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


  1. Nice to see your world class blogging get a mention in the popular press. Congratulations and keep up the great work.

  2. Actually, this is yet another example of how the free world is appalled at the way Egyptian Baha'is have been treated by their own country. Canada has been in the forefront of this.


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