permanent employment, and we cannot send our children to school."

He said many Baha'is are able to meet the needs of daily life by taking temporary positions, dealing with banks, schools, or other institutions where they have an established relationship, or by continuing to use old, paper-based identification cards that allowed for other options in the religious affiliation field.

"We are trying to survive," said Dr. Hanna. "But it is difficult. We are struggling."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Egypt Moves Forward in the Path of Human Rights

This week, in the English version of Egypt's semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, Gamal Nkrumah wrote an article about Egypt's celebration of Human Rights Day. Al-Ahram newspaper is the voice of Egypt's government.

Below are a few selected paragraphs quoted here for their relevance. In order to read the entire article, please click here....

Egypt celebrated International Human Rights Day this week, drawing attention to the country's mixed record, writes Gamal Nkrumah.

On Monday, a ceremony took place at Al-Ahram organised by the Human Rights Capacity Building Project (BENAA, or "Building" in Arabic), during which prizes were distributed to journalists whose writings promote human rights.

Among the topics raised in the winning articles were the role of Internet blogs in enhancing public awareness of human rights, as well as violence against women, the issue of street children and the prickly subject of torture.

"We based the NCHR's third annual report, the Human Rights Situation in Egypt 2006/2007, on complaints received from citizens from all walks of life. We took into consideration infringements and violations of their rights as provided for in the Egyptian constitution, national laws and legislation, and in the international Charter on Human Rights," Boutros-Ghali explained.

He stressed that the focus of the NCHR was to "identify the most serious infringements of human rights."

Ghali also noted that particular problems faced by religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians and Bahaais, had been carefully examined. "However, many Muslims also complained about what they saw as infringements of their human and social rights," Boutros-Ghali added.

"The violation of the rights of one citizen is as important as the collective violation of the rights of many citizens," Boutros-Ghali said.

He said that in the case of the Bahaais, the NCHR had recommended that the religious identity of individuals should not be written on identity cards. This, he noted, was of particular importance to Bahaais and to people who had changed their religious affiliations.

"Religion should be a private matter," Boutros- Ghali insisted. "No citizen should be discriminated against because of his or her religion, gender, race or political affiliation."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Voice of America Report on Egypt's ID Crisis

This radio report, prepared by Challiss McDonough, was aired on 12 November 2007 by Voice of America. It addresses the current identification crisis in Egypt. Egyptian Baha'is continue to be deprived of their basic civil rights in their homeland. Two landmark cases will be ruled on by Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice on 25 December 2007. To review the story behind these cases, please click here.

Listen to the radio broadcast by clicking on the player below:

Friday, December 07, 2007

BBC Xtra: Program on Baha'is of Egypt

BBC Xtra Arabic program aired on 5 December 2007 a broadcast on the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt. A number of Egyptian Baha'is, human rights activists and journalists were interviewed regarding their current status of being deprived of their civil rights in their own homeland.

The introductory paragraph (attached) explains that, for example, in Lebanon after long years of civil war, the authorities had finally eliminated religious classification from ID cards. However, it added, in some other Arab nations, the authorities demand that all citizens enter their religion in ID cards. Only Egypt allows just three choices for religion to be entered: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It then states that religious minorities, for example Baha'is, are left without ID cards because they do not belong to any of the three religions.

The introductory article, then, elaborates on the court case of the Egyptian Baha'i twins who are without birth certificates, merely because of their parents' religious affiliation.

Listen to the radio program by clicking on the link below:
خانة الديانة في بطاقات الهوية

في مطلع التسعينيات في لبنان، وبعد سنوات الحرب الطويلة، توقفت السلطات عن وضع خانة الديانة على بطاقات الهوية. ولكن في بعض الدول العربية الاخرى، تفرض الحكومة على الجميع ان يكتبوا ديانتهم على بطاقة الهوية الشخصية. ولكن في مصر، هناك ثلاثة خيارات لا غير يمكن ان توضع على البطاقة: الاسلام المسيحية واليهودية. ولكن المشكلة هي في تسجيل الاقليات الذين يقولون ان الخيارات الثلاثة لا تنطبق عليهم. البهائيون مثلا، وهم طائفة دينية من الاقليات في مصر، رفضوا مؤخرا هذه الخيارات وفضل معظمهم ان لا يحمل بطاقة هوية على الاطلاق على ان يزور (كما يرى) في المعلومات الشخصية عليها. وتشهد المحاكم المصرية حاليا قضية مراهقين توأم شغلت الراي العام حيث يطالب الابوان بالسماح لهما بتسجيل البهائية في خانة الديانة بينما ترفض السلطات ذلك.. اليكم تقرير بي بي سي اكسترا الذي يبدأ بصوت والد المراهقين المذكورين: عماد ونانسي

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Radio Netheralnds: Religious Freedom in Egypt!

The inhumane treatment of religious minorities in Egypt is clearly portrayed in this Radio Netherlands program. It interviews a number of individuals who are directly affected by their inability to obtain the national ID card solely because of their belief.

The case of a young Baha'i university student who was expelled from the university because of his religion is presented in his own voice. Since his father is now dead, this young man is struggling to fulfill his responsibility to support the rest of his family but he cannot because, according to the current arcane authoritarian policies, he does not exist without an ID card--thus he suffers civil death!

The program also examines the dilemma of those who, at one time, were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam and now want to return to Christianity--all road blocks are placed in their path!

This program is indeed worthy of listening to...please click here to listen.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Egypt: A Newspaper Refutes Another in Defending the Baha'i Rights

Yesterday, Cairo's weekly newspaper, Al-dostour [the constitution] published an article written by Sheema'a Abul-Kheir refuting Al-Ahram's article written by its writer Muhammad Dunya, referred to in this previous post.

Al-Dostour's article is quite critical of the negative coverage provided in Al-Ahram regarding the recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the identity crisis in Egypt. The title states: "Al-Ahram criticized 'Human Rights Watch' report regarding religious freedom as if it [Al-Ahram] is inviting the citizens to commit forgery!"

In order to make a point, Abul-Kheir uses the Egyptian proverb "they did not find any fault in the roses." He stresses that Al-Ahram has a consistent history of being critical of international and national human rights reports accusing them of producing inaccurate information and data. This time, he adds, Al-Ahram was unable to refute any of the information and findings produced in the Human Rights Watch report, so instead it attacked the proposed solutions suggested by this well-respected human rights organization, "which, for the sake of accuracy, was produced in collaboration with the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, an Egyptian organization."

He also points out that Al-Ahram was unable to argue any of the statements made in the report regarding the constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of belief and the right to choose one's religion--guarantees that were confirmed by various Egyptian courts including the constitutional court. Instead, Al-Ahram criticized the practical component of the report that addresses the applicability of the actual dictates of the law. Specifically, he points to the violation of citizenship rights of the Baha'is to be able to enter their religion correctly in official documents. He brings up that these citizen, as a result, are deprived of their rights to education, employment and health care. This violation extends further to their rights to marry and have families.

In response to Al-Ahram's statement about the Ministry of Interior's obstruction being based on the excuse that the second article of the constitution refers to "Islamic Shari'ah as a principal source of legislation" and that Islamic Shari'ah recognizes three religions only, he maintains that this excuse contradicts the findings of HRW report, which are based on multiple opinions of the highest Islamic authorities--including that of the honorable leader Gamal Qoutb--showing no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that Islamic Shari'ah recognizes only three religions.

He then puts forward the following questions to Al-Ahram: "what would these citizens do without official documents, of which they have been denied, and without which they are unable to manage their daily affairs? If the answer is that they would have to choose one of the three religions, what then if a Baha'i citizen is issued an ID card, with "Muslim" as his religion, marries a Muslim woman...would the all-capable Al-Ahram organization explain to us whether or not this marriage is to be considered legitimate?"

In the caricature accompanying the article, the newspaper chief editor seated at the desk asks his employee: "What do you mean the paper is not selling? What then would they cover people dying in the streets with?"

This is indeed a refreshing piece of intelligent journalism. Egypt is to be congratulated on producing this generation of eloquent, righteous and courageous journalists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Egypt: Resolve Towards Equity, Justice and Human Rights

Baha'i rep. Dr. Basma Moussa (front-right) seated next to Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Two days ago, Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) began its convention addressing the crisis of "citizenship." Invited were representatives of the Christian (Coptic), Muslim and Baha'i religions, as well as all government ministries, agencies and civil authorities. On opening the convention, NCHR's president, Dr. Bouros Boutros-Ghali, called for the formation of a permanent national anti-discrimination league. The league would be charged with the elimination of any form of discrimination based on religion, gender or ethnic origin. It would be similar to other international agencies such as the ones in Morocco, France and the United States of America.

Today, Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper published an article in which it announced that the Human Rights Committee of Egypt's Parliament [Maghlis Al-Shaab] has decided to invite the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the president of the National Council for Human Rights to work on proposed corrective legislation in response to the various reports released by regional, national and international human rights organizations.

This parliamentarian committee will study and implement the recommendations put forth by the National Council for Human Rights. It will also examine and respond to the many complaints filed by Egyptian citizens residing in and outside the country. The committee will adhere to international human rights standards, in particular those of the African and Arab region. It will also share the outcome of its deliberations with the members of the parliament so that the parliament's opinion can be promoted among the public, both nationally and internationally.

Clearly, this development appears to be a very positive one. It implies that the findings and recommendations of the National Council for Human Rights--a government-appointed advisory council--are indeed enforceable through actions of the parliament. Also, equally important is that the parliament is seriously considering and addressing the findings of other regional, national and international human rights organizations. Egypt is to be congratulated on this very significant and progressive milestone towards a stable and equitable civil society.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Egypt: A “Journalist” Grabbing at Straws in Desperate Attempt to Deny Rights of Baha’is!

In an article published today in Egypt's semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram, the writer Muhammad Dunya attempted to refute the recent report that was jointly produced by Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights referred to in this previous post.

This writer presents deeply flawed arguments that are clearly illogical and based on false assumptions which cannot be backed by the exact same sources used by that same writer in his justification for his statements.

He begins the article by pointing to statements in the report which are critical of Egypt's treatment of its Baha'i minority population.

He then accuses the report of making "gross errors" in its conclusions. He tries to refute these facts by indicating that Egypt guarantees freedom of belief based on its constitution.

In the same breath he also states that Baha'is should not be granted their citizenship rights. He bases his argument on his claim that Egypt recognizes three religions only: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which is in direct contradiction to his earlier assertion that Egypt guarantees absolute freedom of belief and freedom of religious practice. He conveniently neglects to state that nowhere in Egypt's constitution there is any reference to his claim that Egypt recognizes only three religions.

He also uses the usual argument brought up by many extremists before him, that is "public order." Again, as has been clearly established by several sources before, including the Human Rights Watch report itself, no one had ever explained what the issue of civil rights for the Egyptian Baha'is has to do with "public order!" No one had ever explained how allowing the Baha'is--who are Egyptian citizens--to obtain identification documents could disrupt "public order!" Even though if "public order" was disrupted, it was never stated by any of those using that argument what this exactly means! It remains a vague "catch phrase" used by those who continue to promote and enforce the oppression and the denial of civil rights of a law-abiding segment of the Egyptian population (Baha'is), and to mislead and inflame the masses against them.

This meager piece of journalism must remain filed with the few others who have constantly plagiarized each other's arguments and false statements in their efforts to discredit the Baha'is and deny them their basic civil rights.

Lastly, if we assume that this logic is the only one left for those grabbing at straws to use against the rights of Egyptian Baha'is, what then do they propose instead for a solution? What can this segment of Egypt's citizenry do without identification documents? How can you provide them with official identification without forcing them to lie on official documents by denying their true faith?

It is indeed a shameful day for Egypt's journalism!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Iran Imprisons its Youth for Initiating Socioeconomic Projects!

The following message was just received regarding the imprisonment of three Baha'i youths in Shiraz. They were sentenced to four years of imprisonment. Their only crime is: initiating and participating in socioeconomic projects that serve their co-citizens. Their names: Haleh Rouhi, Raha Sabet and Sasan Taghva.

"Dear friends,
I have received this news through one of my friends. Unfortunately 3 Baha'i youths of Shiraz were imprisoned the day before yesterday after a verdict based on participating and initiating a social and economic project in Shiraz more than one year ago. These 3 Baha'i youths have to spend 4 years of the best years of their lives in prison. Yet, I am sure it is to their utmost desire to suffer a small portion of what Baha'u'llah suffered in this world. One of them, Miss Haleh Rouhi, is one of my close friends. Please send this news to any Human Rights association you know."

The two videos below are posted in respect for these noble human beings. The first film is a prayer chanted by the Baha'i youth of Shiraz, Iran. The second is a documentary on the desecration of Baha'i cemeteries near Isfahan, Iran.

Chant by the Baha'i Youth of Shiraz



Persecuting the Dead

Monday, November 19, 2007

Egypt: "Identity Crisis" Entire Film Now Available!

The documentary film produced by the independent filmmaker, Mr. Ahmed Ezzat, has been just made public for free viewing in its entirety on an internet site. The 34-minutes film, "Identity Crisis: My Religion or My Country," documents in vivid details the struggle of the Egyptian Baha'is in search for their basic civil rights in their homeland. Mr. Ahmed Ezzat is not a Baha'i. He is an Egyptian human rights activist who has graciously provided this film for public viewing at his own expense and on his own precious time.

To view the entire film, please CLICK HERE....
(This version does not include subtitles)


Previously published promotional segment on YouTube










P.S. When linking to the website, under the film's image--written in Arabic--are three choices for downloading: high speed (top one), medium speed (middle one) or low speed (bottom one) copies of the film.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Extensive Media Coverage on the ID Crisis of Egypt

Joe Stork of HRW & Hossam Bahgat of EIPR

In its yesterday's edition, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article on Egypt's refusal to recognize its minorities and its stance in refusing them their civil rights. The article is based on the recent comprehensive report of Human Rights Watch (HRW) which has garnered worldwide media interest following the press conference jointly held with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). The press conference was held in Cairo shortly after the release of the joint report prepared by these two human rights organizations; HRW is based in New York and EIPR is based in Cairo. The report was released on 12 November 2007, a day prior to Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice convened to rule on the Baha'is cases before it, as described in the previous two posts.

The article begins with the following:

San Francisco Chronicle

Egypt hindering religious freedom, human rights groups say

Steven Stanek, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, November 16, 2007

(11-16) 04:00 PST Cairo - --

The Egyptian government refuses to recognize minority religions and Christian converts in official state records, according to a report released this week by human rights activists who say the policy is a violation of Egyptian law.

New York's Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Cairo said government officials are systematically withholding national identification cards and birth certificates from members of the Baha'i faith because it is not one of the three "heavenly" recognized religions - Islam, Christianity or Judaism.

Egypt has an estimated 2,000 adherents to Bahaism, a 150-year-old religion derived from Islam, but which considers the 19th century nobleman Baha'u'llah as the last prophet instead of Muhammad - a direct challenge to Islamic principles. It is the largest, and perhaps only, unrecognized religion in Egypt, according to the report.

There are roughly 70 million Muslims and 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt. Experts estimate that a once-thriving Jewish community has dwindled to fewer than 200 people.

The 98-page report, "Prohibited Identities: State Interference With Religious Freedom," also criticized the government's refusal to change religious affiliation on identification cards issued to those who converted from Islam to Christianity, which is considered a sin under Islamic law but protected by the country's Constitution.

"Officials apparently believe that they have the right to choose someone's religion when they don't happen to like the religion that that person, him or herself, has chosen," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Mideast and North Africa. "It's a policy also that strikes at the core of a person's identity. It has far-reaching consequences ... for daily life." Read the rest here....

In addition to this coverage, several newspaper articles were published in Arabic in prominent Egyptian newspapers. Links to these publications can be found on Basma's blog in the following posts: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5.

The Baha'i World News Service has also just published an article commenting on the Human Rights Watch report. It states the following:

Human rights groups issue report on Egypt

NEW YORK 16 November 2007 (BWNS)

Egypt should end discriminatory practices that prevent Baha'is and others from listing their true religious beliefs on government documents, said Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in a major report released this week.

The 98-page report, titled "Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom," focused on the problems that have emerged because of Egypt's practice of requiring citizens to state their religious identity on government documents but then restricting the choice to Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.


"These policies and practices violate the right of many Egyptians to religious freedom," stated the report, which was released on 12 November 2007.


"Because having an ID card is essential in many areas of public life, the policies also effectively deny these citizens a wide range of civil and political as well as economic and social rights," the report said.


The Baha'i International Community welcomed the report.
Read the rest of the article here....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Egypt: the Judge Mocks the Baha’is then Delays his Verdict

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice convened today to rule on a number of cases including the most recent two litigations brought by the Egyptian Baha'is in their desperate attempts to obtain their civil rights. These two cases were described in this earlier post which reported on the postponement of the verdicts until today's session of 13 November 2007. The first case involves the twin children Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi; the second case involves university student Hussein Hosni Abdel-Massih.

Yesterday and today, all major world media outlets have published extensive articles on this deplorable situation facing the Egyptian Baha'is. By clicking on the headline tags posted with this article, one can read the full coverage provided in these publications.

The following is a description of the scene in this Cairo court as reported by one of those attending today's session:

"Today was the re-hearing of the two cases of Dr. Raouf Hindy and Hussein Hosni. They were both after each other--in order. Dr. Raouf was first; the judge asked him if he has something new to add. Dr. Raouf repeated the request for 'enabling us to say the truth and not deny our faith.' The judge's reply was a surprise to all who were present, he said 'it is well known that the Baha'is have Muslims and Christians among them, there are Muslim Baha'is and there are Christian Baha'is. Each should state his original religion.' Dr. Raouf stated that he is 'neither Muslim nor Christian,' and the lawyer for the Baha'is stated that 'this is a form of forcing Baha'is to convert,' the judge replied 'the Ministry of Interior is not forcing you to change your belief...forcing would mean to ask you to stop being a Baha'i and believe in something else in your heart. The Ministry only allows three religions to be stated in official documents, but you are free to believe in what you want.'

The judge then did not want to go on with the argument and asked if there are any new documents or memos that any of the parties would like to add but neither of the parties had anything to add. He said the decision will be announced at the end of the session.

He then called for Mr. Hosni, the father of Hussein and jokingly mocked him 'of course you're enjoying what Dr. Raouf is saying' and followed this by saying 'your case is the same, together you will hear about it at the end of the session.'

The attitude of the judge was very disappointing to everyone and it was clear what the verdict will be like.

However, at the end of the session, with the Baha'is sitting--waiting--in court until 5 PM, the judge revealed his decision that a verdict will be announced on 25 December 2007."


There are several issues that must be addressed here:

1) These cases concern real people whose rights are being violated and who continue to suffer on a daily basis. This is not a laughing matter that can be taken jokingly by a respected judge. It is not appropriate or ethical for a judge to mock these innocent and helpless victims.

2) Contrary to what the judge has said, Baha'is are neither Muslims nor Christians. They are Baha'is--many of whom have been so for several generations. If they falsely state another religion on government documents, then they would be in violation of the law, to which the judge is subservient and obligated to uphold and protect.

The application form required for obtaining ID cards states that any false statements will be punishable by imprisonment and monitory fines.

Since Egypt was invaded by Muslim conquerors from Arabia several generations ago, the judge's ancestors were possibly either Coptic Christians, Jews, or even followers of the Pharaoh, would this mean that he must state his religion as one of these three? How would the judge feel if someone forces him to do so?

3) If the Baha'is were forced to state their religion as Christian, Muslim or Jew, what would the judge do if one of these Baha'is, who would have been holding an ID card stating that he is a Muslim, marries the judge's daughter? Would that be acceptable to him then?

4) For a variety of reasons, it is becoming glaringly clear that the Egyptian courts are incapable of solving this identification crisis. The Egyptian government must now step in and produce a satisfactory resolution to the ID crisis facing the Baha'is and the other minorities in Egypt.

Even the Pravda, the preeminent Russian newspaper in its first time covering this crisis, showed its strong interest in this matter by publishing:

Human rights groups wish Egyptian authorities to change their policy of not allowing converts from Islam and members of the Bahai faith to register their religion in official documents.

In a report two years in the making, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the local Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR, described how Egyptians of religious persuasions authorities disapprove of are unable to get birth certificates and identification cards.

Joe Stork, the HRW Middle East deputy chief, said it was a systematic policy to deny documents to members of faiths other than Islam, Christianity and Judaism - the only three religions officially recognized by Egyptian authorities.

ID cards are mandatory here, but persons seeking to have "Bahai" listed as their faith on the card, for example, are denied the document, Stork told reporters in Cairo. Read more here....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Egypt: Urgent Press Release by EIPR & Report of Human Rights Watch

The following Press Release was just published by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) regarding the ID card crisis in Egypt. The two links at the end of this Release will take you to the comprehensive 98 page report of EIPR & Human Rights Watch regarding the ID crisis, titled "Prohibited Identities" in PDF or HTML format. [Arabic version of Report & Arabic version of Press Release].

BBC coverage of the Press Release can be seen here in English & Arabic.


Press Release- 12 November 2007

Egypt: Allow Citizens to List Actual Religion on ID Cards

End Discrimination, Harassment of Baha’is, Converts From Islam

(Cairo, November 12, 2007) – Egypt should allow all citizens to use their actual religious identity when required to list religion on government documents, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said today. The government’s discriminatory practice of restricting identity to three religions, directed at Baha’is and preventing converts from Islam from listing their true belief, violate many rights and cause immense hardship.

In their 98-page report “Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom,” Human Rights Watch and the EIPR document how Ministry of Interior officials systematically prevent Baha’is and converts from Islam from registering their actual religious belief in national identity documents, birth certificates, and other essential papers. They do this based not on any Egyptian law, but on their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. This denial can have far-reaching consequences for the daily lives of those affected, including choosing a spouse, educating one’s children, or conducting the most basic financial and other transactions.

“Interior Ministry officials apparently believe they have the right to choose someone’s religion when they don’t like the religion that person chooses,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The government should end its arbitrary refusal to recognize some people’s religious beliefs. This policy strikes at the core of a person’s identity, and its practical consequences seriously harm their daily lives.”

All Egyptians, on reaching the age of 16, must obtain a national identification card. This document is essential to conducting transactions as basic as opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, entering a university, getting a job, or collecting a pension. The Civil Status Department of the Interior Ministry administers these national ID cards as well as other vital records such as birth certificates, all of which require a person to state his or her religious identity. But ministry officials limit the choice to one of the three “revealed” religions – Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. No Egyptian law requires this, but the officials say they are acting on what they understand to be the requirements of Sharia, thus excluding members of Egypt’s Baha’i community.

On similar grounds, these officials refuse to recognize the religious conversion of any Muslim to another religion on identity documents, although Egypt’s Civil Status Law permits persons to change or correct information in their identification documents, including religion, simply by registering the new information. Interior Ministry officials cite the Islamic law prohibition against any “repudiation” of the faith as apostasy to refuse such requests, even from Egyptians who were born Christian, converted to Islam, and want to convert back to Christianity.

“Prohibited Identities” documents how the Egyptian government selectively uses Sharia to deny some citizens their right under Egyptian and international human rights law to exercise religious freedom without discrimination or penalty.

Human Rights Watch and the EIPR interviewed more than 40 victims, lawyers, and religious and community leaders in preparing the report. In addition, the EIPR examined the files of 304 court cases filed by victims and their relatives, as well as higher court decisions and relevant laws. Human Rights Watch’s requests for a meeting with the head of the Interior Ministry’s Civil Status Department were turned down. Human Rights Watch then submitted questions to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli (reproduced as an appendix to the report) but both letters received no reply.

“Our research clearly shows that there is no fixed Islamic law position on the administrative requirements for religious identification in the public records of a modern bureaucracy,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the EIPR. “Officials should pursue an approach that upholds basic principles of justice and equality, instead of one that directly violates the rights of its citizens.”

The problem has become particularly acute in recent years, after the Interior Ministry began issuing computer-generated documents carrying a unique “national number” (raqam qawmi). Officials say that in the near future, perhaps as soon as early 2008, even persons with valid paper IDs will have to acquire the new computer-generated documents, and that the only options for the religion line will be Islam, Christianity or Judaism.

Many Egyptians interviewed for the report recounted how Interior Ministry officials tried to intimidate or bribe them into identifying themselves as Muslims against their express wishes.

Human Rights Watch and the EIPR urged authorities to exonerate persons convicted for obtaining forged identity documents solely because the government refused to list their actual religion.

“The Interior Ministry’s policy essentially says: ‘If you lie we’ll give you the documents you need, but if you tell the truth about your religion we’ll make your life miserable by withholding them’,” Stork said. “It is punishing people solely on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Some Egyptians have battled these abusive policies by filing complaints against officials before Egypt’s Court of Administrative Justice. Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court is scheduled to issue a final ruling on November 17 regarding the right of Christian converts to Islam to re-convert back to Christianity. The court decision is expected to have a major impact on the legal treatment of other forms of religious conversion and on the overall situation of freedom of religion and belief in Egypt.

The quasi-official National Council for Human Rights submitted a memorandum to the government in December 2006 recommending that the government remove religious affiliation from ID cards or reinstate the policy of entering “other” in the line reserved for religion.

“Eliminating the religion line in IDs would send a positive signal of the state’s neutrality regarding the religious affiliation, if any, of citizens,” Bahgat said. “But the root of the problem is the government’s insistence on misidentifying these citizens in the central records. This is what the government needs to address urgently.”

Testimonies from ‘Prohibited Identities’:


“I tried to obtain the national ID card. In the application, I wrote that my religion was Baha’i. The officer refused to accept the application and asked me to present my birth certificate. I showed it to him. It stated that I was Baha’i and so were my parents. He still refused to accept the application and asked me to apply in Cairo. When I went to Cairo, I met an officer called Wa’il who opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a big pile of documents and said, ‘You see, all these applications are from Baha’i who want IDs. You will never ever get them.’ ”

—Nayer Nabil, Cairo

“My ID card says I am Muslim. One option is to get a forged ID, but it’s not an option for me. The children are the key. We moved to Alexandria because it’s a lot bigger; we can disappear. But this can’t continue, for psychological as well as legal reasons. The children’s birth certificates will say Muslim, but they are raised Christian. When they start school, then the problems really start. Religion class starts in the first grade.”

—Name withheld on request, Cairo

“My husband died in 2003. He worked for Al-‘Ameriyya Oil Company. To pick up my pension from the bank or the post office, I need an ID card. I’m supposed to get 70 percent of my husband’s salary, but I’ve gotten nothing since he died. I have to rely on my kids to help me because I have no other income. Everyone should be free. The state should not be responsible for anyone’s religion.”

—Qudsiyya Hussein Ruhi, Alexandria

“State Security tried to persuade us both to be Muslims. We were exhausted, more than 24 hours with no food. When they failed to convince us to become Muslims, they referred us to criminal investigation. From five in the morning until five at night, the State Security grilled us. They said that they would bring forgery charges against both of us.”

—Names withheld on request, Heliopolis

“Without national ID cards issued to Baha’is, suddenly, voila, there are no Baha’is in Egypt.”

—Labib Hanna Iskandar, Cairo

“He said I’d committed a sin against God. He asked why I wanted to go back to Christianity. ‘If you had bad luck with your first husband, you should have found another Muslim man.’ He offered me assistance and favors. ‘I can find you a good Muslim man,’ he said. ‘If it’s financial, we can help you find a job. If you went back to your family for lack of any alternative, we’ll help you find an apartment.’ When I insisted on staying a Christian, he said, ‘Well, we have to start an investigation into the forgery.’”

—Golsen Sobhi Kamel, Cairo

The report is available at:
http://eipr.org/en/reports/Prohibited_ID_1107/english.pdf
Or
http://hrw.org/reports/2007/egypt1107/

All rights reserved © Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
e-mail: eipr@eipr.org

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Daily News Egypt: Thorough Coverage of Baha'i Case

A day after Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice postponed its ruling on the Egyptian Baha'i cases until its upcoming session of 13 November 2007, Daily News Egypt, distributed by the International Herald Tribune (IHT), published an article authored by Alexandra Sandels with the headline "Egyptian Baha'is: second class citizens in their own country."

The article is quite comprehensive and touches on all key issues involving the persecution of Baha'is in Egypt. It provides in-depth interviews and describes the current litigations.

"The International Herald Tribune (IHT) is the world's foremost global newspaper. The IHT is the only English-language international paper printed in Egypt and available the same day. Together with the IHT's first-class international news service, Daily News Egypt provides readers with a complete bouquet of all the news they will need."

P.S. If the links above do not work well with Internet Explorer (IE), try a different browser!

Because of problems linking to the Daily News site with Internet Explorer, the entire article is posted below:

"EGYPTIAN BAHAIIS: SECOND CLASS CITIZENS IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY"

By Alexandra Sandels
First Published: October 31, 2007

CAIRO: Shady Samir, a 33-year-old business owner, lost his father two years ago. Yet, he is still paying the yearly taxes on his father’s business as if he was alive. Why? Because his father is Bahai and official Egyptian documents such as the death certificate only recognize the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish faiths.

For Samir’s father to be “officially dead” to the national authorities, he would need to convert and become a Muslim, Christian, or a Jew upon his death.

(Shady Samir’s paper ID card features a dash in the religious faith entry)

Official documents such as identity cards and birth certificates are a survival necessity. Citizens cannot enroll in school, receive medical treatment, take bank loans, or buy a car without their national ID card. Young children cannot even receive vaccinations against diseases without a birth certificate.


Those Bahais who refuse to pose as Christians, Muslims, or Jews are left in limbo, living as stateless people in their own country.


“Egyptian Bahais exist in nature but in the eyes of the state they are non-existent,” said Hossam Baghat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR).


Dr Basma Moussa, an assistant professor in oral surgery at Cairo University and of Bahai faith, argues that Al-Azhar issued a certificate claiming that she is an apostate, which delayed her tenure for several years.


Ragi Labib, a 27-year-old Bahai student at Cairo University with an easy smile, also struggles in life for refusing to officially adhere to one of the three religions deemed suitable for official documents by the government.


Labib is eager to travel the world and dreams of someday acquiring a passport — the only official Egyptian document that does not require a statement of religious affiliation. That however, can prove a difficult task as well, since the passport application process requires other official documents that state the person’s religious faith.


“While most people dream of having a family, a car, and a big house, I dream of having a passport. It’s ridiculous,” Labib told Daily News Egypt.


The court battle for the rights of Bahais to obtain official documents has been going on for years. In 2004, EIPR reportedly started receiving complaints from Bahais who claimed they were forced to write that they were Muslims, Christians, or Jews in order to obtain official documents.


“I can’t even prove that I am married because the national authorities do not recognize Bahai marriage certificates,” Samir argued.


The Supreme Administrative Court reversed a ruling in favor of the Bahais in December 2006 on the appeal of Egyptian authorities. The new ruling granted the state the right to deny Bahais identity documents recognizing their religious affiliation.


Shortly thereafter, EIPR’s lawyers modified their requests arguing that Bahai Egyptians should at least have the right to obtain documents without having to state religious affiliation at all.


The issue at stake is particularly pressing as Sept. 30, 2007 marked the last day the old handwritten ID cards could be used. Several Bahais still possess the now useless handwritten document where a dash marks the field for religious affiliation — a common procedure practiced up until 2003.


According to Samir, a 2003 internal memo in the Ministry of Interior reversed that privilege, making it impermissible to leave the box for religious affiliation unmarked on the computerized ID card.


On Tuesday, a Cairo Administrative Court postponed its decision in two legal cases concerning the rights of Bahais to be exempted from putting religious affiliation in their official documents.


The lawsuits concern 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who are still unable to obtain computerized birth certificates unless they claim they are either Muslim, Christian or Jewish. It also concerns 18-year-old Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih who has been suspended from his university studies as a result of his inability to obtain an identity card.


“We can’t work, we can’t do anything. I don’t know how to live in my own country,” Hussein Hosni, the father of Abdel-Massih told Daily News Egypt.


The father of the twins, Dr Raouf Hind, has been fighting his daughters’ case in court since 2002. He obtained birth certificates for the twins upon their birth in the Sultanate of Oman in 1993 that recognized their true religious affiliation. Problems arose, however, when Hindi sought to exchange the documents for Egyptian birth certificates.


“The clerk told me that I had to select Christianity, Islam, or Judaism as my daughters’ religious affiliations. I told him we are third generation Bahai,” Hindi said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.


When Hindi refused to fill in the field for religious affiliation in his daughters’ birth certificates, he was allegedly told to “go to court.”


“All I am asking from the authorities is to let us leave the field for religious affiliation blank in my daughters’ official documents and not force us to be something we’re not,” Hindi added.


Unable to send his children to school in Egypt, Hindi said his twin daughters attend a British school in Libya where their mother works as a physician.


On one of the court benches sat Medhat Nos, a young Christian blogger and moderator of the Internet blog “7rakat” (Movements). He traveled all the way from Assiut to show solidarity with his fellow citizens.


“We need to defend the human rights of our people regardless of their religious affiliation,” said Nos.


The obstacles facing Bahais also sparked the interest of Egyptian human rights activists who demonstrated in support of the Bahais several times in downtown Cairo last year.


Video clips and pictures from the rallies show large crowds of activists holding up enlarged versions of ID cards belonging to Bahais where the box for religious affiliation is marked by a dash or has simply been left blank.


The issue also caught the interest of freelance moviemaker Ahmed Ezzat. His documentary “Identity Crisis” came out February this year.


A portrayal of the lives of Egyptian Bahais, the film depicts their struggle to become recognized citizens in their own country. So far, Ezzat’s film has been reportedly banned from several Egyptian film festivals, including the Alexandria Film Festival.


“Religion is a controversial topic here. My film was most likely banned to its sensitive content,” Ezzat told Daily News Egypt.


Ezzat maintains, however, that he recently was able to screen it before a group of members of the government-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), marking a step forward in the process.


The film begins by depicting the December 2006 court decision denying Bahais the right to state their true religious affiliation on identity documents.


As the verdict is read before the crowded court room, a group of Islamist activists raised their hands towards the ceiling victoriously shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) while waving the Quran before, stunned Bahais, human rights activists, and reporters.


One of the Muslim activists, Mohamed Salem goes on to say that Bahais are apostates and that “infidels should be killed.”


“How can I be an apostate when I was never a Muslim? I was born Bahai. I am fourth generation,” Samir countered.


While Bahais have lived in Egypt for more than a hundred years, there is no official record of them since President Nasser decided to shut down their national assembly in the 1960s.


“Some put the number of Egyptian Bahai at hundreds of thousands. My guess though is that there are a couple of thousands of us,” Samir said.


The next hearing in the two Bahai legal cases is scheduled for Nov. 13.


Egypt is a signatory of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making “protection of citizens from religious discrimination” and “education without distinction on any basis, including religion or belief” legally binding.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Egyptian Baha'is Need to Wait Again for Court Ruling

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice had a full docket today...all its twenty four cases got postponed!

Looking at the attached docket, it seems that almost every ministry and governmental agency is being sued by someone. Those attending in the court chamber appear to be a mix of individuals who are awaiting to receive some sort of closure on whatever cases they are litigating.

Of course, the Egyptian Baha'is, accompanied by a number of human rights activists and bloggers, are among those attending today's court session.

The following is a message received from one of those attending in court regarding the two cases litigated by the Egyptian Baha'is, described in this previous post. He explains what happened and why it did happen:

"Today was another disappointment...even though it was technically expected by the lawyers. The court postponed the cases to 13 November 2007 in light of the change of three of the judges of the court. October 1st is the date on which judges get shuffled around and promoted. When this happens while they are handling a case, it is technically expected that the case is presented again to the new panel of judges in the form of its final arguments and legal memoranda from both parties. If neither of the parties present any new arguments or documents there will be no retrial and the case remains in its pre-verdict state until 13 November."

What is not clearly understood is: since this change in judges is always expected to happen on the first of October, therefore it is a known fact that the court cannot rule on any cases during this period of time. Why then were these cases placed on the docket for final decisions when it was impossible to produce any such decisions? It appears to be a waste of time and expense for all those involved. It degrades people's emotions, sense of self-worth and dignity.