Saturday, January 27, 2007

ID Cards in Egypt: Yet Another Unusual Statement

Ministry of Interior Instructs Egyptian Citizens to Lie

Today, the Ministry of Interior blamed the Baha'is for the so-called "crisis of the religion section on ID cards" and denied that there is a problem documenting "official religions."

In Akhbar el-Youm newspaper, the deputy minister of interior Essam el-Deen Bahgat stated that 38 Million ID cards have been issued and 5 Million more are on their way. When he was asked about the matter raised by human rights organizations regarding the inability of some of the citizens to obtain ID cards because of the religion section, he responded by blaming the Baha'is for that crisis.

He affirmed that "there are no problems for anyone to obtain an ID card, and that the group which caused these difficulties are those calling themselves Baha'is. Their request to document their religion violates the Egyptian law which recognizes only three divine religions, namely Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and we stand by this based on clear court decisions."

When asked how this matter should be dealt with, he responded by stating "we will enter the religion of the father whether he was Christian or Muslim in the religion section for the Baha'i applicants. If he [she] refuses, then we will not issue an ID card, and he will have to deal with the consequences."

This appears to be the latest stand of the Ministry of Interior on the matter of the ID cards for the Egyptian Baha'i citizens. It clearly states that a Baha'i must either accept the denial of his or her religion and convert to one of the three recognized religions in Egypt, or live without an ID card and suffer the consequences.

Since the ministry stated that they will assign religions to people according to their fathers' religion, one would wonder how could this be applied to the majority of the Baha'is in Egypt who are a fourth or fifth generation Baha'is! How many generations are they intending to go back to?

Is this a responsible answer from a respected deputy minister of interior, to simply state convert or else?

Furthermore, how could they blame the Baha'is for creating this problem? The Baha'is have always been peaceful and law-abiding citizens who, all of a sudden, became confronted with laws depriving them of their citizenship rights. The Baha'is were not the ones who limited ID cards to only three religions with no other options. They did not create these new rules, nor did they request the recognition of their religion.

The Bahá’ís simply want to co-exist with their fellow citizens and continue to contribute to the advancement of the Egyptian society as they have always done.

The travesty of this new development is that Egypt's Ministry of Interior is instructing Egyptian citizens to lie on official documents on which, the application form clearly states that any false statements are punishable by imprisonment and large fines!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

ID Cards for Egyptian Baha'is: the Ongoing Saga

This is one of the latest newspaper articles published in Al-Masry Al-Youm on 21 January 2007 as a letter from an Egyptian citizen.

It is entitled: "Without"...A compromise Solution.

The writer states: I am an Egyptian citizen named Ahmed Helmy Muhammad Abdu'l-Wahab (a Baha'i). I was looking at Akhbar newspaper of Wednesday 27 December 2006, and I liked the words of President Mubarak on the first page "we are all Egyptians equal in rights and responsibilities," and again on the fifth page with a large title regarding constitutional reforms "assuring the equality of all citizens without discrimination based on gender or religion or origin." I was saddened by the judgement of the Supreme Administrative Court depriving the Baha'is of their rights to obtain identification documents unless they agree to enter one of the three religions (Islam, Christianity & Judaism)...and I demand my right to be issued the National ID Card without being forced to deny my religion or to enter a religion other that what I believe in. I accept the entry of the word "other" in the religion section or leaving it blank, so that no one continues to claim that we have requested the State to recognize the Baha'i Faith, a claim that is entirely baseless. I plead that the President stands by his Egyptian sons [and daughters] who happen to be Baha'is who have been requesting their rights as citizens, and the rights of their children to be issued Egyptian birth certificates so that they can be admitted to schools and not be deprived of education, and the rights of their dead to be issued death certificates so that their dependents can obtain their inheritance rights and their pension.

The newspaper's comment states: "Why indeed the Ministry of Interior is not issuing official documents for the Baha'is and entering "without" as a compromise solution?!"

This open letter is a perfect example of how this crisis has been affecting the lives of Egyptian Baha'is, which was put into the most straightforward, simple and clearly understood words....

This obviously is the voice of one of these citizens who continue to suffer as a result of the injustice forced on the Egyptian Baha'i community. The Baha'is must obtain ID cards as guaranteed to them by the Egyptian constitution. As stated in the application form, they cannot lie on official documents by denying their religion, which would be punishable by law. They are not requesting the official recognition of their religion, and there must be a reasonable and humane solution to their situation. Regardless of the solution reached, it has to guarantee that Baha'is are not treated as second-class citizens in their own homeland.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Egypt's Coptic Church Demands Amending Article-2

An article published today in al-Masry al-Youm newspaper reported on the mounting pressure by Egypt's Orthodox [Coptic] Church demanding the amendment of Article-2 of the constitution.

Article-2 states: "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia)."

Speaking on behalf of the Church Anba (Bishop) Morqos is requesting that the language of the Article be changed to state: "a principal source legislation" rather than "the principal source of legislation," which was amended to that particular language in May 1980 by the late president Anwar el-Sadat in order to appease Muslim fundamentalists.

Anba Morqos indicated that this requested amendment "would guarantee the application of other sources of legislation, and not only Islamic Jurisprudence as the principal source."

Morqos also clarified that "laws and principles of citizenship must be those that we agree on, and not those that are forced upon us." He indicated that Egyptian Christians are not a small minority, but rather represent 15-18% of the population based on the most recent census, and besides that they [Copts] "are [Egypt's] sons and its owners."

The Bishop has also requested on behalf of the church that the State enforces a constitutional guarantee of articles that criminalize the contempt and disdain for religions, and that the application of this law should apply to all religions, so it would benefit the adherents of all currently present religions.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Official Egyptian Press Examines the Baha'i Case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Egypt: Recommendations of Human Rights Organizations

The Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organization [EUHRO] held its fifth annual convention in Cairo on 11 January 2007, to which the Baha'is were invited to make a formal presentation. The theme of the convention was entitled: "Freedom of Belief Between Shari'ah [Islamic jurisprudence] and the Constitution." The panel consisted of representatives from the media, the arts, the university, the ruling political party, Islam's al-Azhar University, and the Baha'i Faith. They were, seated from left to right: Mr. Amr Al-Leithy, editor of Al-khamees newspaper & programmer in channel-2 of the Egyptian TV; Mr. Wael Al-Ibrashi, Editor-in-Chief of Sawt Al-Umma newspaper & the TV program Al-Haqiqah [The Truth] of Dream-2 channel; Dr. Mahmoud Ashour, former Deputy Sheikh of al-Azhar University; Justice Naguib Ghobreial, the organization's president; Mrs. Ilham Shaheen, an actress & a movie superstar; Dr. Gihad Ouda, a university professor of political science & member of the political committee of the ruling party; and Dr. Basma Moussa, professor of Maxillo-Facial Surgery at Cairo University, representing the Baha'i Faith.

Dr. Basma Moussa made an elaborate PowerPoint slide presentation describing the crisis currently facing the Egyptian Baha'is. This presentation was a very well-received keynote feature of the convention, during which she used several quotes from the recent message of the Universal House of Justice to the Egyptian Baha'is.

Following its conclusion, the convention released its recommendations to the press and the Egyptian government. The following is a summary of its eleven-point recommendations:

1) The convention supports President Mubarak in his efforts to reform the constitution and in particular the principle of citizenship.

2) The convention affirms that the rights of citizenship in Egypt cannot be realized without the modernization of the State and the respect for all religious authorities in Egypt.

3) The convention recommends that the constitution must be freed from any reference to religious inclinations.

4) The convention recommends that the constitution truthfully declares the true meaning of Egyptian identity and the affirmation of the modernity and civility of the State.

5) The convention recommends the absolute guarantee of freedom of belief to all citizens regardless of their various religious congregations or beliefs.

6) The convention recommends that in case article-2 of the constitution [referring to the Islamic Shari'ah as the source of legislation], that it would be amended to state that "it will not interfere with the principle of citizenship, and would not influence the beliefs of others."

7) The convention recommends that the principle of "public order" be clearly defined and understood so that it does not get confused with any belief or religious understanding, and that "public order" be based on basic political and economic rules of the society.

8) The Convention recommends the elimination of religious classification from ID cards.

9) The convention recommends that all laws of the land must become devoid of any discrimination between its citizens based on religion, gender or race.

10) The convention affirms the necessity of enforcing all of Egypt's agreements to the various international treaties and declarations on human rights to which it has been a co-signatory, as well as all the agreements that became part of the Egyptian law as stated in Article-151 of the Egyptian constitution.

11) The convention recommends the elimination of any conditions or reservations that Egypt had attached to its ratification of any of the international treaties on human rights, while safeguarding the status of Egyptian citizenship & identification.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Hussein Bikar's Last Poem

A comment on the last post was just published by Basma Moussa. She addressed her comment to Anis Mansour, sharing with him a last poem dictated by Hussein Bikar to one of his relatives during his last days while in the hospital shortly before his passing. This is the first publication of Bikar's last poem to Egypt.

It is published here in its original language (Arabic), followed by a humble attempt at translating it into English...the beauty of its original language cannot be conveyed or described:

موال ربيعي
فتحت شباك الأمل على ارض سمرة معجونة بدم الشهيد
ولمحت شمس الأصيل مسجونة جوه قفص من سلك وحديد
وفجأة بصيت لفوق لقيت أسراب الحمام مليا القريب والبعيد
وفرحانة بالوشوش اللي بتبنيها وكأنه مهرجان أو عيد
قلت سبحانك يارب قادر تبدل العتيق بالجديد
وتصبح مصر عروسه زمانها شباب من غير تجاعيد

A spring love song [Mawal]

I opened the window of hope on a dark soil a dough mixed with the blood of the martyr

And the setting sun glimpsed through a prison cage of wire and iron

And unexpectedly I looked up and found flocks of pigeons filling near and distant

And their faces revealing happiness as if in a celebration or a feast

I said praised be God able to replace the ancient with the new

And Egypt awakens a bride of its age youthful and without wrinkles too

The secret of poetry can emerge through its interpretations. Another translation (below) provided by a language scholar of Bikar's poem illustrates this very clearly:

[Mawal] "a non metric melodic improvisation, it comes before the actual singing of a song and is usually associated with the layaly (ya leil ya ein--which has its roots in a story of the Arabian nights)."

I opened a window for hope
to seep onto a dark soil
a dough mixed with blood
and a martyr
The setting sun glimpsed
through a crack in the prison wall
through the wire and the iron
it crept and there my vision started
All at once I looked up
a flight of pigeons filled the distance
As though someone was celebrating a feast
unveiling a happiness
I praised the ways of God
transforming the ancient anew
this land, this Egypt
awakens too,
from old decrepit age,
sheds all wrinkles and is again
a youthful bride.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Egypt: Anis Mansour Commemorating Hussein Bikar

A most prominent and respected Egyptian writer and "renaissance man" Anis Mansour just published an article on 10 January 2007, commemorating the passing of his old friend the well-known Egyptian artist and national treasure Hussein Amin Bikar, who is one of the prominent Egyptian Baha'is referred to previously on this blog, and to whose memory a tribute was published in this previous post. The article was published in the widely-read international Arabic magazine named Al-Sharq Al Awsat [The Middle East].

The following excerpt describing the author Anis Mansour was taken from Egypt State Information Service:

Anis Mansour stands out as a bright star in Egypt's history of philosophy, literature, science and politics. He is considered an encyclopedic and prolific writer.

He was born on August 18, 1925 in the central Delta city of AL-Mansoura. In 1947, he obtained his BA in philosophy. Mansour masters Arabic, English, French, Italian, Greek and Hebrew. He worked as a philosophy professor for 17 years.

His journalistic career began in 1947 when he joined "Al-Asas" newspaper staff. Three years later, in 1950, he moved to "Rose El-Youssef" magazine for some time. He joined "Al-Ahram" daily where he worked as translator. There, he translated some short stories and poems from German into Arabic. In 1976, Mansour was named editor-in-chief of "Akher Saa" and "October" magazines.

Mansour published about 177 books in different fields. He also translated some 200 German, French and English short stories and 24 plays into Arabic. He also wrote 15 comedies and other 12 television drama serials.

Chief among Mansour's writings is the book "Around the World in 200 Days". The book is seen as an in-depth account of the tales and facts of many countries.

In his article, Anis Mansour speaks of his lifelong friendship of forty years with Hussein Bikar. He uses poetic language and simile that would be extremely difficult to do justice to by translating it into English, thus it will suffice to just point out the highlights of his article here. Those familiar with Arabic can simply click on the above links in order to read the full article.

In his title, he compares Bikar to a silk-making Caterpillar that, in his art, he was just as if he was weaving a silk fabric of the highest quality. He spoke of his talent not only in painting, but also in music and singing.

He also pointed out that even though a Caterpillar might not be one of the most appealing creatures, in contrast Bikar was appealing in appearance and in spirit. He stated "No one hated him, and he never hated come? This is the difficult dilemma that we had lost four years ago" [the passing of Bikar].

He also told of how pleased he was that Hussein Bikar had painted several of his book covers which have been "artistic treasures." He spoke of Bikar's debut as a musician and composer, and that some of his first compositions were made for King Farouk, and that his fingers did not stop at that but moved on to paper with his illustrious drawings.

He concluded by asking for God's Mercy on Bikar's soul just as Bikar had dreamt [wanted] it to be.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Clairvoyant Reflection on the Egyptian Baha'i Case

Mr. Is'haq El-Sheikh is a regular columnist in AlAyam daily newspaper published in Bahrain. It should be noted that this journalist is not a Baha'i. He is well known for his straight talk, his clairvoyant thought and intellectual objectivity and honesty. As he usually writes, the article was authored in Arabic, and the English translation does not do justice to its style and its literary superiority.


[Translator’s notes appear in square brackets [ ].]

Al-Ayam [Bahrain Daily Newspaper]
4 January 2007

[Column: “With the People” by Is’haq El-Sheikh]

Al-Baha’iyyah [Baha’ism] and the right to practise religious rites

The sublimity of this divine Bahá [glory] was reacting with and reflected by the spirit and conscience of people as a joyfulness based on the principle of the unity of humanity, aimed at creating eternal happiness in their lives and consecrating them towards establishing a just peace on the face of the globe. From light, bursts forth Al-Bahá [the glory] in an exalted illumination, ennobling the souls [of people], calling to truth in beauty, loveliness and splendour.

From the dawn of history the heavenly [Divine] and non-heavenly religions have called for love and peace for the sake of salvation and good deeds among the people...and if the three heavenly religions call for love, Al-Baha’iyyah [Baha'i Faith], as a new religion, considers that it summarises and develops the achievement [essence] of these religious ideologies and elevates them to the spirit of the age and its feature of rapidly shrinking distances between nations and peoples, placing them in a home in one small village.

Not once--since its inception--has the Bahá’í religion taken one stand against the three heavenly religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or any other religion. Rather, it started to spread its splendour in Bahá’u’lláh and the justice of His light, calling, reiterating and blessing--uncovering [throwing light on] the Bahá of glory of God in the heavens and on earth, through peace, love and the spreading of good-will among people.... It is as if he is repeating the Christian “Glory to God on high, peace on earth and love for all,” or the Judaic call: “Love one another, be in fellowship...thus will God love you,” or the Muhammadan call: “The doctrine of God lieth in loving people” [all paraphrased by translator]. This is what Al-Baha’iyyah means by: “This is that which hath descended from the realm of glory, uttered by the tongue of power and might, and revealed unto the Prophets of old. We have taken the inner essence thereof and clothed it in the garment of brevity, as a token of grace unto the righteous, that they may stand faithful unto the Covenant of God, may fulfill in their lives His trust, and in the realm of spirit obtain the gem of Divine virtue.”

Al-Bahaiyyah did not litter our paths with ugliness [indecency]; it did not declare hatred and enmity against our religion nor did it refute its spirit of true forbearance and tolerance; rather it has enshrined its luminous station, and cast the splendour of its enlightenment on the face of the earth in justice, love, peace and human solidarity and unity.

It was the International Declaration of Human Rights, perfected through earthly volition, promising all countries, including the Arab nations--with their customary apprehensive mistrust [sentence not completed]--that called for freedom of religion and the right of all nations to embrace a religion and a belief or not to have a belief. This, we see, is in harmony with the Muhammadan religion’s call for the right of religious freedom, and which the Holy Qur’an affirms: “You have your religion and I have mine” [paraphrased].

The purport of all of the above is to explain what has caused the indignation of all human rights proponents on the face of the earth when the sad and distressing news were reported about an oppressive and inhumane persecution of the [Egyptian] Bahá’í minority as it was deprived of the most basic of citizenship rights, following their natural right to belong to the Bahá’í religion--a right that is affirmed by all countries that are signatory to the Human Rights Convention. This has resulted in a big disappointment in the fairness of the Egyptian judiciary which has deprived them of citizenship rights. The justification for the court ruling was that the Egyptian constitution does not recognise any [religion] except the three heavenly religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism; as though laws and constitutions, that have been superseded by life and worn out by the passage of time, are holy and irrevocable scriptures that cannot be changed for the better.

It is known that the Egyptian Bahá’í minority did not ask for the Bahá’í Faith to be recognized, even though it is one of the rights of citizenship.... Its wish was simply to be free to carry out the requirement of the civil law that they must obtain identification cards without lying about their religious beliefs. Possessing such a card is a common right to which every native born Egyptian is entitled. It is indeed very strange that the custodians of the law would themselves enforce the violation of a government policy that all citizens without exception are expected to observe.... This has been pointed out by the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice in referring to the ordeal of the Egyptian Bahá’í minority; and the Universal House of Justice rightly poses this question in this regard, saying: “But to what purpose were these three religions invoked? Was it to justify the exclusion of certain citizens from exercising their civil rights? Would this not amount to a misuse of the authority of these faiths to perpetrate an injustice that offends the high standard of justice to which they hold their adherents?” [a direct quote from the Arabic translation]. The Universal House of Justice further affirms that the ruling issued against the Egyptian Bahá’í minority in not granting the personal ID was “unreasonable not only because it is contrary to prescriptions set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a signatory, but more especially because the sacred scriptures of Islam extol tolerance as a precept of social stability.”

All the democratic, enlightened and forward-thinking forces that care about the application of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights raise their voices, in solidarity and support of all religious minorities alike--those within the Judaic, Christian and Muslim religions and those without--calling for the lifting of oppression from these minorities and the integration of their citizenship in the political, social, cultural and religious life of society, the same as all citizens whose rights are upheld by the observed laws and constitutions.

The Bahá’í order is a religious, world-wide, humane, peaceful and tolerant order in its principles, rites and daily observances as well as its attitude to other religions. To wage war against it and harass it is an unethical act that contradicts the spirit of Islam and its lofty ideals of treating other religions with tolerance and humane Islamic virtues, encapsulated in the spirit of [this verse]: “Wherefore have you enslaved people when their mothers have birthed them free?” The age of slavery has gone for ever; let the hands and minds and consciences of all the religions on earth be raised up in dialogue, love and brotherly solidarity for the sake of human justice and against tyranny, persecution and enslaving other rights and religions.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Symposium on the Rights of Baha'is

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) conducted a symposium on 26 December 2006 regarding the civil rights crisis being currently faced by the Egyptian Baha'is. A full report on the symposium can be seen in Arabic at this link, and in English at this link.

Below is a translation of this report prepared by one of the regular readers of this blog.

"The Government created the problem for the Baha'is...and it alone has to find a solution."


The decision of the Supreme Administrative Court in mid December 2006 to over-rule the verdict issued in April of the same year by the first circle Administrative Court which had confirmed the right of the Baha'is to list their religion in official state papers and personal ID cards, raised many fears concerning freedom of belief and freedom of thought in the Egyptian society. This [fear] was reflected in the discussions that took place in a meeting held on December 24 with the title "The dilemma of the freedom of belief in relation to the ruling of the High Administrative Court in the Baha'i case."

Mu'taz Alfigairi, president of the Centre's programs said: "The ruling went beyond the freedom of belief, to [ruling] on the Baha'i system of belief," expressing that the reactions to this case, gives a good indication of the dilemma present in the current political and social atmosphere prevalent in Egypt.

Hisham Ahmad Saif-ul-Islam president of the Hisham Mubarak Center for Law, added that this ruling, and the general issue of the Baha'is have brought to the foreground, the discussion on freedom of belief in Egypt in general, pointing out that the Egyptian constitution protects such freedoms of belief and expression. Saif-ul-Islam continued by saying that the government alone has to find a solution to this problem which, by itself it has created after refusing to issue the Baha'is the legal papers necessary for identification, which are very necessary in their daily transactions, such as passports, and ID cards. He sees that the solution is to eliminate the space for religion from the ID card, or to go back to using the word "other" (other than Islam, Christianity or Judaism), pointing out that the present condition for the Baha'is puts them in a state of "Civil Death/Non Existence," for not being able to submit proof of their existence in official forms and records.

Hossam Bahgat, president of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights [EIPR] sees that "the ruling of the High Administrative Court not to allow Baha'is to be identified as such in official documents, puts the government in a difficult position in regards to Baha'i citizens being unable to obtain birth certificates or ID cards or even death certificates," and considers that human rights organizations were late in getting involved in this case.

Bahgat added that the Baha'is were subjected in the Eighties and Nineties to very difficult conditions including arrests and imprisonments as well as media campaigns targeting even their morals. He emphasized that the latest ruling does not mean that the case is concluded, and that human rights organizations will continue to bring new cases and legal proceedings regarding the same issue, making sure to avoid earlier mistakes that might have occurred. Bahgat emphasized that Islamic law accords justice to the Baha'is as do books on Islamic jurisprudence, pointing out that those who defended the Baha'is have taken advantage of this argument before the court, however the court did not take it into consideration. He also pointed out that the ruling considered Islamic Law to be the basis for legislation as well as the basis for all moral values of society, thus presenting difficulties for all future cases that deal with freedom of belief.

He emphasized that for the society's majority not to have been granted all rights, does not present an excuse or justify taking away the rights of the minority, pointing out that the Islamic current [movement] did not have the Baha'i case on its agenda, but rather it was the ruling National Party that brought the case to the Parliament, and not the representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dr. Ahmad Rasim Al-Nafis, a university professor and Islamic thinker of the Shiite school of thought, addressed the issue of freedom of belief and human rights, and pointed out that there are intellectual "taboos" that some see as sacred while in reality they are points of argument and discussion that people have not agreed on as some might have imagined.

Al-Nafis pointed out that there are large communities of Muslims who live as minorities in other non-Islamic and non-Christian (i.e. not of "the Book") countries such as India, which brings up the question of how they can for example implement laws such as those for apostasy in these societies where they live. He said that it is incumbent upon Muslims to abide by the laws and keep their covenants and obligations, whether these are in the form of local laws or international treaties that their governments have agreed to, such as the agreements on freedom of belief and human rights, adding that, just like the west uses double standards, so do Islamic countries use double standards just as much.

Al-Nafis confirmed that there is not an established specific punishment for apostasy in the Qur'an, and that the Qur'anic verses just speak of God's punishment in the afterlife regarding it. He wondered why there is a tendency in the Islamic world for "being ready to jump at" wanting to punish and make an example of anyone who steps out the established system. He said that the war on Shi'ism and the Shiites enticed government officials and their helpers to establish a creed based on "iron and fire," cautioning that there are some now who are trying to establish a new class of sheikhs [clergy] who will become the "defenders of the belief." He emphasized that giving any segment in society the right to try others for their beliefs and thoughts rather than their mere adherence to the laws of the country, would constitute a catastrophe that should be opposed and stopped.

Dr. Basma Moussa–-an Egyptian Baha'i--and professor of dental medicine at Cairo University, addressed the root causes of the current situation facing the Baha'is. She traced it back to an attempt in 2004 by a Baha'i engineer [Hossam Ezzat] to obtain official documents for himself and his family after the civil authorities refused to register him as Baha'i, based on ruling numbered 49 in the year 2004 that stipulates recording one of the three religions--Islam, Christianity, or Judaism--in official documents, forcing the said engineer to file a lawsuit where he obtained a ruling by councilor [judge] Farooq Abdul-Qadir that he can document that he is a Baha'i in his personal ID card.

Hossam Ezzat's Old ID Card [CONFISCATED]

She emphasized that the media handled this in a negative way in more than 400 articles and news items in over 50 newspapers and magazines that used unusual methods of reporting while heaping numerous insults and calumnies on the Baha'is and their Faith.

Basma pointed out that the Baha'is are asking for their rights as citizens and were not trying to obtain a recognition of their religion. She said that there are Baha'i children as old as 14 years of age who have yet to obtain birth certificates, besides they have not been able to get the various immunizations required in children. She wondered how society could handle thousands of citizens walking in the streets without official documents as she also wondered if the United Nations would place this case on its agenda since it has declared the year 2007 to be the "Year of Rights."

In comments from the audience, Hamdi Abdul-Aziz director of the Suwayseiya Center Against Discrimination tied the case of the Baha'is to what he described as the "tyranny" that has corrupted religion and civil life together, saying that rights of citizens should be demanded for all and not only for minorities, pointing out that the majority also suffers from these abuses, just as the minority does. Ayman Akeel president of Na'eit Centre for Legal Studies called for organizing a campaign for the actual implementation of international treaties that Egypt is already a signatory to.

Amin Abul-Futooh Batah--a Baha'i--pointed out that the Baha'i religion has been in Egypt since 1864 and had centres and administrative bodies in about 17 cities in Egypt, clarifying that the Baha'i issue was presented in a bad light to the late President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, who in turn issued his decree to dissolve Baha'i Assemblies [Institutions]. Battah added: "We accept Islam, and its Prophet, and the Books of God and His Messengers, but we also believe that the Baha'i [Faith] is a new religion and that [Baha'u'llah] is the awaited Mahdi [Promised One], pointing out that Baha'is are not asking for recognition of their religion but rather are asking for their rights as citizens, who must be provided with official papers proving that they are indeed Egyptian citizens. Along the same line, a Baha'i lady talked about her son who is in his second year in college and does not have an ID card, and about her second son, who has passed the age of 14 years, who does not have a birth certificate yet.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Egypt: US Reaction to the 16 December Verdict

Following the 16 December 2006 verdict of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court verdict denying Egyptian Baha'is their civil rights, the United States Government has reacted to the ruling on two separate occasions.

The first was a statement made during the daily State Department briefing by Mr. Sean McCormack on 18 December 2006. The second was in the form of a letter written by two Congressmen on 22 December 2006 to Egypt's Ambassador to the United States.

The first statement can be found at this link, and a video of the briefing can be viewed at this link, with the specific reference to the Baha'i case beginning near the 45 minutes mark of the video.

It is also transcribed here:

QUESTION: Sean, one on Egypt. Do you have any reaction on the December 16 ruling by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court that returned an April 4 lower court ruling which had affirmed the right of Egyptian Baha'is to receive government identity cards?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, it is certainly a ruling that flies in the face of stated Egyptian commitments to freedom of expression, freedom of religion. We would hope that the Egyptian Government would take steps that would allow people of the Baha'i faith to obtain these identification cards. Not being able to get a hold of these identification cards poses all sorts of difficulties for individuals in getting things done in daily life. So we would urge the Egyptian Government really to address this issue. It's really a fundamental issue of religious freedom.

The second reaction was in the form of a letter co-signed by the US Congress Representatives Mark Steven Kirk from Illinois and Tom Lantos from California. The letter was addressed to His Excellency M. Nabil Fahmy, Ambassador of Egypt to the United States.

An introduction to the letter by Representative Kirk and a link to the letter can be viewed at this link. The introduction states the following:

December 23, 2006

Religious Freedom for Bahai’s in Egypt

This holiday weekend serves as a reminder of the importance of our world’s religions to worship free from persecution. That’s why I became alarmed when I learned of the action the Government of Egypt recently took towards the small Egyptian Baha’i community. The Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt decided last Saturday to uphold the Egyptian government’s discriminatory policy of prohibiting Baha’is from obtaining a national identity card. The court’s ruling denies Egyptian Baha’is their rights as citizens of Egypt and would subject them to particular hardship in obtaining education, employment, and social services.

I joined with Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) to write a letter to the Egyptian Ambassador to the United States, expressing disappointment at the court’s decision and urging the Egyptian government to remedy the situation.

The letter is transcribed below:

Congress of the United States
Washington, DC 20515

December 22, 2006

His Excellency M. Nabil Fahmy
Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Court, NW
Washington DC 20008

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

We are writing to express our disappointment upon learning of the December 16 Supreme Administrative Court of Egypt ruling against the Baha'i community. As you know, the court decision upholds the government policy which forces the Baha'is either to lie about their religious beliefs or to be prevented from obtaining state identification cards. Without identification cards, Egyptian Baha'is lose access to most citizenship rights, including education, financial services and medical care.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruling overturns a decision by a lower administrative court that Baha'is have the right to obtain government-issued identification documents which accurately state their religion. This decision was appealed by the government.

The Baha'is in Egypt do not ask for special treatment. They have offered to leave the religion space on the identification card blank, to make a dash, or to write "other." The government has denied each of these requests.

The Baha'is are Egyptian citizens. Egypt is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Egyptian Constitution stipulates religious freedom for all Egyptian citizens.

We urge the Egyptian government immediately--before the deadline of December 31, 2006--to take action to remedy this situation so that the Baha'is may be treated justly as Egyptian citizens. As the Chairman of the International Relations Committee and a member of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, we hope the issue of religious freedom for Baha'is in Egypt will not interfere with our important mutual priorities in the upcoming 110th Congress.

We look forward to your kind and prompt reply.


Mark Steven Kirk
Member of Congress

Tom Lantos
Member of Congress