Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Iran/Egypt: Same Rhetoric Against Baha'is

This is a recording of the ABC television program 20/20 aired approximately in 1983 on the persecution of Iranian Baha'is.

As of today, the Baha'is of Iran continue to be systematically persecuted and harassed. There is also a frightening resemblance between the rhetoric that has been used in Iran and that which is used now in Egypt.

This film contains shocking and disturbing accounts and images.

If you are unable to view the video below, please click here....

15 min 45 sec - Feb 23, 2007
Average rating: (8 ratings)
Description: ABC's 20/20 TV show - persecution of Iranian Baha'is - originally aired about 1980 [sic]. When Khomeini returned to Iran from exile in France he stated that he had two objectives. 1- the elimination of the Shah and 2- the elimination of the Baha'is. This TV report details some of the shocking details of the implementation of the plan to destroy the Baha'i Community of Iran. Amnesty International, in the early 1980s, listed the persecution of the Baha'is by the government of Iran as the most serious human rights violation on earth. The persecutions continue today.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ayyam-i-Ha = Intercalary Days

The following quote gives an explanation of the current festive days celebrated by the Baha'is worldwide:

"Known as the Ayyam-i-Ha (the Days of Ha), the Intercalary Days have the distinction of being associated with "the letter Ha". The abjad numerical value of this Arabic letter is five, which corresponds to the potential number of intercalary days. The letter "Ha" has been given several spiritual meanings in the Holy Writings, among which is as a symbol of the Essence of God."
(Kitab-i-Aqdas p. 178)

And below is an article published four years ago in the Baha'i World News Service. In addition to clarifying the meaning of this period of celebration, the article provides a glimpse of the multitude of ways Baha'is from around the world tend to celebrate these days according to their individual cultures and preferences:

Festival serves as preparation for fast

SINGAPORE, 25 February 2003 (BWNS) -- Baha'is in more than 200 countries and territories are celebrating a four-day festival involving hospitality, gift giving, charity and social gatherings.

The festival, which runs from the evening of 25 February until sunset on 1 March, serves as a spiritual preparation for a fast during the last month of the Baha'is calendar, which begins on March 2 and ends on March 20.

Celebrations of Ayyam-i-Ha, as the festival is called, are taking different forms in different locations. In Singapore, for example, Baha'is are observing Ayyam-i-Ha with a blood donation drive and a picnic for families in a beachside park.

In Hungary, Baha'is plan to celebrate the festival with a musical program and a costume party for children in the Hungarian Culture Foundation building in Budapest.

In Milford, New Hampshire, in the United States, the Baha'is have invited friends and neighbors to join them for devotions and then entertainment, which will include learning a local folk dance, watching jugglers, enjoying music, and gift-giving.

The Baha'i calendar was initiated by the Bab, the Forerunner of the Faith's Prophet-Founder, Baha'u'llah, who later confirmed it.

The calendar comprises 19 months of 19 days. The Ayyam-i-Ha festival falls on the four days (five in a leap year) needed to balance out the solar year of 365 days. The time of this festival is also known as "Intercalary Days".

Of this period Baha'u'llah writes: "It behoveth the people of Baha, throughout these days, to provide good cheer for themselves, their kindred and, beyond them, the poor and needy, and with joy and exultation to hail and glorify their Lord, to sing His praise and magnify His Name."

During the fast which follows, Baha'is abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset as a reminder of the need for individuals to control their material desires. It is seen as a time of meditation and prayer during which Baha'is refresh and reinvigorate themselves spiritually.

There are exemptions from the fast for the young and elderly, and for those who are pregnant, ill or who are engaging in heavy work.

The fasting period ends with the joyous Naw Ruz (New Year) festival, which begins at sunset on March 20.

BWC-MD-03 02 25 -1-INTERCALARY-194-N

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cultivate Beauty & Love for Humankind!

The annual Baha'i fast begins on the second day of March. Baha'is abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for nineteen days. They celebrate the Baha'i New Year at the conclusion of the fast on the twenty-first of March.

"Praise be to Thee, O Lord my God! I beseech Thee by this Revelation whereby darkness hath been turned into light, through which the Frequented Fane hath been built, and the Written Tablet revealed, and the Outspread Roll uncovered, to send down upon me and upon them who are in my company that which will enable us to soar into the heavens of Thy transcendent glory, and will wash us from the stain of such doubts as have hindered the suspicious from entering into the tabernacle of Thy unity.

I am the one, O my Lord, who hath held fast the cord of Thy loving-kindness, and clung to the hem of Thy mercy and favors. Do Thou ordain for me and for my loved ones the good of this world and of the world to come. Supply them, then, with the Hidden Gift Thou didst ordain for the choicest among Thy creatures.

These are, O my Lord, the days in which Thou hast bidden Thy servants to observe the fast. Blessed is he that observeth the fast wholly for Thy sake and with absolute detachment from all things except Thee. Assist me and assist them, O my Lord, to obey Thee and to keep Thy precepts. Thou, verily, hast power to do what Thou choosest.

There is no God but Thee, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. All praise be to God, the Lord of all worlds."

(Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha'u'llah, p. 9)

Friday, February 23, 2007

Cairo Institute for Human Rights: Position Paper

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies has recently published an English translation of the Arabic version of a Position Paper on The Baha'i Case in relation to citizenship and freedom of belief authored by Ahmed Zaki Osman, a member of the Institute. The paper is entitled "The Baha'i Case as an Ordeal of Citizenship and Freedom of Belief in Egypt" and initially published on 16 January 2007.

The full unedited text is posted below and the link for the English version of the Position Paper can be accessed here....

The Baha'i Case as an Ordeal of Citizenship and Freedom of Belief in Egypt (Position Paper)

On November 28th 2002, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) presented its Concluding observations on the third and fourth reports submitted by the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt. The HRC pointed out to subjects of concern including practices in breach of Article (18) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), concerning the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and of observing Baha'i rituals . The reply drafted by the Egyptian government (which was incorporated within the third and fourth reports) was obsessed with dealing with the political embarrassment caused by the Committee's observations on the second report of the Egyptian government. Furthermore, the Egyptian government is fairly hypersensitive about making any pledges that would close the door before arbitrary practices by the Executive Estate with regard to the general situation of freedom of belief in Egypt. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that in its official response, the Egyptian government alleged that it has never undermined the Baha'is freedom of belief, that it hasn't restricted their freedom to embrace this faith, and that what happened was an attempt to implement provisions of Law No 263 of 1960 on disbanding Baha'i congregations because they were breaching public order.

This suspension was given a legal cloak with the "public order" justification, which came on top of government justifications geared toward restricting the freedom of members of the Baha'i faith, emerging quite strongly in the recent couple of years, with vehement public debate around the Baha'i faith and the limits of practices related to freedom of belief. This debate overlapped with the situation of religious freedom of other confessions in Egypt. The state of vehemence came in the aftermath of a lawsuit reviewed by Egyptian law courts, which was one among many frequent cases focusing on the regulation of legal procedures of members of the Baha'i faith--rather than their freedom to observe their rituals--concerning the statement of "Baha'i or other religions" on official documents (passports, birth certificates, new computerized identity cards). In this connection, the court ruling in lawsuit No 24044 of the year 1985 entitled members of the Baha'i faith to state their religious belief on official documents. The legal reasoning of this court ruling was clearly congruent with another ruling made by the Supreme Administrative Court in 1983 in a similar case as its counterpart presented before the court of law in 2004.

The 1983 lawsuit betrays the distinguishing features of legal and jurisprudential frameworks affecting the situation of Baha'is in Egypt. In sum, this lawsuit concerned the case of a Baha'i university student who was denied access to a computerized personal ID card by the Alexandria civil registration office, which culminated with the suspension of this student from his faculty in his senior year (because he could not defer military conscription as he was not allowed to renew his exemption from military service without the ID card). Following the suspension decision, the student's guardian filed a lawsuit before the Administrative court on December 8th 1976, requesting the invalidation of the decision of the Montazah district civil registration office not to issue a personal identity card to his son.

Three years after the legal action, the Administrative Court of Alexandria decided on May 16th 1979 (lawsuit No 84 of the year 31) to dismiss the case. In its reasoning for dismissal, the court mentioned that whereas Muslim Shari'a principles are the fundamental source of legislation, other constitutional provisions pertaining to freedom of belief, non-discrimination on the basis of religion or belief should be regarded "insofar as Islam permits it and in such a way as not to contravene its precepts or contradict its provisions". However, the court did not specify the limits that Islam permits. Furthermore, the court went beyond its original role of "settling disputes" to practice another more general function, namely putting the belief itself to trial (a situation that might be recurrent later in the form of prosecution of members of either another divine religion or any other faith or confession). For instance, the reasoning mentioned that "Baha'ism contradicts divine religions". Accordingly, the court approved the decision of the civil registration office, which refrained from issuing the ID card and deemed it as "a correct and sound decision", and that the decision to suspend the student from his faculty "is based on a justifiable reason, and therefore the request to invalidate the decision should be dismissed".

However, four years after this unusual ruling, the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court on January 29th 1983 (i.e. almost seven full years after the incident of refusal of the civil registration office) in the appeal to the decision of the lower administrative court fell in the paradox of either permitting full practice of the right on the one hand or unjustifiably restricting this right on the other. Hence, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed the "dissonant" decision of the lower administrative court of Alexandria. One of the "exceptional" grounds on which the ruling was based was that the Baha'i congregations that were dissolved as per Law No 263 of 1960 were administrative bodies, which are totally distinguished from "Baha'i activities and practices", especially that the legislator did not deal with the theology itself, as its "sanctity is ensured". Furthermore, the Court emphasized that "the Abode of Islam encompassed non-Muslims of different faiths and confessions, where they lived as full citizens on equal footing with other people without being coerced to convert to another religion or modify their beliefs". However, and unfortunately, the Court linked this evenhanded interpretation with a stipulation that the rites and rituals publicly practiced by other religions should be approved by "the government of Islam", and restricted the right to publicly practice such rites to "the customs and traditions of the People of the Book (i.e. Jews and Christians) known to Muslims in Egypt". The Court undertook a very serious course when it stipulated that the Baha'i faith should necessarily be identified on official documents, not because this is their right but "to identify the affiliation of its beholder and that he/she would not be allowed any legal position not condoned to this faith by the Muslim community".

Despite the fact that this ruling did not fulfill the needs and claims of individuals regarding maximum freedom to practice religious rituals, and that it was discriminatory on the basis of religion, it represented an important turning point in the legal debate over the situation of the Baha'is in Egypt. Actually, this judgment was used as a ground for bringing legal action No 24044 of the year 1985, whereas the Administrative Court pronounced on April 4th 2006 its ruling that the Baha'i community was entitled to lawfully declare their faith on official documents.

The 4th of April ruling was distinguished from other rulings because it stirred up severely violent reactions either in official or party newspapers. However, the most important opposing reaction came nearly a month after the court ruling was pronounced, specifically on the third of May, when the People's Assembly Speaker decided to open the discussion on a subject that was not on the agenda, namely the court ruling pronounced by the administrative court on the 4th of April 2006, that the Civil Registry (an affiliated body of the Ministry of Interior) should lawfully acknowledge the Baha'i faith in official documents. The People's Assembly reviewed petitions filed by seven MP's, namely Ahmed Shoubeir, Sobhi Saleh, Akram Al Shaer, Ali Laban, Al Sayed Askar, Zakaria Younes and Mohamed Amer Helmy. Those petitions were presented to the Minister of Religious Endowments, i.e. a minister having no relation with or jurisdiction over the case (Civil Registration is the competent authority, which is subordinate to the administrative authority of the Ministry of Interior).

The problem lies not only in the wrong choice of the minister in charge of the case, but the more serious situation is also that the petitioners relied quite unusually on very fragile and ambiguous information. Some of them was merely satisfied with instigating the government against Baha'is, while others like Sobhi Moussa called upon "government, represented in the Ministry of Endowments, Al-Azhar and competent ministries to challenge the ruling and intervene in the lawsuit with information proving that the Baha'is are atheists, apostates, and that such judgments were reached by consensus of the Muslim community (umma). Furthermore, This group should be incriminated or legislation should be enacted to criminalize the thoughts and rituals of the Baha'is so as not to open the door for the corruption of the doctrines, beliefs, and ethics of people, especially that this devious and perverse group embraces principles that violate the general morals, ethics, doctrines and thoughts and thus could demolish public order and ethics in society". In other words, this MP reduced the role of state institutions, which are supposed to be neutral, to putting individual beliefs to trial. This stringent attitude of the People's Assembly created a severely congested situation regarding the role of state bodies in restricting individual freedoms, which further underpinned the situation of the Ministry of Interior in its appeal against the ruling of the Administrative Court.

Then came The Day: 16th of December 2006, a day which carried with it a "shocking" ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court, presided by Counselor Al Sayed Noufal, Head of State Council. The shock stemmed from the fact that the court ruling contrasted Baha'i teachings with Islamic precepts. The reasoning ridiculed in large part the Baha'i faith, apart from the corrupt logical inferences from some laws and rulings of judiciary institutions, for instance the State Supreme Court ruling of March 1st 1975 . Finally, the arguments indicated that the interpretation of Article 46 of the 1971 Constitution on the freedom to practice religious rites applies only to the three divine religions, which is totally at odds with the case at hand. The latter was not totally concerned with the freedom to practice religious rites but was seeking an outlet to the predicament of the Egyptian Ministry of Interior's denial to some members of the Baha'i faith the right to issue official documents. Furthermore, the court adopted a very peculiar approach, legally speaking, when it interpreted provisions related to freedom of belief in Egyptian successive constitutions (starting from the 1923 Constitution) through the preparatory works of the constitutions, so as to refer solely to the three divine religions. However, this interpretation is not based on historical evidence especially that Egyptian legislators have never attempted to produce statistics on the number of religions and faiths permitted within the country. The Parliament (House of Representatives and the Senate) were thus urged to enact Law No 15 of the year 1927 on the King's authority regarding religious institutions and on permissible religious faiths . This law meant quite evidently that "permissible religions" and the regulatory matters related thereto were procedural affairs legally subject to the powers of the king and which the Prime Minister could exercise (according to Articles 1 and 3 of Law No 15 of 1927).

The Supreme Administrative Court Ruling: A Gate to Further Legal Controversies

The most recent court ruling represents a marked threat to civil pillars of the Egyptian state, and places several restrictions on the exercise of public freedoms, which would later culminate with a crisis (not exclusively at the level of efficiency and performance of state institutions) but rather a crisis in the management of public procedures within the state. For instance, according to the December 2006 ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court, the State does not acknowledge except three religions, which contravenes both aggregately and in detail the legal structure regulating the acquisition of Egyptian nationality, especially that the first law regulating this matter was enacted in the second decade of the twentieth century , and was semi-civil. In other words, the requirement of espousing one of the three divine religions was not set as a condition for acquiring the Egyptian nationality, which is the legal tradition adopted by the law regulating the Egyptian nationality currently in force (Law No 26 of the year 1975), Article (11). This means that any individual espousing any faith or religion (divine or not) and fulfilling the requirements of Article 11 of Law No 26/1975 is entitled to the Egyptian nationality, and thus is obliged as per provisions of Law No 143 of the year 1994, to issue several official documents where he/she would state his/her faith or religion. Herein lies the impasse facing state institutions, since according to the Supreme Administrative Court ruling (of 2006), registering any "other" religion (other than the three divine religions) is a breach of the law. In case the civil registration office refuses to register "other" religions, the outcome would be an evident contravention of Article (40) of the 1971 Constitution, which provides that "All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed".

How to Transcend the Debate on the Structure of Beliefs:

In the crisis of the Baha'is, the Three Estates agreed that Baha'ism was not Islam, a matter that is beyond the scope of the issue itself and represents a departure from the role of the civil state, namely to "legislate" in support of creating structures of a religious state, founded on "fatwa" (legal religious opinion). Most of the fatwa related to Baha'is focus on one premise, namely that the Baha'i faith is a defection from Islam (for instance, the fatwa delivered by the Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Abdul Majeed Selim in 1939 and that of Sheikh Jad Al Haq Ali Jad Al Haq in 1981) . This state of affairs raises a serious problem regarding the role of the fatwa institution in influencing the legal rule-making, approval of legal rules and litigation pertaining thereto, especially that such legal or advisory opinion denies the concept of citizenship and the civil pillars of the Egyptian State. On the other hand, the pattern of political exploitation and manipulation of the fatwa for political ends and for justifying state practices against the Baha'is is severely mounting. This in fact gives more preponderance to political and social rhetoric based on putting beliefs to trial. Nevertheless, it is important to pinpoint the political role played by some social, political and media authorities, which was quite uncommon, through their action geared toward alleviating the intensity of religious polarization over the issue. Even though the general atmosphere was quite congested, with the intensive emergence of religious-related crises (hijab or head veil, and Copts), independent newspapers' concern with the Baha'i case was a new opportunity for a reading of this issue from other perspectives, thus focusing on rights rather than the nature of the creed.

Egyptian bloggers were also concerned with this phenomenon, which was an opportunity to engage in a political debate on various blogs, which became an open panel for exchanging opinions and attitudes. Bloggers attempted to create an unofficial network of defenders of the right of the Baha'is to lawfully register their religion on official documents (such as the symbolic demonstration on the day of the pronunciation of the court ruling). Finally, the interest exhibited by some human rights organizations, such as the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights EIPR), paved the way for bringing pressure to bear, though in a different pattern, and deal with the issue to project a different perspective on the freedom of belief , a perspective that invalidates other security or jurisprudential justifications. These organizations offered their legal expertise and focused on the core obligations of the Egyptian State ensuing from international human rights conventions that Egypt is a Party thereto.

To conclude, it is noteworthy that the Supreme Administrative Court ruling gave rise to a new dilemma for the Egyptian government: a group of Egyptian citizens rendered faithless and stateless, denied the right to possess official documents. This will naturally open the door incessantly for recurrent issues to appear on the surface, let alone the potential role that international and regional mechanisms might play to exert pressure on the Egyptian government to thwart its discriminatory practices against freedom of religion and of belief.

* Research paper prepared by Ahmed Zaki Osman, Researcher at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

PDF Files
The Baha'I Case as an Ordeal of Citizenship and Freedom of Belief in Egypt (Position Paper)-Arabic
The Baha'I Case as an Ordeal of Citizenship and Freedom of Belief in Egypt (Position Paper)-English

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Washington Post on the Rights of Egyptian Baha'is

A Reuters story by Cynthia Johnston regarding the Baha'is in Egypt was published in the Washington Post on 20 February 2006. The article entitled "Baha'is in Egypt fight for recognition as people" describes the daily personal struggle of the Baha'is living in Egypt precipitated by their inability to obtain ID cards and be treated as equal citizens in their own homeland.

This report is very well researched, balanced and objective. In addition to the Baha'is interviewed, it reported on certain historical facts regarding the continuing challenges facing the Baha'is in Egypt.

The reporter also interviewed others including Diane Ala'i, the Geneva-based Baha'i representative to the United Nations who said "If this policy continues, Baha'is will be in a way fifth-class citizens, or even non-citizens, in their own country;" Hala Mustafa, editor of al-Ahram Quarterly Democracy Review who stated "the new restrictions were imposed as Egypt was becoming more religiously conservative," and said she "saw no signs that the government would change its view of Baha'is soon;" an Interior Ministry spokesman who stated "rulings were issued in this matter that there are to be no identity cards issued for this Baha'i religion. I mean that's forbidden. It's a court ruling, not us. We are just implementing it;" and Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and an outspoken humans rights activist who said "it is a step backward for the Baha'i community...."

To read the article, please click here....

Egypt: Demise of Academic Intellectual Integrity

A professor at the Faculty of Arts and Letters in Alexandria University used a formal course on Human Rights that he has been teaching in order to foment fear and spread misinformation on the Baha'i Faith to his students.

For his course he had published an 84 page textbook in which he attacked the Baha'i Faith in four of its pages under the disguise of human rights education.

In his introduction on this specific subject, he used the following chapter title in order to introduce his learned opinion on the Baha'i Faith: "The rights of humans to freedom of belief and religion protected by the Administrative Court."

The opinion and stand of Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court on the Baha'i Faith is very well-known by now and is clearly understood by all who have been following this case closely.

However, one is at a loss to comprehend how this professor appears to succeed in convincing himself--and perhaps his students--that the Supreme Court's opinion had indeed ruled in favor of protecting the rights to freedom of belief and religion in denying them the right to obtain ID cards!

How could he use this as an example of the protection of human rights in Egypt?

In his four pages (out of 84) he repeats the exact disinformation, now familiar to many, and propagated by the supreme court as well as the extremists in Egypt. When he administered the final examination to his students (see copy at the end of this post), one out of the total three essay-type questions asked the students the following:

"The Supreme Administrative Court's ruling [16 December 2006] which happened during the course of our lectures on the status of the Baha'iyah in Egypt affirmed the old judicial direction that you have studied. Describe your understanding, from the lectures, of its judicial rulings and the principles applied by the administrative court in that regard. You should then expose the consequences of these judicial decisions influencing it [Baha'iyah]; mentioning examples of the protection provided by the court; concluding your answer by specifying when and where it [Baha'iyah] originated and what its goals are according to your understanding of the lectures."

This professor, under the guise and protection of academic freedom, has been teaching a course on human rights. He has been providing misinformation to his students on the history, the principles and the teachings of the Baha'i Faith. He informed his students that the Baha'is are a threat to the "public order" and the security of the country.

He published this information in his course-book and had copied several statements from previous court rulings and fatwas that have been propagated by the media for several decades. He had not exerted any discernible effort to investigate the truth for himself or for his students. By doing so, he presented his students with one-sided and clearly biased view of a supposedly academic subject, thus violating the principles of the Institution's intellectual integrity.

The students were not well served by this for two reasons: 1) they were not exposed to any scientific methodology in their research and education, and 2) they were taught falsehood that might remain with them for the rest of their careers. Additionally, they knew that in order to avoid failing that examination they were under the obligation to present their answers in accordance with the misinformation given to them by their professor, reinforcing the falsehood and ignorance.

Alexandria University was known to be a highly respected institution. In the ancient days, it was the world's first educational institution of its kind and was linked to the famous Alexandria library. It ceased to exist for several centuries until it was re-opened in the 1940s and has been a leading educational institution for several decades afterwards.

It may be time for the leaders of this respected institution of higher learning to have a close look at their teaching faculty to ensure their proper qualifications and proper motives to teach young minds and to maintain its scientific and intellectual integrity it has been well known for.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Prominent Legal Minds on the Rights of Egyptian Baha'is

In Britain's newspaper, the Guardian on 13 February 2007 under a special report on Egypt, a number of respected lawyers and prominent legal scholars from the UK, Europe and the US made a courageous public stand regarding their position on the matter of the civil rights of Egyptian Baha'is.

The exact text of the statement of these leading legal authorities is posted below:

ID cards and Egypt

Tuesday February 13, 2007
The Guardian

As experienced lawyers we have serious concerns over the ID-card policy in Egypt, which requires Baha'is, and followers of some other religions, to deny their religion to obtain the mandatory card. Not wishing to lie, Baha'is cannot obtain ID cards and so are denied access to government services, such as medical care and education, cannot register marriages, births, divorces or property transactions, and cannot obtain passports. They are also subject to the threat of detention if the police ask them to show their card. This policy is inconsistent with Egypt's obligations under international law.

Prof Ilias Bantekas Brunel University, Benedetto Conforti former judge, European court of human rights, Prof Guy Goodwin-Gill All Souls College, Oxford, Prof Mark Janis University of Connecticut, Prof Jeffrey Jowell QC University College London, Prof Matthew Kramer University of Cambridge, Prof Dan Sarooshi University of Oxford, Prof Malcolm Shaw QC University of Leicester

Friday, February 16, 2007

Three Children: No Birth Certificates -- No Rights

Here is another example of the egregious violations of basic civil and human rights of the Egyptian Baha'is.

These are three Egyptian children deprived of their basic rights simply because they have Baha'i parents. The siblings, 5-year old Asser and 4-year old Sandrella Hany Ahmed Mousa, and their 1-year old cousin Mona Dia el-Deen Ahmed Mousa were born in the city of Ismailia located in the Suez Canal region of the country.

Starting five years ago with the birth of Asser, the parents of these children have been trying all means available to them to obtain birth certificates but had nothing in return except for denials and mockery.

In a complaint addressed to Egypt's National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the National Council for Human Rights, the parents described the rejection and the humiliation they have been subjected to in their attempts to obtain birth certificates for their children. They also stated that they have been refused vaccination and schooling for their children as a consequence of the denial of birth certificates.

The reasons given to the parents as a justification for the denials are 1) the parents have no family ID cards and 2) their Baha'i marriage certificates are not recognized as valid in Egypt. Thus they do not exist as seen by the civil authorities governing these personal status matters.

After appealing to the various governmental agencies that sent them back to the the office of registration in Ismailia, they were told by the office employee that the deadline for registering their children had passed the required 15 days within which registration must have been completed, thus there was nothing he could do to help them.

In addition to being deprived of their right to education, the lack of vaccination--which is government-controlled in Egypt--makes these children susceptible to all childhood dangerous diseases, including Poliomyelitis, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Small Pox, Whooping Cough, Tuberculosis and Measles. They are also vulnerable to other diseases prevalent in that region such as Typhoid Fever, and Hepatitis-A & B.

When one of the parents respectfully asked the director of the Ismailia Public Health Authority: "if one of these children dies, would he or she be issued a death certificate?" In response, the man answered mockingly while swaying his head and smiling: "I'll give you a death certificate immediately, but I would never give you a birth certificate."

These three innocent children remain without recognition within their own homeland. All attempts at registering them have failed. They have been deprived of all due services by a government that is under the obligation to preserve the dignity, the rights to health care, the rights to education and the rights to citizenship to all its citizens as guaranteed by the State's constitution, and all universal treaties and declarations on human rights.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Egypt: Cabinet Minister on the Tail of Chief Justice

After one of Egypt's cabinet ministers attacked the Egyptian Baha'is during a parliamentary session, documented in Nahdet Masr newspaper on 11 February 2007, an Egyptian Baha'i couple wrote a letter of protest to President Hosni Mubarak asking for justice and protection.

Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzouk, Minister of Awqaf [Religious Endowment] has not only repeated the same falsehood and misrepresentations that were propagated by the Supreme Administrative Court's Chief Justice Nofal just a day earlier, but he leaped further affirming the Ministry's previous calls to annihilate the Baha'is by making the following inflammatory statement:

"al-Azhar urges those in authority to stand firm against this wrongful congregation which is against the Faith of God and the public order of this society. The judgement of God must be executed against it, the law it deserves must be enforced and must be interred with the dust [dirt] heaped over it together with its teachings. This is protection for all citizens from its apostasy, and its beliefs that are deviant from God's straight path. Those who have committed crimes against the truth [rights] of Islam and their nation, must disappear from life so they will not dare estrange themselves from Islam."

He even urged the religious, executive and judicial authorities to expedite such actions against the Baha'is.

An Arabic language blog entitled "Egyptian Baha'i" has eloquently responded to and refuted Zaqzouk's statements. This post can be seen at this link.

Today, an Egyptian Baha'i couple faxed a letter to Egypt's president Mr. Hosni Mubarak urging him, as the father of the nation, to look after his loyal and law-abiding citizens and to protect them from such malicious attacks, rumors and unjustified atrocities.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Update on the German University Case

Today's edition of an independent Egyptian newspaper named al-Nabaa al-Watany reported on the most recent developments regarding the case of Basem Wagdy who was fired from the German University in Cairo because he is a Baha'i.

The article is entitled "German Parliament Interferes to Return a Baha'i Physics Teacher to His Position in the German University in Cairo."

Interestingly, the article is subtitled "Even though the curtain had fallen on the Baha'i case internally as a result of the ruling of the Supreme Administrative Court which denied their right to register themselves as Baha'is on IDs, it is clear however that the case did not end according to the external [foreign] standards."

It reports that members of the German Parliament and university professors succeeded in convincing Chancellor Angela Merkel to exert pressure on President Mubarak, during her State visit to Egypt early last week, to guarantee the rights of the Baha'is and find a solution to their dilemma. It also relates that according to its sources university professors, who have acted after receiving information on the case, began a campaign that ultimately grabbed the attention of Member of the Parliament Lale Akgün who brought it to the attention of the Parliament.

Except for a few inaccuracies here and there (likely due interpretation and reporting errors), the article essentially repeats the information posted previously here.

The newspaper also promises more news in the upcoming days on the visit to Egypt of a high level German delegation to discuss the case.

Hopefully, if this information is accurate, Basem Wagdy might finally return to his position at GUC--a small step towards granting the Baha'is in Egypt their full civil rights.

P.S. By the way, the Supreme Administrative Court neither "ended the Baha'i case," nor "the curtain had fallen" as repeatedly stated in Egypt's media. The court was only able to demonstrate its inability to fulfill its responsibilities towards justice...the Baha'i civil rights case is nowhere near over!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Egypt's Chief Justice Sponsors Injustice Again

Today in Egypt's Al-Ahrar newspaper, an article was published describing a ruling by Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court of the State's Council [Magless el-Dawlah] headed by Chief Justice El-Saied Nofal. The article is entitled "Firing any employee who believes in Baha'i-yah and considering him apostate from Islam" and begins by stating the following:

"the court headed by Justice El-Saied Nofal has produced an historical judicial principle by ruling unanimously the necessity of firing any employee from his work who happens to belong to the Baha'i thought and to consider him an apostate and a heretic. The court affirmed in its ruling the firing of a female employee of the Ministry of Education who belongs to the Baha'i Faith...that the Baha'i belief is a heresy which violates all recognized divine religions and that it does not agree with any religion; that it (Baha'i) came to being in order to destroy Islam and that any person who believes in it is a "heretic;" if he was a Muslim and adopted it then he is an apostate who deserves punishment, the least of which--if he was an employee--is his immediate dismissal from his work, because this destructive religion which permits the forbidden and forbids the permitted and denies the presence of God and makes of Him a human being and permits the forbidden adultery and promotes impudence of women [etc, etc....]"

The article continues with the usual misrepresentations that have been released by the same court in its other rulings and statements, including that it [Baha'i] is a Zionist conspiracy intended to annihilate Islam. In saying so, it used these words: "universal Zionism is seeking to penetrate Islam and destroying it from within using its own sons." It repeated many other misrepresentations that have been widely spread by Egypt's extremists, including its Supreme Administrative Court.

Sadly, the only conclusions one can come up with after reading this article and the court's statements it contains is that Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has not ruled justly according to the standards entrusted to it by the people of Egypt. None of its statements have any foundation in truth and may promote ignorance and induce public strife.

Those who seek the truth are encouraged to simply go to any of the official Baha'i sites linked in the sidebar of this blog (English & Arabic) to see for themselves what the Baha'i Faith is all about....

P.S. In this publication, Al-Ahrar newspaper referred to a case that was ruled on in 1987 without stating so in its article, thus deceiving its readers by making it appear as if this case just happened. One would question the motives behind such an inflammatory article and the tactics used by a newspaper known for its low circulation. The seriousness of the statements made in this article appear to have the intention of fomenting hatred and suspicion, thus deserving a response.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Egyptian Baha'is: No ID = No Passport and Catch-22

Here is another dilemma that is a direct result of the inability of an Egyptian Baha'i to obtain the new computerized ID card. A perfect example of the consequences of the laws governing personal status rights of this innocent minority in a homeland that continues to deny it its mere existence.

Shady Samir Sobhy Daniaal, an Egyptian citizen, has been unable to obtain a passport simply because he is a Baha'i. His old passport which expired on 31 December 1996, was issued to him only six months before that date.

The current situation is as follows:

To be issued a valid passport he needs an ID card. His old paper ID card would have been sufficient (until the end of 2006) except that it is worn-out and his third and fourth names are missing (ID cards must show the person's four names). Thus there is no way for him to prove that the ID belongs to him, i.e. Shady Samir Sobhy Daniaal.

If this was not enough, now here is the real catch:

His expired passport could have been used to prove that he is indeed the same person except that the profession in his old passport documents him as "Student." Since he is no longer a student, he must change the profession on the passport in order for it to be used to prove his identity. To change the profession on the passport he must be issued the new computerized ID card with his new profession stated on it, but we all know by now that Egyptian Baha'is have been denied their right to be issued the new ID cards.... To make matters worse, they will not accept anything else to prove his identity--even a birth certificate!

He filed a complaint with the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) but the Council has not received any replies from Egypt's passport agency or the Ministry of Interior regarding Shady's complaint, which was filed over four months ago.

This is a law-abiding Egyptian citizen who is gainfully self employed (since he cannot obtain public employment without ID), he is married and the father of two daughters with a third child on the way. His old paper identity document is rapidly disintegrating before his eyes with two of his names had already vanished. He cannot travel because he was refused a valid passport. When his awaited child is born in a few months, he will not be able to obtain a birth certificate for him. Incidentally, he is also unable to renew his driver's license, and the list goes on....

It is time for Egypt to enforce its own constitutional guarantees for all its citizens!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

No ID = You Are Fired! Revisited

In a previous post entitled "Egypt: No ID = You Are Fired!" the case of a young physics teaching assistant, Basem Wagdy, was presented. He was hired and later fired by the German University in Cairo (GUC) because, as a Baha'i, he was refused to be issued the new national ID card.

Subsequently outraged German academics attempted to make the GUC reconsider its act of firing the Baha'i employee because he could not obtain an ID card. They appealed to the university's leadership and supporters and asked them for a statement on the case and on the steps they have taken to ensure that human rights are respected at GUC.

Consequent to these as well as to other efforts, an important development ensued, but before getting into this, Basem Wagdy's case will be revisited first as more information had become available.

In his own words, the following is an account of Basem Wagdy's dilemma:

1- I, Basem Wagdy, was officially appointed to position of Physics Teacher Assistant at the German University in Cairo on July 16th, 2006 (as per attached copy of the letter of appointment).

2- On September 6th, required documents were delivered to the Head of Human Resources Mrs. Amira Bassim as per employment regulations, except finger prints identification and social security document. At this time I was informed by her that these were the only further requirements.

* I officially began work on the same day.

3- I tried to open a bank account as per Finance Department requirements for salary dispersal, but was denied because I don't have a computerized ID card.

* Reported to Finance Department at GUC that I am unable to obtain computerized ID because of being a Baha'i, and informed them that this situation may take time to be resolved.

* At this point he [Finance Department] informed me I should write a letter to him with details of situation and meanwhile he would pay me through a check.

* On the same day, Mr. Ahmad Mahroos, responsible for GUC IDs came to my office accompanied by the Finance Department man and took my GUC ID and the ID of one other new staff member, stating that these two IDs need to be fixed. She received hers in 2 days time, but mine was never returned.

4- I delivered finger prints identification document on September 24th. My social security document was still being finalized.

5- On 26th September I received email dated 25th September, from the Head of HR [Human Resources] Mrs. Amira Bassim stating that GUC is terminating my employment on grounds that my legal documents are incomplete

6- On meeting with the Head of HR, I was informed that my employment is discontinued because my personal ID is invalid. I argued it is legally valid through the end of this year (2006) and that there is a court case regarding the issue of IDs for Baha'is and therefore there are no legal grounds for termination at this time.

7- At this point she made it clear, that this decision comes from "a higher authority." When I asked who, she said she didn't know but it could be national security and other higher authorities. She further stated that the University's position is sensitive and therefore they are unable to argue the decision. She also assured that this decision is not GUC's, and that the higher authorities did not approve my employment.

8- At the end of this meeting I was handed a pre-prepared letter of termination which I was asked to sign (see attached copy).

* These are the events that transpired to the best of my recollection and knowledge. Kindly take any actions that you see fit.

Best Regards,
Basem Wagdy.

Now back to the important development that occurred since:

a prominent member of the German Parliament, Mrs. Lale Akgün, issued a press release entitled "Lale Akgün: Angela Merkel [chancellor of Germany] shall engage for human rights of Baha'is in Egypt." Mrs. Akgün is originally from Turkey, she is the Islam Representative of the Social Democrats in Germany and well-known for her activism for women emancipation in Islam and for creating a modern face of Islam in Germany and Europe.

Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel was scheduled to be in Egypt on a State visit early February.

In the press release Lale Akgün describes the case of Basem Wgady who was fired from GUC and the issue of ID cards in Egypt and challenges the chancellor to use her visit for this matter. She also says that equal treatment of members of the various religions in Egypt is also part of the peace process in the Near East.

The press release states the following (English translation):

The Cologne based Member of the Federal Parliament and Islam Representative of the Social Democrates is requesting the chancellor to engage during her travel to the Near East, among others to Egypt, for an improvement of the situation of the members of the Baha'i Faith.

As an example she forwarded information to the chancellor concerning a young physicist, who was dismissed from the German University of Cairo, because he was unable to present the required identity documents. The Baha'is are notoriously refused these documents, because religious affiliation is required, yet Baha'is are not recognized as religion.

In view of the just started German-Egyptian Year of Science the travel of the chancellor would be a good opportunity to discuss the situation of the Baha'is in Egypt.

"It is important, that also in Egypt the members of all religions receive equal treatment by the state and judiciary. A serious peace process in the Near East requires mutual acceptance and respect for other nationalities and religions in all concerned nations", says Lale Akgün, who is also deputy chair of the German delegation to the Euromediterranian Parliamentary Forum.

It is interesting to observe the reaction of German scholars and politicians to this injustice, particularly since it was perpetuated in a German institution located at another country. Egypt must realize however that violation of civil rights cannot be hidden, forgotten or tolerated as it has been in the past, and Egyptians must stand up for justice regardless of whether or not outside involvement is present.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Canadian Media on Egyptian Court Ruling

The following article was recently published in the official website of the Baha'i Community of Canada. In order to link to the site please click here, also be sure to listen to the CBC Radio interview at this link (Select "Listen to the second part of the program," and then cue the audio feed to 27:40).

Egyptian court ruling against Bahá'ís attracts Canadian media attention

TORONTO, ON, 24 January 2007 (CBNS) -- The outcry in the Middle East over an Egyptian court ruling against a Bahá'í couple has drawn the attention of several media outlets in Canada, including two Arab-language newspapers.

In a decision delivered this past December, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court upheld a government policy that prohibits citizens from identifying themselves as members of any religion other than the three officially recognized ones (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) on government-issued identity cards. The policy makes it impossible for Bahá'ís and other religious minorities in Egypt to obtain identity cards without falsifying their religion. The identity cards are required for access to most essential services, including education, financial services, and medical care.

Two Canadian Arab-language newspapers included coverage of the case in its pages. The Montreal-based weeklies El-Masri and El Ressala printed articles highlighting the denial of citizenship rights to the Bahá'ís in their 19 and 21 December 2006 editions, respectively. Another Montreal-based newspaper, the Persian-language Payvand, ran its own article about the case.

English-language media outlets have taken an interest in the story as well. Shortly after the verdict was delivered, CBC Radio Canada International interviewed Gerald Filson, Director of External Affairs for the Bahá'í Community of Canada, about what the decision means for the Bahá'ís in Egypt and about the deteriorating state of human rights in the region.

"Persecution of the Bahá'ís in Iran continues, unfortunately," says Filson. "And now the Bahá'í community in Egypt, whose rights have also been suppressed for many years, is facing even more severe problems."

Other media outlets that have covered the case include Stratford, Ontario's Beacon Herald; Prince Albert, Saskatchewan's Daily Herald; and, a Montreal-based webzine on human rights.

Internationally, the case has been covered by over 400 news agencies and has generated intense debate in the Middle East about the Egyptian government's human rights responsibilities.

The Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Bahá'í world community, addressed a letter to the Bahá'ís in Egypt in December, putting the court ruling in a broad moral context.

Referring to the organizations and "persons of goodwill" who have joined the Bahá'ís of Egypt in their quest for justice, the Universal House of Justice stated, "To the extent that the fight for justice contributes to the establishment of a single global standard of human rights, the organizations in Egypt so engaged are working towards achieving the unification of their nation's peoples. They are thus committing themselves in large measure to the vital task of reconciling the tensions that bedevil their society and delay the attainment of its unity."

Click here to read the Universal House of Justice's letter to the Bahá'ís of Egypt (requires PDF reader).

Click here to listen to the interview on CBC radio. (Select "Listen to the second part of the program," and then cue the audio feed to 27:40).

Click here to read the summary of the case that was published on the Bahá'í World News Service.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Barney Leith and the "Redoubtable" Bilo

In a recent post entitled "Bilo pays a visit" fellow blogger and newly acquired friend Barney Leith posted on our visit together a little over a week ago when I was in London. Another fellow blogger, Marco, commented on Barney's post asking for pictures, thus I decided to write something here and include some pictures of that encounter.

For some reason, Barney in his post called Bilo "redoubtable," an adjective that is generous and probably not deserved, but is humbly received. Over the past few months our friendship has gradually developed as result of our common interest in the Baha'i Faith, blogging and the crisis facing the Egyptian Baha'is. As I was recently in London for a visit, we were able to meet at the UK Baha'i National Centre where Barney, as member of the National Spiritual Assembly, directs the office of external affairs. We visited and planned to have dinner at his home in Welwyn (pronounced Welyn as I was kindly reminded) north of London.

The UK Baha'i National Centre is located in Knightsbridge, one of London's most prestigious neighborhoods, in a lovely home typical of an era long bygone. It reminded me with the London I had always imagined by reading its history and traditional elegance.

I was told that this is where the Guardian's funeral had left from after his passing in London in 1957, and that the property was purchased based on his advice. Also, the Universal House of Justice held its first meeting in the National Assembly's meeting room on the third floor, in which a chair used by Abdu'l-Baha holds a very special place.

On Friday after work we walked fast to Knightsbridge underground station next to Harrods. As the subway train is quite long, Barney knew exactly where on the platform we had to wait so that we can exit the subway car at our destination station in a precise location near one of the exits allowing us to run to catch the train from London's Kings Cross railway station to Welwyn, and it really works as if he had measured it to the centimeter. The scenery of the English countryside was serene and beautiful as we whisked through several mountain tunnels since our destination was a bit higher in elevation than the city of London. We arrived at Welwyn just before dark allowing me to soak in the picturesque tiny typical English country train station, and I was able to convince barney to pose on the bridge for a photograph.

As Barney commutes daily to London from this sleepy and peaceful rural town, he had his car waiting for him at the station's parking lot. We drove a relatively short distance to his lovely cottage style home and settled in enjoying some hot tea while waiting for Erica to come home with their daughter Hari who is doing her advanced studies in Astrophysics and their grandson Jake who was practicing his newly acquired walking skills! As we were having more tea made by Hari who is apparently another tea lover, dinner was being prepared by Erica.

Since I felt so comfortable just as if I was in my own home, we decided to have our meal in the cozy and warm kitchen at the typical English kitchen table. Our dinner included salmon, potatoes, carrots and other vegetables and for dessert we had a delicious homemade apple pie which soaked up endless servings of thick country cream.

After enjoying this wonderful meal we retired to the living room and Barney lit up a roaring fire in their recently acquired wood stove. As it was quite cold outside for the whole week, including a snowy morning in London, the fire was a welcome relief as we sat by it sipping some more hot tea. We had a wonderful conversation and sharing of experiences and we we able to solidify a friendship that will last a lifetime. Later on at night Barney drove me to the train station where he waited with me until my train arrived for my return to London.

Thank you Barney and Erica for a very special and unforgettable evening!