Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Irony of Change!

(Mbeki, Mandela & de Klerk)

While Egypt continues to struggle with its current issues in treating its minorities--a deviation from its past history of tolerance and acceptance--South Africa, a nation long known for its past discriminatory practices and apartheid, is moving in the exact opposite direction with its openly tolerant society and support for minorities. It is ironic indeed that each of these nations hold the continent of Africa as the two jaws of a giant dinosaur, one to the far north and the other to the far south.

The report posted below clearly illustrates the direction South Africa is taking:

"The National Spiritual Assembly of South-Africa hosted a banquet for the Birth of Bahá'u'lláh on the 11th of November in Johannesburg where some 170 guests and about 110 Bahá'ís attended. The occasion not only celebrated the Holy Day but also the 50th year of the anniversary of the election of the first National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa. The Bahá'í Community was indeed privileged to receive a message of congratulations from the State President of this country, Mr. Thabo Mbeki"


I am most honoured to have this opportunity to extend warm greetings to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa on this important day, the 11th of November, in which you celebrate your 50th Anniversary.

That you are today turning fifty testifies clearly to your steadfastness and to the pivotal role you have played and doubtlessly will continue to play in advancing the cause of unity and amity in our beloved country, South Africa.

Since its formation half a century ago, on 11 November 1956, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa untiringly has promoted the spiritual, moral and material development of Bahá'ís in this country as well as that of the South African society in general. In this regard, your notable participation in the National Religious Leaders Forum has also contributed immensely in ushering in an age of hope in our country.

The fact that your anniversary falls in the same year in which we commemorate our country's land-marking events, such as the tenth year of our democratic Constitution which recognises and promotes religious freedom, points further to the historical position you occupy in our country.

Accordingly, on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa we say congratulations and best wishes to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of South Africa on your 50th Anniversary.

May you have more successful and fulfilling decades ahead!


[Arabic translation of the letter can be accessed here....]

Monday, November 27, 2006

Egypt: Another Interview With a Baha'i Family

Today, another article appeared in Sawt el-Umma (Voice of the Nation) newspaper, reporting an interview with a Baha'i family living in Maadi, a suburb of Cairo. Raouf Iss'haq and his wife Manal Adel Mustapha were interviewed, and both have expressed their ordeal very eloquently and clearly. The article is entitled "We asked the Baha'is: How do you feel after being considered apostates in the government commissioner's report?" The subtitle states, "They answered: we were not Muslims [in the first place] to have been apostates, and our hope is in the final court's ruling and in the mercy of God."

The article refers to the government commissioner's report prepared for its appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court in its attempt to reverse the lower court's ruling which has granted the Egyptian Baha'is their rights. The previous post published regarding this report is linked here.

The Baha'i couple described in great detail their daily struggle just to survive in their own homeland without any identification documents or an official proof of their marriage, since their Baha'i marriage certificate is not recognized as such by the Egyptian authorities. Raouf said that he can neither walk freely in the streets with his wife nor can he check into a hotel room with her because, in the absence of an ID card for either one of them, no one will accept his Baha'i marriage certificate as an evidence of their status as a family.

He indicated that his ancestors became Baha'is several generations ago after having converted from Christianity. How then could he be considered an apostate from Islam? His wife is a descendant of a family that had a Muslim background that had converted several generations ago, and she was born into a Baha'i family. How could she be considered an apostate since she had never been a Muslim to begin with?

Mr. Iss'haq also recounted his experience when he went to the government's civil status office to request an ID card and was rudely thrown out of the office and told by its administrator "go and sue the government!"

The couple described in great detail the historical background of this crisis, and alluded to all the false accusations made against the Baha'is as well as the evidence refuting these allegations. They also referred to past court cases and the Egyptian courts' rulings that have emancipated the Baha'i Faith as an independent religion. Much emphasis was also placed on the history and teachings of the Baha'i Faith as a recognized independent world religion.

Manal talked about the laws and the sanctity of the Baha'i marriage as well as the Baha'i obligatory prayers and other sacred principles and noble teachings inherent to the Faith of God, just the same as in other world religions.

Overall, this was a very well written article that illustrated to its readers how a Baha'i couple living in Egypt is struggling daily just to survive and cope with these totally unnecessary barriers, simply because of having exercised their God-given right to freedom of religious belief, which also happens to be clearly stated in Egypt's Constitution.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Egypt: Symposium on Constitutional Reforms

The Egyptian newspaper "al-Masry al-Youm" reported today on the role of the Baha'is in an important national symposium held in Cairo at the Marriott hotel in Zamalek. In its headline, it stated "the Legal Case [concerning] the Recognition of the Baha'i [Faith] Has Affirmed [placed] Itself in Front of the Constitutional Reforms Symposium." It is subtitled "Baha'is: Present in Egypt for 170 Years...We Demand ID Cards Without Religion."

In its extended coverage, the newspaper described in great detail the statements made by the Baha'is during this session. They presented a complete historical background of the Baha'i Faith in Egypt as well as the details of their current struggle, the consequences of their inability to obtain ID Cards, and the violation of their civil and human rights in Egypt.

A number of Egyptian Baha'is were officially invited to participate in this national symposium on constitutional reforms, and in particular to participate in discussions related to the necessary reforms to critical issues such as in Article-2 of the Egyptian constitution which states: "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)."

This second session of the symposium (the first was held on 7 November 2006), which is sponsored by an Egyptian organization named Partners in Development (For Research, Consulting and Training) in collaboration with the German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, was held on Tuesday, 21 November 2006. It is estimated that their work on the constitution will continue for the next six months. The session was entitled "Religion and Politics in the Egyptian Constitution."

Near the conclusion of the session Dr. Yehiah al-Gamal (pictured in the article), who is a Professor of Constitutional Law, stated that "Islam does not know [recognize] a nation based on religion because Islam is a belief, and that the modern nation's foundation is only based on citizenship." he went on to clarify that "differentiation between a citizen and another based on belief is discrimination, which is in violation of the Egyptian constitution because all citizens are equal before the law; whether citizens are Muslims, Christians, Baha'is, Buddhists or irreligious, they are still all equal before the law."

The Baha'is were also invited to the next session entitled "The Nation's Economic and Social Role in the Constitution." In addition to the Baha'is, several prominent leaders, specialists and scholars representing the Egyptian society were invited to contribute to the symposium.

This important symposium is well timed with the current push by President Mubarak to implement progressive constitutional reforms in Egypt as was presented in his recent speech on 19 November at the opening of the Egyptian parliamentarian session this past Sunday.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Egypt: Interesting Report in Media on Supreme Court Session

Today, Egypt's Rose el-Yousef newspaper published an interesting brief report on the Supreme Administrative Court's session which was held yesterday in Cairo to hear the government's appeal of the Baha'i case, and reported in this previous post.

The article is entitled, "Angry [mob] Surrounds American Embassy's Emissary in the [court] Session Examining the Baha'i Case."

The article reports the following:

"A large number of those present in the Supreme Administrative Court yesterday resented the presence of a delegate from the American Embassy's Office of Economic and Political Affairs during the court hearing of the Baha'i case. The large number of an angered [mob] surrounding him [the representative] asked for the secret [reason] behind his presence. He announced that he came [to the session] because he was officially commissioned by the Embassy to do so."

"On the other hand, the court's appeals circuit decided to postpone the case until next [this] December [2006]. An Administrative Court had decided to grant a Baha'i litigator [his right] to enter the word Baha'i in the religion section of the Identification Card. The Ministry of Interior has appealed the decision to the [Supreme] Court which suspended the implementation of the [lower court's] expedited ruling eight months ago, and decided to refer the case to the first plenary circuit to examine the merits of the case."

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom had published a report for "Immediate Release" on 16 November 2006, entitled "Egypt: USCIRF Calls for New Policy on National Identity Cards." To read this report published in a previous post, please click here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Egypt: Supreme Court Refers Baha'i Case To Plenary

In its session today, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court ruled to postpone a decision again on the government's appeal of the lower court's ruling that granted the Egyptian Baha'is their rights to correctly enter their religion on official government documents and the newly instituted computerized ID Cards. The court referred the case to a Plenary for a hearing scheduled on 2 December 2006.

This ruling was not unexpected considering the complexity of the case and, perhaps, the current efforts by the Egyptian government to follow a course of promoting democracy, assuring equal civil rights, applying guarantees for freedom of belief, and its move towards progressive constitutional reforms as stated in President Mubarak's recent speech addressing the nation.

Egyptian Baha'is continue to be denied the required identification documents and are in a precarious position as the deadline for enforcing the new ID Card system approaches on 31 December 2006. They are unable to obtain or renew their driver's licenses, unable to open bank accounts, unable to register with the draft board, unable to be admitted to universities, unable to obtain birth or death certificates, unable to obtain passports, unable to travel, unable to obtain marriage certificates, etc....

In other words, because of this ongoing "chase," Baha'is who are citizens of Egypt continue to be denied all their civil rights which are guaranteed to them by the current Egyptian Constitution.

It is time for the Egyptian Government to step in and correct this injustice....

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Egyptian Newspapers Report On US Press Release

In response to the Press Release which was also posted on this blog three days ago, entitled "Egypt: USCIRF Calls for New Policy on National Identity Cards" and published "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE" on 16 November 2006 by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Egyptian press started to bring this document to the attention of the Egyptian public by publishing an Arabic translation and a report on the press release in the Egyptian media.

Al-Masry al-Youm [the Daily Egyptian] newspaper was the first to report on this in its article published on 18 November 2006 as attached with this post.

The article was entitled, "American Religious Freedom Commission Monitors [Watches] the [Legal] Trial of The Baha'is in Egypt," and subtitled, "Findings of the Commission: the Egyptian Government is Violating the Rights of the Citizens." The report, written by Ms. Fat'heyah el-Dakh'a'khny, was accurate in its translation, unbiased and stuck to reporting the facts from the press release without any unusual interpretations or unwarranted commentary. It represents a good example of honest, ethical and independent journalism.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Religion On ID Cards In Egypt: To Be Or Not To Be?

Egypt: USCIRF Calls for New Policy on National Identity Cards

November 16, 2006

Contact: Angela Stephens, Assistant Communications Director,
(202) 523-3240, ext. 114

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is closely monitoring the outcome of a court case in Cairo that will consider whether an Egyptian Baha’i couple will be able to obtain national identity documents without having to deny or falsify their faith.

On November 20, the Supreme Administrative Court in Cairo will convene a hearing on the Egyptian government’s appeal of a lower court decision that would have allowed members of the Baha’i faith in Egypt to obtain a national identity card and to list their religious affiliation. The Commission urges the U.S. government to encourage the Egyptian government to reverse its discriminatory policy of requiring Egyptian citizens to list their religious affiliation, restricting the choice to one of the three state recognized religions – Judaism, Christianity, or Islam – on national identity documents.

“Current Egyptian policy essentially turns Baha’is into non-citizens because without an identity card they cannot gain access to government services like education and employment, or engage in basic financial transactions, such as opening a bank account or obtaining a driver’s license. It is even illegal to be in public without a card,” said Commission chair Felice D. Gaer. “This policy is highly discriminatory and is incompatible with international standards. The current court case provides the Egyptian government with an opportunity to change its policy and omit mention of religious affiliation from identity documents or to make optional any mention of religious affiliation,” said Gaer.

Egypt requires all citizens to obtain and carry a national identity card, including listing one’s religious affiliation, and only permits one of three choices. This policy: Read more....

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Egypt: Yet Another Giant Interviewed

In its recent edition of 9 November 2006, an independent daily newspaper from Kuwait called al-Seyassah [The Politics], published a full page article on its interview with Mr. Amin Battah, an eighty year-old prominent member of the Egyptian Baha'i Community.

The interview covers all aspects of the Baha'i Faith, including its history in Egypt and the rest of the world, its Founder and His successors, its principles, its teachings, its beliefs, its writings, its administrative structure, its goals, and its hopes for the future of the world and for humankind. It also elaborated on the trials, persecutions and legal challenges endured by the Egyptian Baha'is.

The article includes a photograph of Mr. Battah in his home holding al-Kitab al-Aqdas [the Most Holy Book], which is the Book of Laws revealed by Baha'u'llah, the founder of the Baha'i Faith. Another photograph shows the Shrine of the Bab [Gate], the Forerunner of Baha'u'llah, as well as the terraces and gardens surrounding the shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel where the Baha'i World Centre is located.

The interview highlights the fact that the Baha'i Faith is a Divine religion, that it is practical in approach, and that its principles and goals are to serve society and solve its economic problems. It also pointed out that Baha'u'llah has revealed over 120 volumes of sacred writings during His ministry.

Bahji: Shrine of Baha'u'llah in Akka (Acre)

Mr. Battah clarified that the Baha'i Faith is the most recent in a succession of progressive nine Divine Revelations from the Almighty God [the last of Messengers being Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Bab and Baha'u'llah]. He also indicated that Baha'u'llah is the Promised One as prophesied in all previous Divine Books, who will bring about unity of humanity and unity of the world. He stressed that Baha'is are required to obey their just-government, and that Baha'is promote the idea of founding a world authority charged with the preservation of security and peace for the whole world.

Friday, November 10, 2006

An Egyptian Baha'i: In Search Of Recognition (Cont. 4)

It is time to continue Mustapha's story and his struggle with the Egyptian government in his attempts to receive his entitlement as an employee of the Egyptians Railways for cost-of-living adjustments, based on his marriage and then the birth of his son, as was told in four previous posts. The story begins at the post linked here. The next episodes can be seen here, here, and here. This struggle began in 1947 shortly after his marriage and continued until his untimely death in 1968.

His lawsuit continued in the Egyptian courts until June 1952, when the panel of judges dismissed the case and ordered him to pay the costs incurred by the the government's attorneys, amounting to 300 piasters. He was refused the requested salary adjustments for the cost of living allowance guaranteed to all employees when they get married, as well as the additional allowance he was entitled to for the birth of his son.

However, the court failed to prevail in its attempt to implement its proclamations to execute him on the grounds of alleged apostasy, to formally annul his marriage and imprison his wife, or to deny his son's legitimacy and execute him as the son of an apostate.

As will be told in future posts, Mustapha never gave up on his rights, and he spent the rest of his earthly life challenging his government employer for the entitlements owed to him. Even following his death, his widow and three children, who were still students, had to fight for his death allowance and their pension when they were left with no income after his sudden death, at a relatively young age, as he was the only bread winner of the family.

The interesting fact remains that his marriage and the birth of his son were initially recognized in the official birth certificate of his son. The court was unable to invalidate it, and the document remains to this day as an evidence of one of the several cases proving Egypt's official recognition of the Baha'i Faith as a religion. A copy of this document and an English translation are shown in this post. (removed)

As can be seen in this document, the certificate was issued in Ismailia, a town in the Suez Canal region well known for its extreme opposition to the Baha'is since the birth of Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hassan el-Banna in 1928, and resulting in what is known now as a worldwide Islamist extremism and fundamentalism movement, that was in constant opposition to the Baha'is in Egypt.

However, Ismailia was also known to have been blessed by frequent visits from Abdu'l-Baha, the son of Baha'u'llah the founder of the Baha'i Faith. He was the interpreter of Baha'u'llah's writings and the head of the Baha'i Faith after the passing of his father. As a result of Abdu'l-Baha's visits to that city, many people from various religious backgrounds--attracted by his message, his presence, his wisdom, his knowledge and his teachings--embraced the Baha'i Faith.

The Baha'i community in that city suffered at the hands of extremists for many years until 1960 when the Baha'i Centre was the first one to be raided and shut down by the police after President Nasser's decree outlawing the Baha'i Faith in Egypt. This was also when the first wave of arrests, interrogations and imprisonment of Baha'is in Egypt was carried out, and subsequently repeated over the ensuing years--the last of which was five years ago.

To be continued....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Egypt: al-Azhar's Tantawi Promotes Acceptance & Dialogue

This is the latest of news from Islamic leaders in Egypt regarding their apparent tendency towards proclaiming tolerance and religious acceptance of others.

In al-Ahram newspaper article published on 7 November 2006, al-Azhar's Sheikh Muhammad Sai'yd Tantawi was reported to promote his message that "Islam welcomes dialogue with others regardless of their religious affiliation, their civilization or culture." And "that Islamic Shari'ah accepts diversity and differences between humans and urges collaboration with others for the sake of their benefit."

He pointed to the eight principles on which Islamic dialogue is based, namely: "truthfulness, objectivity, and that the goal of those consulting should be to arrive at justice and reason between the parties involved." He stressed the need to "avoid dominating others and that dialogue should be without selfish pride or a sense of superiority," to "avoid wounding others' feelings, and to respect their opinions."

This was said [on 5 November 2006] during the opening session of the tenth "Season of Culture" Congress hosted by the Supreme Assembly for Islamic Affairs, held at the Nour mosque in Abbassi'yah [Cairo]. It was also attended by Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouk, Minister of Religious Endowment and the president of that Assembly.

During the conference, Sheikh al-Azhar Tantawi gave a lecture on "the Islamic understanding of dialogue and that it is considered as one of the principles of Islamic Shari'ah which urges Muslims to collaborate, and [to learn how] to give and take with all humans."

He added that "conflict between people regarding their religious beliefs is an ancient matter and is in human nature." He warned that "even with the worst of conflicts leading to blinded bigotry and prejudiced dialogue, it is important that we give enough room to others when engaged in a dialogue, and to clarify interpretations and phrases used whether from the legislative or the linguistic aspects in order to arrive at justice...because there is so much misunderstanding and incorrect interpretation among people."

These words appear righteous and noble. They promote justice, collaboration, open dialogue, purity of motive, respect for others' beliefs and convictions, tolerance and acceptance. Now it is time to transform these words into action by practicing these pure teachings of Islam when dealing with all people of other beliefs and backgrounds, including the Egyptian Baha'is who have been terribly oppressed by Egypt's fundamentalist religious establishment.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Iran Intensifies Its Persecution Of Baha'is Again

One wonders at this yet another step taken by the government of Iran in its ominous moves in isolating and monitoring the Baha'is!

Where is it going with this?

Why is Iran so utterly concerned with a minority that is peace-loving, righteous, innocent, educated, God fearing, law abiding, oppressed, long suffering, promoter of unity and equality of humankind, and is the hope for a peaceful and prosperous future of the world?

This last letter released by Iran clearly betrays its intentions. To read more, please click here....