Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Seeking Justice" A new Blog on the Baha'is of Egypt

A new blog entitled “Seeking Justice” has just emerged. It is authored by two attorneys. In their introductory statement to the blog, they state: “This blog is inspired by a principle shared by all religions–the need to seek truth and promote justice. In this spirit, our goal is to understand in greater depth the current situation of the Baha’is of Egypt and their efforts to obtain basic human rights. We look forward to your collaboration in this inquiry!”

The blogs first post dated 22 April 2007, and named "Who Is Entitled To Human Rights In Egypt?" addresses the 16 December 2006 Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court ruling denying the Egyptian Baha’is of their right to be issued government mandated identification documents, thus denying them the right of citizenship.

To read the expert opinion of these prominent legal professionals, please connect to their blog here…. I strongly recommend that, if you are indeed interested in following the legal implications and analysis of the plight of the Egyptian Baha’is, you would be well served by following SEEKING JUSTICE on a regular basis.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Egyptian Baha'is Will Not Give Up: Yet Another Lawsuit!

News regarding another lawsuit, filed by an Egyptian Bahá’í, was just published in Sawt el-Umma Egyptian newspaper on 23 April 2007. The article is entitled “Bahá’ís will not surrender…a new lawsuit by a Bahá’í demanding that the religion section be left vacant so that he can be issued birth certificates for his two children.”

The article states the following:

On the upcoming 7th of May, the Administrative Court will continue looking into the lawsuit filed by Dr. Raouf Hindy Halim whose twin children reached the age of 14 years without an Egyptian birth certificate, even though they were issued birth certificates from one of the Arab countries which states “Bahá’í” in the religion section. Their parents and grandparents are Egyptian.

Even after the passing of more than three years of court battles, Dr. Raouf has not been able to obtain birth certificates for his children. Since Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court has prevented Bahá’ís from documenting their religion as “Bahá’í” in the religion section on all official documents—in violation of citizenship rights to freedom of belief—Dr. Raouf in collaboration with a team of attorneys, was forced to amend his request to insert dashes or leave the religion section vacant on his children’s birth certificates.

Dr. Raouf Hindy said that this amended request was caused by the fact that he must not be forced to insert incorrect statements in official documents [that is if he enters one of the three allowed religions]…if he did so, it would have given rise to more forgers and liars in the society. He stated that his elder son (the brother of the twins) is in possession of an Egyptian birth certificate with a dash inserted in place of religion that is why he is requesting that his twin children (Emad and Nancy) be treated in the same way.

Of note, children in Egypt that are not in possession of an Egyptian birth certificate cannot attend public schools.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Lawsuit Exposes Irony of Egypt's Supreme Court Ruling

Published today in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Doustour Al-Youmy (The Daily Constitution) is an article reporting on a new lawsuit filed by a Baha'i parent challenging the Supreme Administrative Court ruling that is preventing the Baha'is from obtaining ID cards.

At the center of this case is his son's inability to obtain an Id card as he reached the legal age of 16 at which every citizen in obligated to obtain a government issued ID. His son is a student at the Suez Canal University. Without an ID he would end up being expelled from his school.

The lawsuit is against the Ministry of Interior and the Civil Affairs Agency in charge of issuing identification documents. The litigant is Hosni Bakheet Abd El-Messeih filing on behalf of his son.
He states that his son was born to Baha'i parents, that his real religion is Baha'i and that he does not belong to any other religious affiliation. He is required by the government to obtain an ID card, but is being denied its issue unless he lies about his religion and enters Muslim, Christian or Jew in the computerised religion section of the application. This violates his right to freedom of belief and violates the Egyptian constitutional guarantees as mandated in articles 40, 41, 45 and 46 of the constitution. He states that if he enters one of the three mentioned religions instead of his real religion it would be considered by the authorities as a forgery punishable by law with a monetary fine and imprisonment.

The lawsuit also challenges the government authorities' stand which violates citizens' rights to absolute freedom of belief regardless of the legitimacy of such belief as clearly mandated in the Egyptian constitution.

The newspaper article shows the photograph of Judge El-Say'eid Nofal, who had presided over the Supreme Administrative Court during its 16 December 2006 session which ruled to prevent the Baha'is from obtaining ID cards unless they lie about their religious affiliation. Oddly if Baha'is oblige the court and do lie about their religion, they would be violating the Egyptian law which is supposed to be upheld and protected by this same court which happens to instruct them to lie. What an irony!

The real issues and facts relating to the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt in their quest to be treated as equal citizens in their homeland is clearly described in this previous post....

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Could "This" Have a Chance?

Secular Islam Summit is an organization dedicated to bringing Islam back to its intended roots of moderation, tolerance and acceptance. On its website it describes its strategy in its mission as follows: "The purpose of the Secular Islam Summit is to bring together these thinkers and activists in an ongoing cross-cultural forum and clearinghouse to generate and share new practical strategies and disseminate these to the public and opinion-makers worldwide." Last March, the organization released a statement during its convention and named it "The St. Petersburg Declaration."

The questions here are: Could this be an indicator of things to come? If so, what would be the impact of such a small and nascent movement on the millions of Muslims worldwide? If this effort gains popularity and widespread acceptance in the Islamic world, could it contribute--finally--to the cessation of hostilities, hatred, strife, conflict and terrorism supposedly carried out in the name of Islam?

I'll now leave you with the statement and its accompanying video recording of the declaration which was articulated by the summit's representative. The declaration speaks for itself...[also notice that the statement declares " Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens...."]

The St. Petersburg Declaration

Released by the delegates to the Secular Islam Summit,
St. Petersburg, Florida on March 5, 2007

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights; eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence; reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims; and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine; to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens; and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must choose for themselves.

Endorsed by:
[names of authors]

Friday, April 13, 2007

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

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

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

Below is an English translation of the interview:

Interview with Dr. Johanna Pink

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

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

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

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

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

What does the dismissal mean for the young man?

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

What impression does the Egyptian population get by this dismissal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have there been any comparable cases in the past?

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

Johanna Pink’s Profile

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 09, 2007

This Was When I Broke My Hand!

This last post reporting the abuse of Baha'i children in Iran, could not but trigger some painful memories from my childhood in Egypt. Normally these memories find a labyrinth in the far recesses of one's brain until something more painful brings these awful memories to the forefront. I normally do not write about myself in this blog, but was unable to suppress the perceived urge to talk about this particular incident.

The reason for bringing this up is neither to compare it with the current events nor to show today's children how to react to persecution--far from it--but it may illustrate how a child can end up reacting to an insult out of desperation, and in a reflex manner, even though that reaction might not have been in accordance with the morals infused into his upbringing.

At 11 or 12 years of age, a mere child should not be insulted, beaten, humiliated or harassed because of his religion, but this was a common occurrence to many Baha'i children growing up in Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s. I have been subjected to such treatment on a regular basis, not only by some of my classmates, but at times by certain teachers entrusted to protect me. The worse offender was a 'Sheikh' who taught us the Islam class, who would frequently kick me out of the class, then stops by my father's office on his way home after school to report to him that I neglected to attend his class and that I was a rebel-rouser.

Front row second from right (book on his lap) is me

A young student, after being subjected to such repeated episodes of abuse, can get to a point to think "enough is enough!"

During a morning period in between classes, one of my classmates whom I have known to be the son of Muslim fundamentalist whose father belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood movement stuck his face right into mine and shouted: "You Baha'i...son of a Baha'i...son of a dog." At that exact moment my brain came to a standstill, and without any hesitation I hit him right into his face with my clinched fist, breaking his nose and breaking my hand at the same time. Blood was gushing out of his nose...I was in shock...he was too.... I believe that was the only time in my life when I ever hit anyone--that was not in a self defense situation. Needless to say, that traumatized and embarrassed student never bothered me again, and I had to be in a cast for the next six weeks.

My great concern that day was not what happened to him or to me, but rather what would I tell my father, because I knew that he would not have approved of that action, and that he would then, for sure, believe the Sheik's stories. When I went home after school with a broken hand, my story was that I fell while playing basketball...and there was no discussion! I thought at the time that this was OK as white lie. Until now, no one in my family knew the real story...but I guess it is time to tell the truth even though my parents are not with me any longer, but perhaps they will hear this where they now live--in eternity!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Iran Abuses & Harasses Baha'i Children

The Baha'i World News Service just published an article exposing an ominous component of the recent wave of persecutions of Baha'is in Iran. It is the flagrant abuse of Baha'i children in Iranian schools.

Baha'i schoolchildren in Iran increasingly harassed and abused by school authorities

NEW YORK, 5 April 2007 (BWNS) -- Baha'i students in primary and secondary schools throughout Iran are increasingly being harassed, vilified, and held up to abuse, according to recent reports from inside the country.

During a 30-day period from mid-January to mid-February, some 150 incidents of insults, mistreatment, and even physical violence by school authorities against Baha'i students were reported as occurring in at least 10 Iranian cities.

"These new reports that the most vulnerable members of the Iranian Baha'i community -- children and junior youth -- are being harassed, degraded, and, in at least one case, blindfolded and beaten, is an extremely disturbing development," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations.

"The increasing number of such incidents suggests a serious and shameful escalation in the ongoing persecution of Iranian Baha'is," said Ms. Dugal. "The fact that school-aged children are being targeted by those who should rightfully hold their trust -- teachers and school administrators -- only makes this latest trend even more ominous."

Ms. Dugal said the Baha'i International Community has been aware of scattered reports of abuse directed at schoolchildren but has only recently learned that young Baha'is are now widely being forced to identify their religion -- and are also being insulted, degraded, threatened with expulsion, and, in some cases, summarily dismissed from school.

"They are also being pressured to convert to Islam, required to endure slander of their faith by religious instructors, and being taught and tested on 'Iranian history' in authorized texts that denigrate, distort, and brazenly falsify their religious heritage," said Ms. Dugal. "They are also being repeatedly told that they are not to attempt to teach their religion."

According to Ms. Dugal, one Baha'i has reported that the school-age children of a relative in Kermanshah were called to the front of the classroom, where they were required to listen to insults against the Faith.

"Another student, accepted at an art institute, has been followed by the authorities and on three occasions seized, blindfolded, and beaten," said Ms. Dugal.

"While a few of these may be isolated attacks, the extent and nature of this reprehensible activity has led the Baha'is in Iran to conclude that this is an organized effort," said Ms. Dugal.

Of special concern, she added, was the fact that a high proportion of the attacks against high school students have been against girls.

"While the attacks reported to have taken place in elementary and middle schools were leveled evenly against boys and girls, those at the high school level targeted girls to a far greater degree: of 76 incidents, 68 were against Baha'i girls," said Ms. Dugal.

Ms. Dugal added that the ages of the children and junior youth affected are as follows: at the elementary school level, grades 1-5, students 6 to 11 years old; at the middle school level, grades 6-8, students 11 to 13 years old; and at the high school level, grades 9-12, students 14 to 17 years old.

The reports of attacks on innocent Baha'i schoolchildren come at a time when a growing number of older Baha'i students seeking to enter Iranian universities have been expelled after being identified as Baha'is.

So far this year, at least 94 college-age Baha'i students have been expelled from institutions of higher education. That figure is up from 70 as reported in late February.

Since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, the 300,000-member Iranian Baha'i community has faced ongoing and systematic persecution. In the early 1980s, more than 200 Baha'is were killed, hundreds were imprisoned, and thousands were deprived of jobs and education.

At the present time, more than 120 Baha'is are out on bail and awaiting trial on false charges, solely because of their religious beliefs and activities. Over the last year, as well, international human rights groups have expressed concern at the Iranian government's efforts to step-up their covert monitoring and identification of Baha'is.

uno-bp-07 04 05 -1-IRANSCHOOLS-515-N

Below is a report aired in 1983 on ABC television network's 20/20 program hosted by Barbara Walters:

This film contains shocking and disturbing accounts and images.

Click on the image to view the program.
15 min 45 sec - Feb 23, 2007
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.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Egyptian Media Picks Up on German Defense of Baha'is

Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm continues its close watch of the world's interest in the Baha'i crisis in Egypt.

Following its last article of April 2nd, reported on in this post, the paper just picked up another story regarding the recent German Parliamentarian attention to the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt which was also reported on in this subsequent post.

The article published on 6 April, written by Muhammad Abd-El-Khaleq Mussahel, is entitled "German Government Parliamentarian Questioning on 'Persecution of Baha'is' in Egypt."

This article is quite objective and factual. It introduces the recent interest of the German Parliament (Deutcher Bundestag) in the case and translates into Arabic--point by point--the entirety of the document presented to the Bundestag, which was authored by several members of the German Parliament. The English translation of the document can be seen in this previous post.

This careful attention by a prominent Egyptian newspaper to a critical case involving an oppressed group of Egyptian citizens illustrates a new wave of journalistic integrity and independence which is heartwarming. It shows that, despite all the negativity expressed by some of the Egyptian media outlets, several others continue to uphold their ethical and professional high standards of objective and balanced reporting.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Germany's Bundestag (Parliament) on the Baha'is of Egypt

The German Federal Parliament (Deutcher Bundestag) was questioned by a group of MPs regarding the human rights situation of the Baha'is of Egypt. The original document, written in German and dated 22 March 2007, can be viewed here, and the announcement on the parliamentarian website can be viewed here.

For Background, please refer to the following posts:

1) Egypt: No ID Card = You Are Fired!
2) No ID = You Are Fired! Revisited
3) Update on the German University Case

Thanks to Einblicke, the following is an English translation of this document:

German Federal Parliament (Deutscher Bundestag)
Document 16/4815
16th Legislative Period
22 March 2007

Small Query
of the MPs Volker Beck (Köln), Marieluise Beck (Bremen), Alexander Bonde, Dr. Uschi Eid, Thilo Hoppe, Ute Koczy, Kerstin Müller (Köln), Winfried Nachtwei, Omid Nouripour, Claudia Roth (Augsburg), Rainder Steenblock, Jürgen Trittin and the Fraction BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN [German Green Party]

Human Rights Situation of the Baha'is in Egypt

In 1960, the organised Baha'i community in Egypt was banned by President Nasser, its possessions were confiscated. This decree is effective until today. As a result, it contributed time and again to assaults, arrests and media campaigns against the Baha'is. A very serious problem is the refusal of Egyptian authorities to issue pieces of identification for Baha'is, as their religious affiliation cannot be correctly expressed. This is due to the Egyptian government's efforts to digitize the registration process, with the software only accepting the religions recognized by the government, namely: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In a decision of the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court of 16 December 2006, this procedure--leading to the Baha'is not having the right to be correctly identified in their documents--was declared lawful. A Baha'i couple successfully challenged the procedure at a lower administrative court in April 2006; this decision was now overruled. Identification documents can thus be denied to the Baha'is. Without such documents, however, any Egyptian can be arrested at any time due to the still effective emergency act. One cannot register one's children at school, one does neither have access to medical treatment, nor can one open a bank account, receive a salary or pension, one cannot enter a contract or obtain birth or death certificates. In a recent case, a young Egyptian physicist Bassem W. was laid off the German University after not being able to present an identification document, and thus he was unable to open a bank account for depositing his salary.

We ask the Federal Government:

1. What influence does the Federal Government have regarding the systematic discrimination and persecution of the Baha'is in Egypt? What role does the media play?

2. How does the Federal Government judge the action of the German University in the case of Bassem W.? How does the German University stand in relation to Germany, and in what way is the work of the university promoted by German organisations or institutions? How does the Federal Government see the consequences of actions of the German University influencing the credibility of Germany in regards to human rights questions?

3. What role do the fundamentalist Islamic forces play regarding the treatment of the Baha'is by the Egyptian government? Which persons or institutions are in charge of the persecution of religious minorities within the Egyptian leadership?

4. How does the Federal Government judge the decision of the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court dated 16 December 2006? Does the Federal Government agree with Human Rights groups in seeing this as a precedence for a further curtailing of civil rights in Egypt?

5. How does the Federal Government judge the decision against the Blogger Kareem A. in the context of freedom of press and freedom of opinion in Egypt?

6. How does the Federal Government judge the whole complex [issue] of religious freedom within the Egyptian Government? Are there any concrete relations to the situation of the Baha'is?

7. What implication does the situation of the Baha'is have on the "deportation code of practice" of the Federal Government [regarding deportation of potential refugees from Germany]?

Berlin, 22. March 2007
Renate Künast, Fritz Kuhn and Fraction

This is indeed a bold, righteous and courageous move by these German parliamentarians. Their questions are pointed, sound, realistic and demand a clear answer. This constant interest and involvement of foreign governments in the ordeal of the Egyptian Baha'is demonstrates that Egypt can no longer live in isolation and that matters of Human Rights belong to the whole world and not only the concerned nation. Egypt can no longer state that "this is an internal matter!"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Egyptian Paper Highlights Western Coverage of Baha'is

The Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm in its April 2 edition reported on two significant recent releases in the western media regarding the status of the Baha'is in Egypt and Iran. The article, written by Muhammad Abd-El-Khaleq Mussahel, is entitled Documentary American Film regarding "Suffering of Baha'is" in Egypt and Iran.

The first reference was in regards to a recent video production. The writer indicated that the film was "produced by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States." It described the video as "a new documentary film about the situation of the Baha'is in Egypt and Iran, which was widely publicised on Baha'i Internet sites and blogs." [examples: here and here]

The paper proceeded to report that "the film which lasts 17 minutes and 19 seconds explains the manifestations of suffering experienced by Baha'is in Egypt and Iran." It also pointed to the film's content regarding the ID card crisis affecting the Baha'is of Egypt, and the efforts of the Office of External Affairs in defending human rights of the Baha'is.

The second part of the article went on to briefly describe the content of the recent article published in the Toronto Star on 31 March 2007 and posted here as well.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Toronto Star on the Baha'is of Egypt

The following article regarding the crisis facing the Baha'is in Egypt was just published in the Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper on 31 March 2007. It is written by Stuart Laidlaw and based on an interview with Samandary Hindawi, an Egyptian born Baha'i living in Toronto. It describes several barriers currently facing Egypt's Baha'is because of the their government's refusal to treat them as equal citizens and because of its insistence on depriving them from their basic civil rights.

The article is linked here and posted below:

Identity crisis for faithful

Egyptian Baha'is cannot get government-issued ID because on official forms they must specify their religion and only Islam, Christianity and Judaism are recognized

Mar 31, 2007 04:30 AM

Stuart Laidlaw

Samandary Hindawi's mother has never met her grandson. She lives far away in Egypt, but money is not an issue. She is getting old, but health is not an issue. Hindawi and she both lead busy lives, but time is not an issue.

The only issue is that she cannot get a passport, even though she was born and raised in Egypt, has lived there all her life and has never been a citizen of any other country.

The problem, Hindawi says, is that she is Baha'i, which in Egypt means she cannot get a government identification card or any other form of ID.

"I can't bring my mother here to visit her grandchild because she doesn't have a passport," Hindawi says.

When filling out a form for government identification, Egyptians are required to specify their religion. Hindawi said the Baha'is of Egypt have no problem with this, except that they are not allowed to state on the forms that they are Baha'i. Only Islam, Christianity and Judaism are recognized.

"The Baha'is here in Canada are watching the situation very closely," says Gerald Filson, a spokesman for the Baha'i Community of Canada.

He and other community leaders have met with the federal government department of foreign affairs, expressing their concerns and asking that they be passed on to the government of Egypt through diplomatic channels.

"We've be[en] very pleased with the federal government's response," he says.

Baha'is in Iran also face discrimination, Filson says, where denial of government identification cards has kept people from opening bank accounts, going to school or even accessing health care. Hindawi says similar problems are developing in Egypt as old identity cards expire and Baha'is are not able to replace them.

As well, he says, media outlets in the country have been unsympathetic, and even hostile, to the plight of the Baha'is, so Hindawi has begun to use his computer skills to do what he can from Toronto.

He has set up a blog to counter the accusations made against Baha'i in the country, regularly picking apart stories that appear in newspapers, magazines and television, where Baha'is are regularly accused of everything from immorality to spying.

"If you really want to hurt somebody in the Middle East, this is what you do – you smear them with treason and immorality," he says as he attaches an Arabic language keyboard to his laptop computer.

As a Baha'i, he says, he can't engage is a similar mud-slinging campaign against his faith's critics, so instead offers counterpoints to the often skewed reporting in his native country. He keeps tabs on the reporting through a Baha'i friend in the U.S., who posts copies of stories own [sic] his own blog.

"I go specifically through the charges, one after another," Hindawi says, describing how he counters the allegations made against Baha'i followers in the Egyptian press. "I correct the facts, historically, factually, systematically."

He write the blog in Arabic, so it can be more widely read by its target audience, the Egyptian public.

"You still have to rely on educating the masses," he says.

One story on his friend's Egyptian blog accuses a Baha'i man of meeting with the Israeli ambassador – tantamount to treason in some Arab circles. Hindawi countered the accusation by simply stating that the man in question is 83, too old to have travelled to such a meeting, and has never left his home village.

Hindawi's hope is that by constantly picking apart the facts in any such stories, he can convince people that they have nothing to fear from Baha'is, who number only about 2,000 in Egypt.

"We are not a threat," Hindawi says.

The problem is that the Baha'i faith was founded in only the 1860s, some 1,200 years after Islam. As such, under a strict reading of Islamic law, Baha'i is not recognized as a religion. Judaism and Christianity are accepted because they predate Islam, and their prophets are accepted as Islamic prophets.

Egypt's highest court late last year held up this interpretation when it struck down a lower court ruling that Baha'is must be granted government identification.

The Supreme Administrative Court ruled in December that because Baha'i is not mentioned in the Qur'an, it is not a recognized religion in the Islamic country.

"The court made a religious decision, not a legal one," Hindawi says.

Whereas Islam teaches that its founder, Muhammad, was the final prophet, the Baha'i Faith teaches progressive revelation, that Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Baha'i founder Baha'u'llah were all messengers from God and that more will come.

The court decision means that Baha'i followers cannot get government identification without denying that they are Baha'i. Not only is this distasteful to most Baha'is, who value their faith, but it is illegal since lying on a government form is considered perjury.

Hindawi says all of his friends and relatives in Egypt have been caught in this Catch-22. As their old government identification cards expire, they have not been able to get new ones. Previously, government ID cards allowed Baha'i to list their faith as "other" or to leave the space blank That is no longer allowed.

As a result, children can't get birth certificates, or enrol in school. Driver's licences cannot be renewed. Health care cannot be accessed. Bank accounts can't be opened. Even death certificates cannot be issued, making it impossible to settle the estates of the deceased, Hindawi says.

"These are business people, they are teachers, professors and artists," he says.

Hindawi, unable to even send his family money to help them through these tough times since they cannot even cash a cheque without ID, hopes that his blog will in some way help make things better in his homeland.

Hindawi's blog can be found at while his friend's blog chronicling the Egyptian media's coverage of the country's Baha'is is at