Friday, April 13, 2007

Egypt: Views of German Scholar on the Baha'i Case

A respected and independent German orientalist and academician, Dr. Johanna Pink, was recently interviewed regarding her research on the situation of the Baha'is of Egypt. Dr. Pink is on the faculty of the Free University of Berlin and is well known for her cutting edge scholarly work on the treatment of minorities in Islamic societies, and in particular the Baha'is in Egypt. This link provides the reader with a glimpse of some of her writings regarding this subject. Among her numerous publications, she is the author of a book entitled "Neue Religionsgemeinschaften in Ägypten: Minderheiten zwischen Glaubensfreiheit, öffentlicher Ordnung und Islam" [New Religious Communities in Egypt: minorities between religious freedom, public order and Islam]. On the book's cover is an old picture of the confiscated building of the Baha'i National Centre in Cairo which was taken away in 1960 by the Egyptian government from the Baha'i Community when President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, in his presidential decree number 263, put an end to all Baha'i administrative institutions, confiscated all Baha'i properties, stripped Baha'is of their rights to freedom of religion, and jailed and interrogated several senior Baha'is.

Her interview in the German language can be viewed on the Baha'i Deutscland site linked here.

Below is an English translation of the interview:

Interview with Dr. Johanna Pink

Dr. Johanna Pink, Academic Stuff Member and Lecturer at the Department for Islamic Science at the Free University Berlin, wrote her dissertation on "Religious minorities in Egypt within the area of conflict of religious freedom, public order and Islam." On 27 February 2007 she analysed in an interview with representatives of the Office of Public Information of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Germany the current situation of the Bahá’í community in Egypt.

Dr. Pink, you have been observing the situation of the Bahá’í community in Egypt for almost 10 years now. Recently occurred the case of a young Bahá’í scientist which is also related to Germany’s policy regarding Egypt. Could you please tell us what happened? [see this post]

JOHANNA PINK: It is the case of a young man who worked for the physics department of the German University in Cairo (GUC). After a short time he was fired, because as a Bahá’í he was not able to present his ID-Card.

To what extent does this dismissal concern also the German public?

JOHANNA PINK: The German University is an Egyptian institution, but it is in part financially and scientifically supported by Germany. And it has a German name and advertises with its partnership programmes with other Universities in Germany.

What does the dismissal mean for the young man?

JOHANNA PINK: This young Bahá’í scientist has lost his work and his income and also his scientific career. But above all it is an unacceptable incident in the context of human rights. Especially if an institution with a strong relation to Germany is involved.

What impression does the Egyptian population get by this dismissal?

JOHANNA PINK: It is a signal that at this university, the policy by the Egyptian government is absolutely put into action. There must have been some pressure – by the Department of the Interior, the State Security or similar offices – to execute this dismissal, but in my opinion it is not acceptable that a German institution with a German name is doing so. The people in the Middle East are quite cynical about democracy and human rights. They believe that the commitment of the Western countries to democracy is not sincere. Cases like this support this impression.

The Bahá’í community of Egypt has been deprived of all rights as an organized religious community since 1960. In the meantime there are only 500 to 1000 Bahá’ís left. Why does the Egyptian government feel threatened by such a small community?

JOHANNA PINK: For the Egyptian government it is not about the Bahá’ís at all. In my point of view, the government does not care about the Bahá’ís. The government also knows that Bahá’ís do not represent danger. They are too few and they are peaceful and do not polarize. They also do not appear in public. The government is often accused that it does not defend Islamic interests. Therefore the government is especially vulnerable because it persecutes the Islamist opposition. For this reason it tries to conduct symbolic acts to clarify that it is preserving Islam. These acts can be against Bahá’ís, homosexuals, but also against liberal and secular thinking Muslims or newspapers.

What is the reason - in your point of view - that the Bahá’ís are not allowed to get ID Cards, which makes their daily life so difficult?

JOHANNA PINK: In the domestic political context it is not only about the Bahá’ís. The Bahá’ís are just a group which they can easily sacrifice and which serves to demonstrate that the government stands for Islamic interests. If the government would have given the Bahá’ís the possibility to indicate "Bahá’í" or "other" as their religion in their ID card, the Islamist opposition could have accused the government that it allows other religion besides the three accepted ones to exist in Egypt, although the indication has nothing to do with a recognition by the state. The Egyptian government did not want to expose itself to this accusation. Therefore the possibility to write Bahá’í or anything truthful has not been granted.

In the Egyptian jurisdiction, the principle of public order is stated very often as a reason for the discrimination of the Bahá’ís. What does this mean?

JOHANNA PINK: It means the fundamental principles of order of state and society which are summarised by Islam according to the Egyptian jurisprudence. Islam does not recognize a post-Islamic religion. That means: pursuant to an Islamic defined religious concept, the Bahá’í Faith is not a religion. This religious term is continuously applied by the Egyptian jurisprudence and government. They argue that the Bahá’í Faith violates the public order because it is not an accepted religion and therefore it cannot be accepted by the government. The fact that the fight for ID cards is not about state recognition but about an individual civil right to hold an ID card, is completely neglected. The whole matter must be seen in the context that Islamic Sharia is not applicable law in Egypt - except for certain fields like family law and law of succession. However, Islamic moral concepts strongly dominate the daily action. The concept of public order is a way to support these actions.

You mentioned that Islamic jurisprudence is applicable only in certain fields like family law and law of succession. Is this religious law also applied to the adherents of other religions like the Bahá’ís.

JOHANNA PINK: This depends to what religion the individual belongs to. Religious law of the Bahá’ís can not be applied because the Bahá’í Faith is not recognised. In such cases Islamic law is applied. Islamic law states that persons who have apostatised from Islam or whose ancestors apostatised from Islam are not allowed to inherit nor can they be legally married. In the past there have been attempts to separate Bahá’í couples arguing that they cannot have a marriage, but this topic is not very much in the spotlight right now. In the case of inheritance it is much more difficult, because if the case is put to trial they have the policy that Bahá’ís with Muslim background or ancestors cannot inherit nor hand something down to their children. Often the Muslim family inherits everything, sometimes the government receives the money.

In April 2006, a lower Administrative Court upheld the right of a Bahá'í couple to state their religion on their ID cards lawfully. In December 2006 the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court decided that Bahá’ís should not have the right to state their religion on their ID cards lawfully. How do you view this judgement?

JOHANNA PINK: The judgement of 16 December 2006 is for me clearly a political decision. When you have a look at it you will see that it was written very sloppily. It is in a juridical way very weak. The main part of the judgement, which is the explanatory statement, has been copied from a 30 year old judgement of the Supreme Court, which was a completely different case. In the statement they do not even relate to the arguments of the Bahá’ís. All the questions concerning constitutional law and human rights are not addressed, which clearly speaks for a political decision. The judges wrote something down without any effort, just to put this decision into action.

Have there been any comparable cases in the past?

JOHANNA PINK: In the 80s there has been a judgement by the same Court which was also against the Bahá’ís, but its decision regarding the registration of one’s religion in the ID cards was in favour of the Bahá’ís. This means that a positive view in the question of ID cards is possible in Egyptian law, and justifiable. It would have been legally no problem to advance this view now; they could have easily copied the judgement of 1983 - if they enjoy copying old judgements - but they did not. In my point of view they did not, because the politicians did not want it.

Johanna Pink’s Profile

Born in 1974 in the city of Dortmund in Western Germany, Johanna Pink pursued Islamic Studies in Erlangen, Amman and Bonn with a scholarship from the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, and graduated in Islamic Studies and International Private Law at the University of Bonn in 1998. She then received a postgraduate scholarship and obtained her Ph.D. from the same university in 2002 with a thesis on new religious communities in Egypt, which has been published 2003 under the title "Neue Religionsgemeinschaften in Ägypten: Minderheiten zwischen Glaubensfreiheit, öffentlicher Ordnung und Islam" (New religious groups in Egypt: minorities between religious freedom, public order and Islam). Furthermore, she has published numerous articles about new religious communities in Egypt, a contribution to the fifth edition of "Der Islam in der Gegenwart" about Islam and non-Muslim minorities, and has been co-author of an article about religious identity and globalisation. She was a postdoctoral member of the postgraduate research programme Global Challenges and held a DFG research scholarship for research on how to deal with the world-wide Muslim debate on Islamization of education. She is currently an Academic Staff Member and Lecturer at the Institute of Islamic Studies at Free University of Berlin.

Please find below two online publications of lectures Johanna Pink gave in 2002 and 2003 regarding the persecutions of Bahá’ís and other religious minorities in Egypt.

"New religious communities in Egypt - Islam, public order and freedom of belief"
The 2002 CESNUR International Conference
Minority Religions, Social Change, and Freedom of Conscience
Salt Lake City and Provo (Utah/USA), June 20-23, 2002

"Nationalism, Religion and the Muslim-Christian Relationship - Teaching Ethics and Values in Egyptian Schools"
The 2003 CESNUR International Conference
organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003


  1. See also:
    The Concept of Freedom of Belief and Its Boundaries in Egypt: The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Baha'i Faith Between Established Religions and An Authoritarian State


    A Post-qur'anic Religion Between Apostasy and Public Order: Egyptian Muftis and Courts on the Legal Status of the Bah' Faith

    Also see the recent minority rights group report on Iraq where they are battling similar issues with respect to identity as the Egyptian Baha'is.


  2. Dear
    Thank you so much for these great references. You are always welcome to comment here.

  3. I tried the links mentioned by anonymous but they did not work for me. I will try again using a different browser of a different computer.

    Dr. Johanna Pink's comments are courageous and insightful. The Baha'is in Egypt are simply the scapegoats of the warring political powers. When will those in power realize that using innocent people in a political struggle eventually impairs rather than strengthens the foundation upon which their power is based!

    Ironically, do the warring political factions in Egypt realize that by attacking the Baha'is in Egypt they are only fueling interest in the Baha'i Faith in Egypt, the Middle East, and the entire world?

  4. Nabil,
    Try these links for the publications mentioned by anonymous:
    First one.
    Second one.
    Third one.

    Regarding your last comment: better to leave this one alone!

  5. One has to reflect on the intention of suppressing religious minorities to appease the Islamic leadership, the same party that is attempting to usurp power. In logical terms, promoting cultural and religious diversity would be a means to stabilize growing trends of extremism and unilateral forces. Does this fuel the fire of the radical Islamic majority, or does it do as much as to wet their appetite?

    There is a factor that cannot be denied by those living in Egypt, or in any Islamic society, that despite all outward appearances of moderation, and the minority of Muslims who are truly enlightened and progressive, there is a strong inherent strain of intolerance and prejudice against those who are not Muslim, and more so towards the Baha'is who believe in successive revelation. This is part of the formula, in addition to the other political factors.

  6. r.a.,
    In reality it ended up proclaiming the Baha'i Faith in Egypt and--yes--the rest of the world. Now, everyone in Egypt and the Arab world who reads newspapers, listens to radio or watches television knows what the Baha'i Faith is. Even with some of the publicity being negative, it was balanced with honest, objective and accurate information across the Egyptian and Arab media...and of course the world media.

  7. Actually, Egypt is becoming a catalyst!

  8. in the early and mid seventies, the shah's government in iran started prosecuting the bahais to appease the growing islamic movement. they confiscated and demolished holy sites and properties and instigated many of the public mob lynchings of some of the bahais there.
    needless to say, this policy never really appeased the islamists and never helped keep the shah and his regeime in power for long.
    so if the egyptian government is trying to do the same here and appease the islamists at the expense of the bahai minority, then they will be joining their iranina counterparts sooner or later. because you cannot ward off a charging lion with a bone for long.

    may god help and preserve us all.

  9. Anonymous,
    A perfect example, thank you!


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