Sunday, September 30, 2007

Last Day for Paper ID Cards in Egypt

While many of us enjoy a state of relative ease and security, there is a segment of the Egyptian population that is in state of fear of the unknown as this day ends and the first of October rolls in.

The Egyptian government has decided that today, 30 September 2007, is the last day on which old paper handwritten ID cards can be used in any official transactions in Egypt. Starting tomorrow every Egyptian citizen must be in possession of the new computerized ID card which also contains a national ID number.

Since the ID card contains a section identifying the religion of its holder, Baha'is of Egypt, thus far, have been unable to obtain the new ID card unless they lie about their religion and enter one of the three approved religions in Egypt (Muslim, Christian or Jewish). Meanwhile the application form required for obtaining ID cards clearly states that any false entries will be punishable by imprisonment and heavy fines.

We can assume that the Baha'is of Egypt would expect one of the following developments in their struggle to survive in their own country as they become non-entity starting tomorrow: a) the deadline will be extended and their paper ID cards will continue to be valid until a solution is reached, b) the government will allow them to leave the religion section vacant, enter Baha'i, insert dashes, or enter "other," c) the government eliminates religious classification from ID cards altogether, or d) the Baha'is would end up suffering "Civil Death," meaning that they would have no rights or privileges under Egyptian law, being left jobless, income[less], education[less], etc....

It is now in the hands of President Mubarak to make a decision that will guarantee civil rights and provide protection for his own citizens.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ahmadinejad's Selective View of Religious Diversity & Acceptance

The New York Times wrote the following in today's edition:

"[President Ahmadinejad] took questions from a panel that included a Quaker, a Catholic, an Anglican, a Baptist and a representative of the interfaith World Council of Churches."

"The organizers said that they had pressed hard to find a Jewish leader to join the panel of questioners, but that those invited declined because they could not win support from Jewish organizations."

"...the Bahais, a minority religious group that has suffered persecution in Iran, said they supported these efforts at dialogue with the Iranian government. They had been invited to the prior meetings, but the Iranian side refused to come if Bahais were there, said Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States."

Read the entire article here....

Based on the various interviews, meetings and panels involving the president of Iran, he had repeatedly used pleasant and inviting words proclaiming his belief in equality of humans, religious harmony and that the mission of all religions is the same as they all come from the same source. However, whenever the question of the Baha'is--being savagely persecuted in Iran--is brought up with him, he would evade the issue by stating that there are only four recognized religions in Iran "Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Zoroastrianism." He did not even acknowledge the existence of Baha'is in Iran, the largest religious minority in that country.

The question Mr. President is: since Iran is such a tolerant nation that respects all human beings, and since Baha'is are a significant segment of your human population, why then do you continue to isolate them, persecute them and deprive them of all their rights? Do you or do you not consider the Baha'is humans? Furthermore, why did you refuse to meet with the Baha'is when you had the opportunity to do so during this panel?

Considering your deep respect for the teachings of your own Faith, one cannot but to expect the best from you: that your deeds must conform to your words.

Here is a perfect example of the President's response to a question regarding the Baha'is of Iran:

Monday, September 24, 2007

"Then They Came for the Baha'is": Will it be "Never Again?"

Last update: 26 September 2007

Today, US Congressman Mark Steven Kirk wrote the following powerful blog-post on his website:

September 24, 2007

Then They Came for the Baha'is

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the stage today to address students at Columbia University, his government was working at his direction to find and expel students from Iranian universities—solely based on the religion they practice.

There is a little-told story from Iran—a story we thought would forever stay buried in the darkness of 1930s Europe. This story is about a religion founded in Iran in the mid-1800s that has become Iran’s largest religious minority with over 250,000 members.

As the representative in Congress for the Baha’i Temple of North America, I know that the Baha’i faith preaches peace, tolerance and diversity of thought—values we embrace on the North Shore. But in an oppressive Islamic dictatorship like Iran, Baha’i values pose a clear and present danger to the regime.

In March of 2006, just a few months into Ahmadinejad’s presidency, the Command Headquarters of Iran’s Armed Forces ordered the police, Revolutionary Guard and Ministry of Information to identify all Baha’is and collect information on their activities.

Two months later, the Iranian Association of Chambers of Commerce began compiling a list of Baha’is serving in every business sector.

In May of last year, 54 Baha’is were arrested in Shiraz and held for several days without trial—the largest roundup of Baha’is since the 1980s. Then in August, Iran’s feared Ministry of the Interior ordered provincial officials to “cautiously and carefully monitor and manage” all Baha’i social activities. The Central Security Office of Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research and Technology ordered 81 Iranian universities to expel any student discovered to be a Baha’i. A letter issued in November from one university stated that it is Iranian policy to prevent Baha’is from enrolling in universities and to expel Baha’is upon discovery.

This year, the safety of Iranian Baha’is continued to deteriorate. This year, 104 Baha’is were expelled from Iranian universities. In February, police in Tehran and surrounding towns entered Baha’i homes and businesses to collect details on family members. The First Branch of the Falard Public Court refused to hear a lawsuit “due to the plaintiffs’ belonging to the Bahaist sect.”

In April, the Iranian Public Intelligence and Security Force ordered 25 industries to deny business licenses to Baha’is. The Ministry of Information threatened to shut down one company unless it fired all Baha’i employees. Banks are closing Baha’i accounts and refusing loans to Baha’i applicants. Just last week, the Iranian government bulldozed a Baha’i cemetery, erasing the memory of thousands of Iranian citizens.

The U.S. State Department’s 2007 Report on International Religious Freedom paints an even darker picture.

“Broad restrictions on Bahá'ís severely undermined their ability to function as a community. The Government repeatedly offers Bahá'ís relief from mistreatment in exchange for recanting their faith.

“Bahá'ís may not teach or practice their faith or maintain links with coreligionists abroad. Bahá'ís are often officially charged with "espionage on behalf of Zionism”…

“Since late 2005 Bahá'ís have faced an increasing number of public attacks…Radio and television broadcasts have also increasingly condemned the Bahá'ís and their religion…

“Public and private universities continued either to deny admittance to or expel Bahá'í students.”

We have seen this movie before—the opening scenes of one of the most horrific episodes in human history. What happened to our solemn promise of ‘never again’ made in 1945?

Never again would the international community stay silent about laws banning one group from attending school. Never again would we ignore orders to register with the government and report on your family’s whereabouts. Never again would we welcome a leader who has ordered a religious minority to be subject to secret police monitors and nightly round-ups.

When President Ahmadinejad rose to address the student body at Columbia—a school extolling the virtues of tolerance and diversity—why was there no mention of Baha’i student expulsion in Iran?

This is a defining moment for our new century. The lessons of the 20th century gave us all the warning signs of what will come if we do not speak out. The Iranian President has spoken – will we?

“Then they came for…” the Baha’is -- we pray the poem ends differently this time.

Another post, regarding the same subject, on AmbivaBlog says so much in this very brief paragraph:

Ahmadinejad's Kristallnacht

The "Jews" this time are the Baha'i; they number perhaps a quarter million out of Iran's 65 million. (There were half a million Jews in Hitler's Germany out of a population of 67 million.) It is not their race that makes the Baha'i targets, but their apostasy and heterodoxy: their faith "preaches peace, tolerance and diversity of thought." But the tactics being used against them are so chillingly familiar it makes you do a double take.

My brother sent me this; it's written by his congressman, Mark Kirk.

The AmbivaBlog post continues with Congressman Kirk's full text of his post.

Words of Lee Bollinger, Columbia University President (New York)

Read full transcript here....

"Let’s, then, be clear at the beginning, Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.
And so I ask you:
Why have women, members of the Baha’i faith, homosexuals and so many of our academic colleagues become targets of persecution in your country?"

Ahmadinejad with the National Press Club
Read full transcript here....

MODERATOR: We have many questions regarding the Baha'i religious minority in Iran. Many of our questioners say that the Baha'i minority has been deprived of their human rights. What would your response be to that?

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In our constitution, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Zoroastrianism are recognized as the official religions.

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): When we speak of religion, we refer to divine religions. In our country, we follow that law; a law that is based on the majority vote of the people.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hands of the Cause of God

A picture of a group of Hands of the Cause taken at the National Baha'i Centre in Cairo, Egypt: 1950s.

The following is an excerpt from the website of the Baha'i International Community. It describes the station and functions of a group of selected individuals devoted to serve humanity:

An emphasis on group leadership, as opposed to individual power, runs throughout the Bahá'í administrative system. Individuals do not set policy or make rules in Bahá'í institutions -- Spiritual Assemblies make the decisions, although they may delegate specific executive responsibilities.

There are, however, several distinct groups of individuals who are recognized for their spiritual capacities and experience. They play a special role in inspiring and advising the Bahá'í community.

Although they have no decision-making power, their ideas and insights are regularly sought by elected Bahá'í decision-making bodies.

Foremost among these advisers are the "Hands of the Cause of God." This title has been given to 50 individuals in the history of the Faith; all were chosen by Bahá'u'lláh, referred to as such by `Abdu'l-Bahá, or appointed by Shoghi Effendi. No more can now be appointed.

The Hands of the Cause of God in 1963, at the time of the election of the first Universal House of Justice.

In 1968, the Universal House of Justice began to designate a number of spiritually mature and experienced individuals as "Continental Counsellors," so as to extend into the future the functions of the Hands of the Cause in the areas of the protection and propagation of the Faith. Appointed to five year terms, they coordinate their activities through the instrumentality of Continental Boards. The work of the Boards--which comprise those Counsellors who reside in a specific continental region--is coordinated, in turn, by a body known as the International Teaching Centre, located at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Continental Counsellors appoint various auxiliaries and assistants, who are charged with working to stimulate and advise Bahá'í communities at the regional and local levels. There are 81 Continental Counsellors worldwide. Another nine serve as members of the International Teaching Centre.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Emerging Egypt’s Official Stand: Grant Baha’is Their Rights

Based on recent information in the official Egyptian media outlets, the Baha'is appear to be on their way of being allowed to freely document their religion in official government documents, including ID cards.

The most recent of these indicators is an article published on 22 September 2007, in the government's official newspaper Akhbar el-Youm. It reports on the recent debate under the auspices of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).

As previously indicated, there were those who are in favor of eliminating religious classification from ID cards altogether, while others affirm the need for its preservation.

Of particular importance are the words of one influential and important person, supported by others who are similarly positioned. Dr. Zainab Radwan, University Professor of Islamic philosophy, First Deputy of Maghlis el-Shaab [Egyptian Parliament] and member of the NCHR, declared her point of view on this crisis, stating "it is the right of every human being to document his religion, even if he believes in a religion that has not been specified [by authorities]." She justifies her opinion by using two principles: "the first is the freedom of belief as declared in the constitution. The second is the equal opportunity in societal transactions...that we all know the identity of each other in our dealings, particularly the Baha'is because their names are similar to Muslim names, benefiting our daughters so that they don't marry Baha'is, or the reverse."

Regarding the 16 December 2006 ruling of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court preventing the Baha'is from obtaining ID cards, she proposed a solution that "the Parliament and the judiciary must be requested to allow anyone who desires to document his religion the right to do so," stressing the importance of accurate representation on ID cards since they are an essential component to many interactions in society, such as marriage, inheritance, and parenthood of children. She pointed to the need for "clarity and honesty" as facilitators to these important society matters.

Dr. Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd, former Minister of Information, Professor of Constitutional Law and Vice-President of the NCHR, agreed with Zainab Radwan, stressing the importance of adhering to the constitutional guarantees which provide all Egyptian citizens with equal rights and that "there must be no discrimination based on ancestry, gender and religion, and that all must adhere to this." He insisted on allowing the Baha'is to document their religion truthfully as Baha'is, and that "we cannot force him to change his religion on ID documents, or register himself as Muslim, particularly when the law had established for us the absolute freedom of belief, and subsequently we cannot exempt anyone from this fact."

Another indicator of the government's official position is dually represented by the opinion of Egypt's Al-Azhar Institution as well as the inclusion of that position in the official publication of the ruling party Al-Hezb Al-Watany [The National Democratic Party].

Approximately a year ago, Al-Watany Al-Youm newspaper (the government's mouthpiece) published an interview with Sheikh Al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, in which he clearly stated the position of the prominent leading Islamic establishment, Al-Azhar. This particular episode was published last year in this post.

Interestingly, the same interview continues to appear on the newspaper's website with current dates, the last of which is 18 September 2007.

The following is an excerpt of the interview, with questions and answers from 4 to 8, referring to the Baha’is, fully translated:

[Q:] There is a recommendation from human rights organisations to eliminate the religious affiliation field from official documents as it discriminates among citizens, what is your opinion? What do they mean by eliminating the religious space and why do they demand this; by what right [authority] do they recommend its elimination?

[A:] They have no right in this matter; we consider the presence of the religious affiliation field to be correct, and this does not cause any kind of discrimination. We have [It has] nothing to do with human rights or anything else; the presence of the religion in its specified space is a must…a must…a must!

[Q:] What is its benefit that you insist on its being obligatory?

[A:] The benefit comes from the purpose of its presence, which is to describe the person in his official documents; no harm can befall anyone from documenting his religion, no matter what that religion is, so why eliminate it? The religious field should not be changed, no matter who demands it, because a person is entitled to write his religion in the space [field] specified for it.

[Q:] Even if he was a Baha’i?

[A:] Yes, he writes “Baha’i” in it; what is wrong with that so long as it is his belief and what he chooses for himself as a religion? Writing Baha’i in the religious space clears other religions of any relation with him and prevents some people from affiliating themselves with other heavenly religions when these are likewise innocent of them.

[Q:] Therefore, this means an admission [recognition] that it is a religion?

[A:] Baha’ism is not a religion; however, writing it down as a belief in the religious affiliation space is possible and can do no harm – rather, it is a compulsory distinction for those who are apostates of the heavenly religions.

[Q:] Your Excellency considers that Baha’ism is a dissident [apostate] group which has departed from Islam and yet you spoke of freedom of belief – do you not find a contradiction in this?

[A:] Freedom of belief is guaranteed to all and not just to a particular person; what is meant by freedom of belief is that every human being has his belief and the one who judges people is God.

Clearly, one can draw one conclusion: the government is strongly leaning towards allowing the Baha'is to enter their religion truthfully in all official documents. Additionally, Egypt is serious about solving the current crisis of identification documents and citizenship rights. All indicators confirm the willingness and positive steps being taken by the government in its efforts to grant all Egyptian citizens their full civil rights, based on the constitutional guarantees. This is not surprising if we pause to consider Egypt's heritage and great civilization. Surely, mistakes do happen, at times because of uncontrollable circumstances, but the sign of greatness is when a government is willing to overcome pride in its efforts to justly serve its citizenry.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Iran's Systematic Oppression of Baha’is Appears to Mimic Past Horrors!

This photograph says it all....

"Hezbollah is awake and despises the Baha'is" reads this piece of graffiti on a building in the city of Abadeh. Dozens of hateful anti-Baha'i slogans have been painted on homes, offices and cemetery buildings in various locations in Iran.

Doesn't this remind us with something?

The following is a press release dated, 21 September 2007, published in the Baha'i World News Service:

Iranian government campaign against Baha'is shows new facets

NEW YORK
21 September 2007 (BWNS)

The bulldozing of a Baha'i cemetery in Iran last week is the latest in a series of incidents in a government-led campaign of hatred against Baha'is.

Gravestones in the Baha'i cemetery near Najafabad, Iran, were left in a heap by a bulldozer that destroyed the burial ground some time between 9 September and 10 September 2007.

The destruction of the cemetery by individuals using heavy equipment occurred between 9 September and 10 September near Najafabad, on the outskirts of Isfahan. What happened there is nearly identical to what happened in July in Yazd, where another Baha'i cemetery was extensively damaged by earth-moving equipment.

The list of anti-Baha'i incidents is growing, as are human rights violations against other groups in Iran.

In Najafabad, a few days before the destruction of more than 100 Baha'i graves, threatening letters were delivered to some 30 Baha'i families. In May, in Mazandaran province, the unoccupied homes of six Iranian Baha'is were set on fire. In June, in Abadeh, vandals wrote hateful graffiti on Baha'i houses and shops.

Since May, Baha'is in at least 17 towns have been detained for interrogation. Six new arrests have been reported. In Kermanshah, a 70-year-old man was sentenced to 70 lashes and a year in prison for "propagating and spreading Bahaism and the defamation of the pure Imams." In Mazandaran, a court has once again ruled against three women and a man who are charged with "propagation on behalf of an organization which is anti-Islamic."

The Baha'i cemetery in Yazd, Iran, was destroyed in July. The tracks left behind and the severity of the damage show that heavy equipment was used.

All these events are results of the Iranian government's long campaign to incite hatred against Baha'is, a spokeswoman for the Baha'i International Community said today.

"This should be a cause for concern among human rights activists everywhere," said Diane Ala'i, the representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations in Geneva.

She appealed to the world to hold the Iranian government accountable for its actions and to help prevent the situation from deteriorating into further violence. Baha'is in Iran number about 300,000 and represent the largest religious minority in the country.

"Put in a historical context, these kinds of attacks too often have been a prelude to campaigns of oppression and violence that are far worse.

"While some of these incidents may seem to be minor, the fact that such events are increasingly commonplace and reported as occurring in virtually every region of Iran shows that the persecution of Baha'is remains official government policy, and therefore is something for which Iran must be held accountable," she said.

"The graffiti in Abadeh included slogans such as 'Death to Baha'is, the mercenaries of America and England,' 'Hezbollah despises the Baha'is,' 'Baha'is - mercenaries of Israel' and 'Baha'is are unclean' - phrases that relate directly to government propaganda that has been disseminated in Iranian news media in recent years," Ms. Ala'i said.

She noted that other groups in Iran are also suffering human-rights violations.

"In recent months, the Iranian authorities have been carrying out a widespread crackdown on civil society, targeting academics, women's rights activists, students, and journalists," said Ms. Ala'i.

Details of anti-Baha'i incidents

Among the anti-Baha'i incidents reported since late May are the following:

-- On 19 June 2007, a report was received that a 70-year-old man of limited means had been arrested in April 2007 in Kermanshah. Authorities charged him with the possession of three Baha'i CDs. He was tried on 23 April 2007 and charged with "propagating and spreading Bahaism and the defamation of the pure Imams." His lawyer was given only 10 minutes to prepare a defense. Although the verdict has not been published, the judge orally sentenced him to one year in prison, which he is currently serving, and 70 lashes. The latter part of the sentence has not yet been carried out.

Desecration of graves is part of a government-led hate campaign against Baha'is in Iran. This grave is in a cemetery in Yazd that was bulldozed in July 2007.

-- On 18 June 2007, a 34-year-old man was arrested at a hardware store in Tabriz where he worked and taken to an unknown location. Two days later, he succeeded in phoning his family to let them know he was alive. A police security agent contacted Baha'is in Tabriz and said some of the man's neighbors who are members of the Basiji morality squads had alleged that he had insulted Islam. His family managed to visit him and reported that he had been subjected to a two-day interrogation. He remains in custody.

-- On 28 May 2007, a husband and wife in Abadeh, near Shiraz, were arrested in their home by agents of the Information Ministry. The agents seized books, family videos, photographs, CDs, telephone directories, documents, a cellular phone, a computer, and minutes of the meetings of the small group of Baha'is that coordinates the affairs of the local community on an ad hoc basis. The couple were interrogated about the activities of the Baha'is. The wife was released after eight hours; the husband was transferred to Shiraz, where he was held in prison until 29 June 2007 and released on bail. He is charged with teaching the Baha'i Faith.

-- On 8 May 2007, the provincial court of appeal of Mazandaran denied the appeal of three women and one man who were arrested in 2005 in Ghaem Shahr and charged with "propagation on behalf of an organization which is anti-Islamic." The case has been referred to the Supreme Court. All are out on bail. (Original court document in Persian; English translation.)

Gravestones in the Baha'i cemetery near Najafabad, Iran, were left in a heap by a bulldozer that destroyed the burial ground some time between 9 September and 10 September 2007.

-- On 25 April 2007, the Islamic Revolutionary Court of Sari sentenced a Baha'i to a year in prison and four years of exile to the town of Bijar. The individual was charged with "teaching activities against the system of the Islamic Republic of Iran for the benefit of groups and various organizations opposing the system."

-- During April and May 2007, a number of Baha'is were summoned for interrogation or were questioned by telephone by officials of the Ministry of Information or the police in various localities, including in Babolsar, Bandar Abbas, Bandar Torkman, Bojourd, Gilavand, Damavand, Hamedan, Karaj, Lahijan, Shahinshar, Tehran, and Yaftabad. The questioning focused on seeking information about Baha'i activities and about the Baha'is themselves. A report has been received that a bank in central Jiruft in the province of Fars had been ordered to produce a printout of all accounts held by Baha'is.

-- The Baha'i International Community received a copy of a letter from the government agency responsible for providing veteran's benefits stating that an individual Baha'i, who suffered extensive disability following his incarceration as a prisoner of war in the Iran-Iraq conflict, was not eligible to pension benefits because he belongs "to the Bahaist sect." (Original government letter in Persian; English translation.)

-- Attacks on the Baha'i Faith continue in the mass media, including on the Internet. Newspapers in Khorasan and Mazandaran have recently published items maligning Baha'is, while anti-Baha'i pamphlets and tracts have been distributed in Shiraz and in the schools in Shahinshar, Ahvazk, and Babol Sar.

-- Reports have been received of banks refusing to grant loans and officials refusing to issue or renew business licenses solely on the grounds that the applicants were Baha'is. In Sanandaj, a bank official stated that the bank had received 14 loan applications from Baha'is, all of which will be rejected. Bank staff in Sari informed Baha'is who had applied for a loan, "It has been asked of us not to provide loans and other services to Baha'is."

-- In Hamadan, the owner of a grocery store that had been operated by his family for 48 years tried to have the business license transferred to his name after the death of his father. He was told by a government official that business licenses for grocery stores would not be issued to Baha'is. He was told: "Wherever you go, even to the United Nations, you will end up here, where you will get the same clear answer."

Read this story in Persian

History of persecution of Baháís in Iran – 1844 to present: A short summary

Recent attacks against Baha’is in Iran: June 2007 update

Destruction of Baha'i Cemetery Video

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Egypt Vehemently Denies Oppression of Religious Minorities

It is déjà vu!

Last spring when the US State Department released its 2006 report on Egypt's violations of the rights of religious minorities, Egypt denied that these violations had ever occurred as was published in this past blog-post.

After the release of the 2007 US State Department report on International Religious Freedom, Egypt is repeating its previous stand: that religious minorities are not discriminated against and that they have equal citizenship rights in Egypt.

Cairo: El-Badeel newspaper reported, on 16 September 2007, that the official spokesperson for Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs "clarified that the Egyptian society is built on the supremacy of the law, and its judicial system that deals with litigations, is completely independent. The standard upon which its nationals enjoy their rights in Egypt is based on their citizenship, without any regard to their religion, their breed or their type, in conformity with what the constitution has decreed."

Since this is the official position of the Egyptian government, it must be clearly emphasized that the Egyptian Baha'is, who are legal and loyal citizens of Egypt, cannot expect any treatment that would be inconsistent with this emphatic and unambiguous stance of the Egyptian government.

Accordingly, the Egyptian Baha'is must be immediately granted all their citizenship rights, including ID cards, birth certificates, military service certificates, as well as all other official documents due to them, as guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution. This must be done without any impediments or harassment.

This is the only way Egypt can prove to its own citizens, and to the world, that its denial of violating the rights of religious minorities is indeed factual.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Daily News" on Religious Freedom in Egypt

Daily News Egypt, distributed by the International Herald Tribune (IHT), published an article yesterday authored by Jonathan Spollen with the headline "US report slams religious freedom in Egypt."

"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!

The full text of the article is posted below with the author's permission:

US report slams religious freedom in Egypt

By Jonathan Spollen
First Published: September 16, 2007

CAIRO: According to the US State Department’s annual report on religious freedom, conditions in Egypt as well as a number of other countries including Iran, Iraq and China, have deteriorated.

A significant section of the 800-page report released Friday is allocated to religious freedom in Egypt, and tackles issues such as the freedom to choose one’s religion, the legal status of minority religions like Christianity and Baha’ism, sectarianism, forced conversions, and freedom to build places of worship.

Egypt’s courts have strongly resisted attempts by Muslims to convert to Christianity in recent months. High-profile cases such as those of Mohammed Hegazy and 12 Christian-born Muslims who are currently pressing to revert to Christianity, have shone the spotlight on the country’s attitude toward religious freedom.

Egypt has also been wracked by numerous incidents of sectarian violence, and a series of clashes between Muslims and Christians in areas like Bimha, South of Cairo, and Udayssat, near Luxor, are cited in the report.

Many such incidents, the report notes, arise from disagreements over the building and repairing of churches, the approval process for which is often “hindered by lengthy delays, often measured in years”.

The report acknowledges that a 2005 Presidential decree allows local authorities to deal with requests for church building and reparations in order to speed up the process, but points out that delays by the Interior Ministry and local authorities cause many requests to reach the President “slowly or not at all”.

A statement issued yesterday by Egypt’s Foreign Ministry rejected the report, saying it "confuses official policy with events caused by societal sensitivities."

Yet the refusal to recognize the Bahai faith, which is also condemned in the report, is official government policy. Members of this group experience “personal and collective hardship,” the report says.

The Bahais are denied ID cards, birth and death certificates, and their marriages are not recognized by law. They also face difficulties availing of public services such as health and education.

According to Labib Hanna, a Bahai and professor of mathematics at Cairo University, this makes life extremely difficult for the Bahai community.

“Even the simple things like getting my driving license renewed, are hard,” he told Daily news Egypt.

An April 2006 decision by the Administrative Court, which had supported the right of Bahai citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with religion noted on the documents, was overturned in December 2006 following a government appeal. Members of the Bahai community are currently fighting the decision in court.

Hanna agrees with the report’s premise that religious freedom has declined in recent years, but says he is hopeful that civil society organizations and the National Council for Human Rights, who work to promote religious freedom, will bring about change.

Although there has been a “general decline” in freedom of religion in recent years says Yousef Sidhom, editor of Christian weekly Watani, there have been some encouraging signs too.

“Christians are making a comeback in public life,” he told Daily News Egypt, “in marked contrast to their withdrawal from Egyptian public life over the past 30 years.”

Sidhom points out that more Copts were elected to the National Democratic Party’s (NDP) regional commissions this month (albeit because they would have “no chance” in national elections), and adds that the public controversy over conversions indicates that people are becoming bolder about their right to choose what they believe in.

“Conversion cases have always been there but were beneath the surface. Now more individuals have the courage to reveal their intentions to convert.”

The report goes on to criticize the under-representation of Christians in politics, pointing out that although Christians comprise between 8-12 percent of the population, they hold less that two percent of the seats in the People’s Assembly and Shoura Council.

Government practices, it continues, discriminate against Christians in hiring for the public sector and making staff appointments to public universities. Christians are also banned from studying at the publicly-funded Al-Azhar schools and university, and public funds pay Muslim imams but not Christian clergy.

The Foreign Ministry maintains that the report “reflects an ignorance of the true situation in Egypt”.

"Egyptian-American relations are broad and diverse, but that does not give the United States the right to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs under any pretext,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Friday, September 14, 2007

US State Dept Report Condemns Egypt’s Treatment of Baha’is, Christians & Others

The US Department of State released today, 14 September 2007, its annual report on International Religious Freedom, which is listed by regions of the globe and individual countries.

Egypt was harshly criticized for its treatment of its minorities and for its violations of human rights. The report is quite extensive and highly comprehensive. It addressed all known violations and focused on several egregious ones. In particular, it addressed several issues affecting the various Christian denominations as well as the crisis facing the Baha'is of Egypt.

Because the report is quite long, and due to the emphasis of this blog, I am only quoting below those paragraphs that address Baha'i issues. The report is divided into several sections which are also highlighted in the quoted paragraphs. Section IV. U.S. Government Policy was included in its entirety for the sake of completeness. This section outlines policies and actions of the US Government in it efforts to address these violations.

Here is a link to the full report on Egypt, followed below with the quoted sections regarding the Baha'is of Egypt.

You may also watch these two videos: the first is of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice introducing the report. The second is of Ambassador at Large John V. Hanford III providing details about the report. In his introduction he spoke, at 16:12, of the condition of the Baha'is of Iran, then in response to questions from the reporters he described to the crisis facing the Baha'is of Egypt (from 12:26 to 12:56). At 35:46 he mentions the recognition of the Baha'is in Vietnam.



Egypt

International Religious Freedom Report 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, although the Government places restrictions on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion and Shari'a (Islamic law) is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the Government generally worship without harassment and maintain links with coreligionists in other countries; however, members of religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, experience personal and collective hardship.

The Government again opposed advances in the respect for religious freedom affecting Baha'is. A government appeal of an April 2006 decision by the Administrative Court, which had supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with religion noted on the documents, resulted in a December 16, 2006 decision to overturn its ruling, and maintained the government prohibition on Baha'i citizens obtaining identity cards.

Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha'is. The Government also continued to deny civil documents, including identity cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community.

The Ambassador, senior administration officials, and members of Congress continued to raise U.S. concerns about religious discrimination with senior government officials. Specifically, the Embassy and other State Department officials raised concerns with the Government about ongoing discrimination faced by Christians in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005, official discrimination against Baha'is, and the Government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert to other faiths.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has an area of 370,308 square miles and a population of 79 million, of whom almost 90 percent were estimated to be Sunni Muslims. Shi'a Muslims constitute less than 1 percent of the population. Estimates of the percentage of Christians ranged from 8 to 12 percent, or between 6 and 10 million, the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Other Christian communities include the Armenian Apostolic, Catholic (Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Melkite, Roman, and Syrian Catholic), Maronite, and Orthodox (Greek and Syrian) churches. An evangelical Protestant community, established in the middle of the 19th century, included 16 Protestant denominations (Presbyterian, Episcopal (Anglican), Baptist, Brethren, Open Brethren, Revival of Holiness (Nahdat al-Qadaasa), Faith (Al-Eyman), Church of God, Christian Model Church (Al-Mithaal al-Masihi), Apostolic, Grace (An-Ni'ma), Pentecostal, Apostolic Grace, Church of Christ, Gospel Missionary (Al-Kiraaza bil Ingil), and the Message Church of Holland (Ar-Risaala)). There are also followers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was granted legal status in the 1960s. There are small numbers of Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, but the Government does not recognize either group. The non-Muslim, non-Coptic Orthodox communities ranged in size from several thousand to hundreds of thousands. The number of Baha'is is estimated at 2,000 persons. The Jewish community numbers fewer than 200 persons.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution, under Article 46, provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the Government restricts on these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and Shari'a is the primary source of legislation; religious practices that conflict with the Government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of the non-Muslim religious minorities generally worship without legal harassment and may maintain links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of other religious groups that are not recognized by the Government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, continue to experience personal and collective hardship.

In addition to complaints by Christian citizens to the NCHR, there were also 14 complaints from Baha'is, one of which was signed by 51 complainants who sought the right to have their religion listed on official papers. The report indicated that the NCHR discussed Baha'i concerns with the Ministry of Interior with a view to resolving the issue to the satisfaction of all parties. The NCHR submitted a request to the Prime Minister on December 26, 2006 seeking the removal of the religion field from the government-issued identification cards, but the religion field remained a mandatory section on them at the end of the reporting period.

Abuses of Religious Freedom

The Government continued to deny civil documents, including ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community. On December 16, 2006, the Supreme Administrative Court overturned a lower court ruling, deciding that Baha'is may not list their religion in the mandatory religion "field" on obligatory government identity cards. In May 2006 the Ministry of Interior had appealed an administrative court ruling issued in April 2006, which supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with the Baha'i religion noted on the documents. The Government insists that religious identification on national identity cards is necessary to determine which laws apply in civil cases. The Government indicated that all citizens must be in possession of new computerized identification cards by January 1, 2007 and that old, hand-written cards would no longer be valid. However, in May 2007 the Government announced that this requirement had been postponed. The Government has issued passports for Baha'i citizens and has stated that it extended the deadline for the use of the old identity cards as a temporary measure until January 2008. (National passports do not indicate the holder's religion.) Citizens not in possession of valid identity documents may be subject to detention.

Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Center issued a legal opinion in December 2003 condemning Baha'is as apostates. In May 2006 the Minister of Justice requested guidance from the IRC in preparation for the Government's appeal against the landmark April 4, 2006 case in support of Baha'i rights. The IRC issued an Islamic legal interpretation stating that the Baha'i Faith was a "heresy." The 2006 interpretation referenced a 1985 opinion that had accused Baha'is of working in support of Zionism and imperialism and labeled them as "apostates."

Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities and strips Baha'is of legal recognition. During the Nasser era, the Government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries. The Government has asserted that national identity cards require all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews. The Ministry of Interior has reportedly, on rare occasions, issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other" or simply do not mention religion. But it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups that are not associated with any of the three "heavenly religions" have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or go without valid identity documents.

Those without valid identity cards encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Baha'is at age 16 face additional problems under Law 143/1994, which makes it mandatory for all citizens to obtain a new identification card featuring a new national identification number. Police occasionally conduct random inspections of identity papers and those found without identity cards can be detained until the document is provided to the police. Some Baha'is without identity cards reportedly stay home to avoid police scrutiny and possible arrest.

In May 2004 the Government confiscated the identity cards of two Baha'is who were applying for passports. Officials told them that they were acting on instructions from the MOI to confiscate any identity cards belonging to Baha'is.

Some elements of the press published articles critical of the Baha'is. For example, on October 16, 2006, Roz Al-Youssef, a pro-government newspaper, published excerpts of a government advisory report, which supported the MOI's petition to overturn the April 4, 2006 ruling. The report argued that because the Baha'i Faith was not recognized in the country as a "divine religion," its followers were not entitled to citizenship rights. The report argued that constitutional guarantees of freedom of belief and religion do not apply to the Baha'is and that the country is not bound under its commitment as a cosignatory to the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The report also asserted that Baha'is are apostates, a threat to public order, and recommended that "methods must be defined that would insure that Baha'is are identified, confronted, and singled out so that they could be watched carefully, isolated and monitored in order to protect the rest of the population as well as Islam from their danger, influence, and teachings."

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialogue. The right of religious freedom has been raised with senior government officials by all levels of the U.S. Government, including by visiting members of Congress, the Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, the Ambassador, and other State Department and embassy officials. The Embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Embassy also discusses religious freedom issues regularly in contacts with other government officials, including governors and members of Parliament. The Ambassador has made public statements supporting religious freedom, interfaith understanding, and efforts toward harmony and equality among citizens of all religious groups. Specifically, the Embassy and other State Department officials raised concerns with the Government about ongoing discrimination faced by Christians in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005, official discrimination against Baha'is, and the Government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert. In addition, the Embassy sent observers to attend court hearings concerning Baha'i efforts to attain identity documents.

The Embassy maintains an active dialogue with leaders of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i religious communities, human rights groups, and other activists. The Embassy investigates complaints of official religious discrimination brought to its attention. It also discusses religious freedom with a range of contacts, including academics, businessmen, and citizens outside of the capital area. U.S. officials actively challenge anti-Semitic articles in the media through discussions with editors-in-chief and journalists.

U.S. programs and activities support initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom, including funding for CEOSS programs that work with Coptic community groups in Upper Egypt, as well as support for NGOs that monitor the country's media for occurrences of sectarian bias.

The U.S. Government is working to strengthen civil society, supporting secular channels and the broadening of a civic culture that promotes religious tolerance and supporting projects that promote tolerance and mutual respect between different religious communities.

The Embassy supports the development of educational materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language curriculums.

The U.S. Government developed a version of the television program Sesame Street designed to reach remote households that has as one of its goals the promotion of tolerance, including among different religious groups. According to a recent household survey, the program, begun in 2000, is reaching more than 90 percent of elementary school-aged children.

The Embassy is also working with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.

Released on September 14, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Yes or NO for Religion on ID Cards: Controversy Continues in Egypt

Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) met on the 10th of September 2007, to debate the question of religious classification in ID cards. This controversy continues as it had before when the NCHR met in its symposium of August 2006. There are those who continue to call for the elimination of religious classification, while others insist on leaving this section in identity documents. This time, the Council even proposed to remove the section on religion from the card, but to leave it in the non-visible magnetic (smart) component of the card in order to appease both sides of the argument.

Those that oppose removing religious classification claim that it is the only way to know who belongs to which religion so that laws of inheritance, marriage and divorce can be applied. They ignore the fact that religious identification can be easily accomplished through other means, such as separate documents issued by the religious authorities to their respective adherents. This option did not seem to appear in any of the debates, statements or reports emerging from these symposia. Those who support the removal of religious classification affirm that it would ensure equality in Egypt and would assist in the elimination of extremist views and divisiveness in a society so plagued with multiplicities of serious problems. They see it as one of the roads towards an improved and tolerant Egyptian society.

This workshop (symposium) was attended by several prominent figures representing all sections of society, governmental agencies and authorities that are in positions of decision-making and power. Representatives of the Egyptian Baha’i community (see link) were invited to speak at the workshop in order to express their needs and views. Additionally, Mr. Ahmed Ezzat, the independent documentary filmmaker was invited to show his film “Identity Crisis” regarding the Baha’is of Egypt.

The upshot of this development is that the NCHR is now proposing that religion should continue to be indicated on ID cards, but that all religious denominations (not only Islam, Christianity or Judaism) should be allowed to be entered in these documents, regardless of whether or not the State recognizes these religions. The council insists that this is a matter of citizenship. An individual must be entirely free to choose his or her own belief. All three major Christian Churches (Orthodox, Catholic & Engeleiah [Biblical]) in Egypt also refuse the elimination of religious classification, but stress that the matter of citizenship rights must be enforced. On the other hand, the Ministry of Interior and the Muslim Brotherhood movement oppose both the elimination of religious classification and any mention of religions other than Muslim Christian or Jewish.

News of this symposium were widely covered in prominent Egyptian media outlets, such as the attached Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. The ruling party's Al-Watany Al-Youm newspaper showed a front page headline, on 11 September 2007, written by Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd (see link) which stated "it is the right of the Baha'is to indicate their religion on ID Cards." The independent weekly Nahdet Misr newspaper also wrote, on the 11th of September, an extensive article reporting on the symposium, and clearly expressing the views that the government cannot interfere with citizen's freedom to choose their own religion or belief (see link). The entire coverage was extensive, objective and well balanced.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Youth Want Peace: the rest is up to us!

Here is a wonderful example of a constructive strategy, from which the rest of the world can learn. This amazing video, emerging from the planet's most volatile spot, produced by OneVoice movement and presented to Kings and Prime Ministers in Davos, Switzerland, clearly illustrates the yearning for peace. It describes a systematic approach to solving conflicts in a region plagued with hostilities, hatred and long history of wars. The youth took it upon themselves to initiate a transformation that might lead, at least, to a political solution of this long-lived dispute. Who else can project this dire need better than the youth who hold the key to the future?

Monday, September 10, 2007

"One Common Faith"

In 2005, the Baha'i World Centre released a publication, named "One Common Faith," in the English language. The entire text of this publication can be accessed at this link. A summary of the book's contents can be previewed here, and an "etext" with numbered paragraphs can also be accessed here.

The book, which is described as a "chilling historical account...and a sobering examination of the catastrophic result of 20th century materialism and economic exploitation..." provides us with a glimpse of its powerful message on the current state of human affairs through this paragraph found on page-5 of the text: "Throughout that part of the world where the vast majority of the earth’s population live, facile announcements that “God is Dead” had passed largely unnoticed. The experience of the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific had long confirmed them in the view not only that human nature is deeply influenced by spiritual forces, but that its very identity is spiritual. Consequently, religion continued, as had always been the case, to function as the ultimate authority in life. These convictions, while not directly confronted by the ideological revolution taking place in the West, were effectively marginalized by it, insofar as interaction among peoples and nations was concerned. Having penetrated and captured all significant centres of power and information at the global level, dogmatic materialism ensured that no competing voices would retain the ability to challenge projects of world wide economic exploitation. To the cultural damage already inflicted by two centuries of colonial rule was added an agonizing disjunction between the inner and outer experience of the masses affected, a condition invading virtually all aspects of life. Helpless to exercise any real influence over the shaping of their futures or even to preserve the moral well-being of their children, these populations were plunged into a crisis different from but in many ways even more devastating than the one gathering momentum in Europe and North America. Although retaining its central role in consciousness, faith appeared impotent to influence the course of events."

The book is now available in Arabic, and below is the information on how to acquire this publication:

(in Arabic)

Translated by Professor Suheil Bushrui and published by Al Saqi Books
(More on Bushrui)

Order directly from:

Al Saqi Books
26 Westbourne Grove
London w2 5RH
Tel: (020) 7229 8543
Fax: (020) 7229 7492
Website: http://www.alsaqibookshop.com/

Update on ordering the book!
You can fax or e-mail with the book details shown below:
orders@alsaqibookshop.com
Tel: (020) 7229 8543
Fax: (020) 7229 7492

Book Name: Dinu'llah-i-Wahid
"One Common Faith"
ISBN 978-1-85516-660-8

Second update!
You can order online at this link.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Egypt's Identity Crisis in Dutch Media

On 4 September 2007, the Dutch national newspaper "NRC Handelsblad" published an extensive article on the crisis of identity documents and religious classification in Egypt.

The translation of this article from Dutch to English was graciously provided by Dr. Martijn Rep, an academician from the Netherlands.

The article contains one error referring to future Prophets which was corrected in brackets.

NRC Handelsblad
4 september 2007
By Alexander Weissink

“According to Egyptian law we cannot even die”

An Egyptian is a Muslim, Christian or Jew; a Baha’i or Qur’anist does not exist

In Egypt there is no place for people who deviate from the three recognized religions. Everybody must be Muslim, Christian or Jew. And preferably the first. There is no freedom of choice. Unless you want to become Muslim.

Today, Raouf Hindi (51) appeared before the judge with his 14-year old twin Emad and Nancy. “Initially I did not want to expose them to the resentful Muslims and hostile press in the court”, he said. “But they must witness this experiment. We are going to write history.” They are Baha’i, a religion that is not recognized in Egypt. Because of that, the children have still not received their birth certificates.

Egyptian citizens are obliged to state their religion when applying for birth certificates and identity cards. There are three possibilities: Muslim, Christian or Jewish, the only divine religions, according to the authorities. “If you are not one of the three, you don’t exist”, Hindi says.

When he returned from twenty years working as a dentist in the Gulf, he had to change the birth certificates of his children, issued by Oman, into Egyptian documents. The original certificates mentioned that the children are Baha’i, but the authorities forced him to write 'Muslim'. He went to the judge to at least be able not to write any religion. “Then, at least we do not have to lie”, he said. “Because if we write 'Muslim' we will afterwards be accused of being an apostate. There are plenty of crazy people who believe such a person deserves death.” After four years of legal proceedings, the judge would pass judgment today.

Baha’is see their faith as a continuation of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. They recognize the respective Prophets, but believe Muhammad was not the last Messenger from God. Baha’u’llah, who started the [Baha’i] movement one-and-a-half centuries ago in Iran, would be the ninth Prophet. A thousand years after his death a tenth and last Prophet will appear [“last Prophet” statement is incorrect…Baha’is believe that there is no end to Divine guidance and Messengers of God – MR]. In Egypt, there are at most a few thousand Baha’is. Worldwide there are an estimated five million, with Iran, India and the U.S.A. having the largest communities.

Two years ago, the government decided to exclusively issue electronically manufactured plastic identity cards. “Before that time, the authorities usually wrote ‘other’ in the religion section of our papers or left it blank”, says Hindi who showed his old, crumpled papers as evidence. “But when I came to register my children they registered me as Muslim in the computer.”

The old identity papers will no longer be valid by the end of this year. “From that moment on we are trapped”, says Hindi. “Without that card you can’t do anything. Babies are not vaccinated, children cannot go to school, banks do not want to open accounts and you cannot own a house or a car. Because we cannot get a marriage certificate, all our children are unlawful. We cannot even obtain a death certificate, because we do not exist. Officially, we cannot even die.”

The Baha’is are not the only ones who have problems with their papers because of their faith. Muslims who want to convert to Christianity have great difficulty to change their identity card. “Most, therefore, keep their old papers that mention ‘Muslim’ as long as possible. But when they want to marry or get children, they have to change their card”, tells Ramsis al-Naggar, a well-known lawyer who has specialized in cases involving conversion. “Muslim women who convert but haven’t changed their papers cannot marry a Christian. Converted men have to change their papers because otherwise the authorities will automatically register their children as Muslim.”

Hardly a week goes by without a new quarrel concerning a case of conversion in the Egyptian media. “That’s killing”, says Al-Naggar. “The trick is to attract as little attention as possible.” Of his 400 clients who have become Christian, he has been able to help only twenty-six to new papers. “A Christian who wants to become Muslim obtains a new card in only three hours. But a Muslim who wants to become Christian obtains, with a lot of luck, new papers in eight months,” says the lawyer. Even a court judgment is no guarantee. “The authorities cannot refuse, because that is against the law and international treaties, but they can delay endlessly.”

A young couple sits in the waiting room. The man wants to become Christian and marry the woman. That is all Al-Naggar allows them to say. “If their names become known, they will be harassed by fundamentalists who wish death upon them on the grounds of Islamic law. But those extremists know nothing of the law. They only yell ‘Shar’ia, shari’a, shar’ia’.”

The theoretically secular government, under fundamentalist pressure, more and more acts as guardian of Islam and in that function increasingly limits freedom of religion. But that, according to Hossam Bahgat, director of the human rights organisation “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights,” is only part of the explanation. “It is too easy to think that those nasty fundamentalists force the government to do something annoying”, says Bahgat, whose organisation supports converts among others. “The most important cause of the discrimination is that all matters of religion are monopolized by the security service”, says Bahgat. “Any challenge to the status-quo is seen as a threat to the state. That is why the authorities are so rigid and the government responds so nervously when minorities demand recognition of their rights.”

The most recent victims of this are the Qur’anists. This movement, which has only a few dozen followers in Egypt, accepts only the Qur’an as God’s word and does not accept the hadith, the traditions on the Prophet, because the reliability of these cannot be verified. For the Sunnies, the large majority in Egypt, the hadith are an integral part of Islam. In May, five Qur’anists were arrested. They are still waiting for an official charge.

Hindi shakes his head. “We are not only viewed as apostates, but also as enemies of the state.” He paints a gloomy picture. “We call Egypt the oldest civilization of the world, but is this truly civilized? They force the people to lie and with that they create a land of hypocrites. Why do they ask for my religious faith anyway? Isn’t that something between me and God?”

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Tribute to a Loved Giant: Luciano Pavarotti

The New York Times wrote: "Luciano Pavarotti, the Italian singer whose ringing, pristine sound set a standard for operatic tenors of the postwar era, died Thursday at his home near Modena, in northern Italy. He was 71."

Read more here....

Thanks to Barney Leith for the link below:
Credit: David Henderson

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Egypt: the "Other" Lawsuit that Got Postponed

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice dealt with another lawsuit regarding a Baha'i youth on the 4th of September. It, too, had the same fate as the twins' case: it got postponed until the 30 October 2007 court session.

This second lawsuit (no. 12780/61) was filed by the the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) last February on behalf of Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih, born in 1989, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University's Higher Institute of Social Work due to his inability to obtain an identity card because he is a Baha'i. It is quite common now for Baha'i students in post-secondary education in Egypt to face suspension or expulsion because of their failure to obtain ID cards or military service postponement papers.

Hosni Hussein had already passed his final examinations after completing his first year at the university but was not promoted to the second year, as he is entitled to, and was suspended from the university. In order for Egyptian students to complete their university education without interruption, they are required to produce a military draft postponement document that would permit them to complete their education. One cannot obtain a military draft number without being issued a national ID number and a national ID card. Since this Baha'i student, and many others, are being denied a national ID number because of their religion, they are unable to obtain a military draft number, thus cannot continue their university matriculation. The only option they have left is to lie about their religion and enter one of Egypt's recognized three (Islam, Christianity or Judaism) in order to obtain an ID card. The ID application form clearly states that any false statements will be punishable by imprisonment and heavy fines.

Interestingly this case has been coupled with the twins case in the same court through one postponement after the other. Meanwhile this student (Hosni) awaits his fate sitting at home with his education on hold.

One can read the full story of this case as well as the twins' case in a press release, dated 5 September 2007, by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) in English at this link and in Arabic at this link.

The press release concludes with this statement:
"The Egyptian government has a legal obligation to protect citizens from religious discrimination and coercion under the Constitution as well as international and regional treaties it ratified, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The government is also obliged to protect the right to education without distinction on any basis, including religion or belief, under the African Charter, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child."

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Egypt: Twins Case Postponed Again

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice convened today to render a decision on the case of Emad and Nancy, the Egyptian Baha'i 14-year-old twins waiting for their Egyptian birth certificates. The courtroom was full of Egyptian activist youth from a variety of backgrounds who came to the Court to show their support for the twins. Interestingly, the few Baha'is attending today appear completely at ease in this court...after all they have been frequent guests of these chambers lately!

The court postponed its decision again for its upcoming session of 30 October 2007, which would be this court's fourth session regarding this case. Meanwhile the twins remain without Egyptian birth certificates.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Egypt's Administrative Court Decides Case of Twins Tomorrow

The Egyptian Christian website The Free Copts has just published an article on an important upcoming case before Egypt's Administrative Court, regarding the 14-year-old twin Egyptian Baha'i children Emad and Nancy who remain, to this date, without Egyptian birth certificates. The court heard the case on 7 May 2007, postponed it until 3 July 2007, and again the court had postponed this case for a decision to be heard tomorrow, the 4th of September. Meanwhile the twin children remain without recognition of their birth, thus deprived of education, vaccination, health care and other essential services.

The Christian website article, entitled "New dilemma in front of the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court," explains the case of Emad and Nancy and compares them to the controversy of a twin Egyptian Christian boys, Andrew & Mario, whose father, having converted from Christianity to Islam, is assisted by the authorities in forcing the conversion of his boys to Islam without their consent.

Below is the unedited article on The Free Copts website:

Following Andrew and Mario, starts another cycle of struggle to evince religion for children. The Supreme Administrative Court will look into the lawsuit filed by the Egyptian citizen Raouf Hindi Halim (a Baha’i convert) on the 4th of September, in which he is pleading to issue official papers for his twins, Imad and Nancy aged 14 years, with the religion field left blank – for manual filling - or to write (Baha'i) in the religion column. He strongly refused to write any other religion in that field, as a belief of religious freedom and based on the recognition by some Arab countries for the Baha'i religion such as the Sultanate of Oman.

Halim had resided in Oman and had issued official papers for his twins there. The case was postponed several times since it was first brought before the administrative court on 7/12/2004.
The lawsuit came after the concerned authorities had refused to issue any official papers for them for three years as a refusal for the children (Imad and Nancy) to pursue their father’s religion - the baha’i. We contacted the father Raouf Hindi Halim, who ensured that the refusal of the concerned authorities for issuing identity papers for his children is an explicit violation of article (18) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which stipulates that (everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion). It also violates Article 18 of the International Treaty concerning the Civil and Political Rights, which has become obligating for the Egyptian government after joining in 1982. The article states that: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including the freedom to have or adopt a religion or the freedom to follow any religion or belief of one's choice.
The article protects monotheistic and non-monotheistic faiths as well as atheism. It prevents further acts of intimidation that would impair the right to a religion or to be forced to follow a religion against will, using alternative methods including the use of violence, authority or punitive force.
The existence of religion adhered to by the majority of a population must not lead to any other obstruction of rights set forth in the Treaty, including the articles (27,18), and must not lead to any kind of discrimination for pursuing other beliefs, including the denial of some of their civil rights, like the refusal for issuance of official documents that prove their national identity as in the case of my children, which started three years ago.
Imad and Nancy await a verdict on 4th of September hoping that the court would grant them justice and make them useful members of society by giving them a national identity.
Halim adds: "strangely the government is doing so with my children as opposed to their unwavering stance for Andrew and Mario to follow their father’s religion after his conversion to Islam," In the end, the father pointed that Imad, Nancy, Andrew and Mario are all examples of children demanding their rights, and pleaded to the just and honorable Egyptian Authorities not to deprive the children of their sense of freedom and rights to embrace a religion of their choice, a right guaranteed by most countries of the world, including some Arab countries like the Sultanate of Oman.

Translated by The Free Copts from the original Arabic version