Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Official Egyptian Press Examines the Baha'i Case

The following is commentary on an extensive article authored by Ahmed Zaki Osman that appeared in Al-Qahera (a weekly published by Egypt’s Ministry of Culture) on Tuesday, 16 January 2007. Issue #353, p. 24. A pdf image of the article can be viewed at this link.

In the attached page that carries a fairly large picture of Abdu’l-Bahá (the son of Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith), Al Qahira investigates the possible reasons behind the attack on Baha’is after the ruling of the first administrative court of 4 April 2006 that gave Baha’is the right to official documents required by the state for all transactions whether with various state departments or social institutions, banks, schools, universities etc…. The verdict was overturned by the Supreme Administrative Court, on 16 December 2006, to much jubilation from Islamist extremists both inside the court and in the papers, and to the amazement of Osman who points out in his article the confusion in self perceived roles on the part of members of parliament in particular.

The article is entitled: "Why was not the home of Islam big enough for all people, including the Baha'is...recognizing their rights to believe in whatever pleases their hearts?" In one of its subtitles the article points out that "Egypt's citizenship laws have never stated that adherence to divine religions should be a condition for citizenship."

Ahmed Zaki Osman, the author of the article, chooses as starting point what he calls the "geography" of the Baha’is' case. He quotes the famous geographer Gamal Hamdan who in his magnum opus "The Character of Egypt," has specified Egypt as the land most likely to manifest in all matters the rule of the 'golden means' and contrast, due to the rich variety of its demographic and historical heritage. Ahmed Zaki Osman carries this metaphor to its conclusion by highlighting the paradoxes in discourse that were rampant while the case for the Baha’is was being made public, albeit to underscore the underlying paradoxes rather than to demonstrate the positive aspect in Hamdan’s initial statement.

He scrutinizes the discourse of hegemony in a way that underscores what he suggests is a national ailment that he sees as fairly novel to the Egyptian scene, and arrives at the conclusion that Muslims are passing through an unprecedented phase of oppression, weakness and humiliation whereby it is difficult for the adherents of that faith to point to any achievement worth their while except in those societies where the preponderance of the population is not Muslim. He points to the fact that there are Muslim members of parliament in France, Britain, Germany and other countries and cites the fact that there is a Muslim woman judge in the United States; this however does not seem to impress Muslims at home with any message. They remain according to Ahmed Zaki Osman the victims of a monocular vision, unable to appreciate the invigorating elements in a healthy debate that rests on rational premises instead of vainglory and pride that derives its raison d’etre from an imagined threat in which all that is not Muslim is targeted for its own sake.

Ahmed Zaki Osman is not out to describe a persecution complex...far from it. What he is trying to do is to put in perspective the difference between handling a situation rationally or resorting to inflamed emotional rhetoric which is how he describes the responses that occurred from members of parliament who are otherwise noteworthy citizens. What he seems to be saying is that, in the absence of true democracy, frustration is taken out haphazardly without resort to either decency in dialogue or indeed an understanding of the roles designated by society to its judiciary, its executive and its representative bodies.

He describes a confusion of issues that allows members of parliament to draw their comments from their own personal leanings and feelings on a matter that falls within the realm of the courts and the institutions of justice and nothing else. To the extent that those members of parliament who raised the issue as intolerable, have addressed their request for questions in the house to the wrong minister! The minister they needed to address in order to voice a grievance such as their intention to deny a group of citizens the right to hold national ID cards with all what that implies, should have been the Minister for Interior and not the Minister of Religious Endowments!

This situation bespeaks, in the opinion of Osman, a degree of frustration and intolerance that stems both from annoyance with the political atmosphere as much as it is a manifestation of the confusion of issues that allow those politicians to play on the emotions of the public and to instigate their fears...though he does not accuse the parliamentarians who stand guard on Islamic pseudo issues--as was the case when the minister for culture made a denigrating remark (off the record) to a journalist about the veil, or when the Pope of the Vatican made his ill-advised references to history--of anything less than a misconception of their role in parliament.

The other reason Osman attributes the anger to is the lack of a mind educated to accept diversity and difference. He cites a famous dialogue between the Imam Muhammad Abdu and Sheikh Rashid Reda on the issue of the Baha’i faith. In the quotes he chooses, it is more than apparent that there was a steady and stable ground of enlightenment that ensured the rationality of the debate without either of the clerics condescending to haphazard accusations of the faith, its proponents or its leading figures. Indeed, Muhammad Abdu is quoted as saying of Abdu’l-Bahá that he is a very Great man. But then we must recall--says Othman--who the parties to that dialogue were, in a clear reference to their excellence, and thus the relative mediocrity of the current commentators and players.

Osman stresses what he calls "the geography of paradoxes" to indicate the clear schism between what a Nation thinks of itself, and what the reality of its discourse reveals. He describes the jubilations (Allah'u-Akbar!) that were loud in the court on the 16th of December, as an indication of a moral bankruptcy. As a matter of fact, he puts that scene under the subtitle: "The psychological defeat of the nation." He ends his article by posing a number of salient questions that all address the issue of the times when diversity is viewed as a threat and hopes that Egypt will overcome its current narcissistic, introvert outlook in order to regain its sense of dignity, rights for all its citizens whether poor or rich, Muslim or non Muslim, weak or strong.

To conclude, this writer challenges all the dogmas, delusions and illusions of the Islamist fundamentalist establishment which has triggered the government's appeal of the administrative court's ruling that had granted the Baha'is their rights. This challenge was introduced in the Egyptian parliamentary debate more than a month after the court's judgement and following several sessions during which the matter was never brought up. To make matters worse, these extremist individuals addressed the wrong minister regarding their issue. The article also points out the fact that the task of the parliament is not to police the judiciary and challenge court decisions, but rather act as a watch-dog to the executive branch of the government to ensure that the rights of individuals, whom they represent, are protected.

Furthermore, a secular member of the parliament, Dr. Zainab Radwan, a well known academician supported the recognition of the Baha'is, not because it is their right, but for a sinister reason--that is "to identify them so that the society can be protected from their influence"...not far removed from the Nuremberg Race Laws! Then, all of a sudden, the issue of "public order" was brought in, which in fact has absolutely nothing to do with this case, particularly when the disruption of public order, so rampant in the Egyptian society recently, has been caused by the exact same society elements which have been attacking the Baha'is....

Thus this whole matter which had emerged through the parliament, challenging a court decision that granted citizenship rights, has been illegal and out of jurisdiction all along. Even worse, the Supreme Administrative Court avoided the question at hand, and instead of ruling on the civil and personal status questions in front of it, resorted instead to take shots at the legitimacy of the Baha'i Faith!


  1. Bilo,

    Thanks for posting information about this article and this courageous writer. He sees a decline in the Egyptian political climate and the debasement of discourse. His analysis is insightful and shows there is hope in the Egyptian press.

  2. Once more I see a deep gap in Egyptian society.

    Some people want their country to become a modern country, granting equal civil rights to all its citizens.
    Others want to go back to a sort of "middle age paradise".

  3. Nabil,
    What is even more interesting is that this paper is a government-issued publication.

  4. Marco,
    You hit the nail on the head...Egypt is indeed the land of contrast...this is a perfect example of the country and its people!

  5. Bilo and Marco,

    It would seem that one department of government does not know what the other department is doing. Bilo, I am really intrigued by how the Ministry of Culture would do one thing, and the Ministry of Awqaf would do the exact opposite. It behooves this government to get its act together and serve all its people! Governments are to service, with justice!

  6. Perhaps the Ministry of Culture is now fulfilling its role of 'educating' the Ministries of Awqaf [Religious Endowment] and Interior!

    Also the Minister of Awqaf had publicly--in international circles--declared his promotion of freedom of belief in Egypt, while at the same time at home, through the ministry’s actions and rhetoric, promoted intolerance and hatred towards the Baha'is! Their justification, as far as I can understand, is that Egypt does not recognize the Baha’is, thus they are “fair game,” and are not entitled to the same treatment or rights.

    This logic never fails to amaze me.... Please tell me what you think of this!

  7. The only way to describe this is hypocricy! To say one thing and do another is hypocritical to say the least. I do not want to judge, but I know Islam promotes truthfulness and condemns hypocricy (I think in Arabic it is Nefaq)!

    I am pleased though that the Ministry of Culture is above this use (or abuse) of religion as a weapon - (if you are not like me, then you are fair game!). For Egypt's sake, I hope they succeed in broadening the horizons and correctly inform the Egyptian public of the truth about Islam and other religions!

  8. Yes, but how would you respond to their argument that "Egypt does not recognize the Baha’is, thus they are 'fair game,' and are not entitled to the same treatment or rights?"

  9. I wondered about some western accounts of the Muslim Brotherhood - it seems the situation is complex. Care to comment on this?

  10. Anonymous,
    The NPR report is quite objective and accurate.

    You may like to refer to this previous post regarding the Muslim Brotherhood movement, its origin and a glimpse of its history--particularly its long-standing efforts to persecute the Baha'is.

  11. Bilo & Anonymous

    It is clear that there are those who would use religion as a weapon against those who are different. The United States as a nation was built by those who fled from religious intolerance. The Muslim Brotherhood, in general, preached this intolerance but they also suffered from the intolerance of their political opponents. Nonetheless, there are many decent members of the MB. The whole issue revolves around education and enlightenment.

    I am intrigued by the reference to Gamal El-Banna and his tolerant views that are inconsistent with his late brother's who founded the MB. Mr Gamal El-Banna can exert a moderating influence on Egypt and its Muslim population.

    In the meantime, a small persecuted group in Egypt, the Baha'is, are made to be scapegoats of this intolerance. Those who are supposed to protect them are themselves instigating the Egyptian pubic and press against them. Surely those in power can put a stop to this if they wish. Let us hope they don't waste any more time and stop the suffering of this group of Egyptian Baha'is, those non-political well-wishing, sincere and devoted Egyptian citizens.

  12. call me an objective observer....

    I look at the situation of the Bahais of Egypt the only thing I can do is shake my head and wonder
    if humanity can survive past the year 2010....on the one hand you have these Islamist terrorists
    who want to deny the right for the Bahais to live and Breathe and Scream bloody murder when nations
    such as Isreal and the United States decide to enguage them in war and tell them either to cease and desist
    or face the Iron fist of the US Military....

    it makes you wonder

  13. Anonymous,
    Perhaps you would want to watch the Lord of the Rings again....

  14. a curious progress on the topic I hadn't anticipated....

    It mentions the Egyptian situation but also recalls a number of incidents including in the history of America. Nice!

  15. Steven,
    Thank you for this reference from Nepal! It is amazing how today's communication spreads the news worldwide. It is an insightful article, and the specific reference to Baha'is in Egypt is quite interesting. Egyptian Government officials: Are you listening to the world condemnation of such actions?
    Charlotte, North Carolina

  16. Steven,
    Thank you for the reference and welcome!

  17. Does anyone know the outcome of the court case of Emad and Nancy today?

  18. Nabil,
    No decision was reached. The case got postponed until 3 April 2007.


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