Thursday, November 29, 2007

Egypt: A Newspaper Refutes Another in Defending the Baha'i Rights

Yesterday, Cairo's weekly newspaper, Al-dostour [the constitution] published an article written by Sheema'a Abul-Kheir refuting Al-Ahram's article written by its writer Muhammad Dunya, referred to in this previous post.

Al-Dostour's article is quite critical of the negative coverage provided in Al-Ahram regarding the recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report on the identity crisis in Egypt. The title states: "Al-Ahram criticized 'Human Rights Watch' report regarding religious freedom as if it [Al-Ahram] is inviting the citizens to commit forgery!"

In order to make a point, Abul-Kheir uses the Egyptian proverb "they did not find any fault in the roses." He stresses that Al-Ahram has a consistent history of being critical of international and national human rights reports accusing them of producing inaccurate information and data. This time, he adds, Al-Ahram was unable to refute any of the information and findings produced in the Human Rights Watch report, so instead it attacked the proposed solutions suggested by this well-respected human rights organization, "which, for the sake of accuracy, was produced in collaboration with the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, an Egyptian organization."

He also points out that Al-Ahram was unable to argue any of the statements made in the report regarding the constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of belief and the right to choose one's religion--guarantees that were confirmed by various Egyptian courts including the constitutional court. Instead, Al-Ahram criticized the practical component of the report that addresses the applicability of the actual dictates of the law. Specifically, he points to the violation of citizenship rights of the Baha'is to be able to enter their religion correctly in official documents. He brings up that these citizen, as a result, are deprived of their rights to education, employment and health care. This violation extends further to their rights to marry and have families.

In response to Al-Ahram's statement about the Ministry of Interior's obstruction being based on the excuse that the second article of the constitution refers to "Islamic Shari'ah as a principal source of legislation" and that Islamic Shari'ah recognizes three religions only, he maintains that this excuse contradicts the findings of HRW report, which are based on multiple opinions of the highest Islamic authorities--including that of the honorable leader Gamal Qoutb--showing no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that Islamic Shari'ah recognizes only three religions.

He then puts forward the following questions to Al-Ahram: "what would these citizens do without official documents, of which they have been denied, and without which they are unable to manage their daily affairs? If the answer is that they would have to choose one of the three religions, what then if a Baha'i citizen is issued an ID card, with "Muslim" as his religion, marries a Muslim woman...would the all-capable Al-Ahram organization explain to us whether or not this marriage is to be considered legitimate?"

In the caricature accompanying the article, the newspaper chief editor seated at the desk asks his employee: "What do you mean the paper is not selling? What then would they cover people dying in the streets with?"

This is indeed a refreshing piece of intelligent journalism. Egypt is to be congratulated on producing this generation of eloquent, righteous and courageous journalists.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Egypt: Resolve Towards Equity, Justice and Human Rights

Baha'i rep. Dr. Basma Moussa (front-right) seated next to Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Two days ago, Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) began its convention addressing the crisis of "citizenship." Invited were representatives of the Christian (Coptic), Muslim and Baha'i religions, as well as all government ministries, agencies and civil authorities. On opening the convention, NCHR's president, Dr. Bouros Boutros-Ghali, called for the formation of a permanent national anti-discrimination league. The league would be charged with the elimination of any form of discrimination based on religion, gender or ethnic origin. It would be similar to other international agencies such as the ones in Morocco, France and the United States of America.

Today, Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper published an article in which it announced that the Human Rights Committee of Egypt's Parliament [Maghlis Al-Shaab] has decided to invite the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the president of the National Council for Human Rights to work on proposed corrective legislation in response to the various reports released by regional, national and international human rights organizations.

This parliamentarian committee will study and implement the recommendations put forth by the National Council for Human Rights. It will also examine and respond to the many complaints filed by Egyptian citizens residing in and outside the country. The committee will adhere to international human rights standards, in particular those of the African and Arab region. It will also share the outcome of its deliberations with the members of the parliament so that the parliament's opinion can be promoted among the public, both nationally and internationally.

Clearly, this development appears to be a very positive one. It implies that the findings and recommendations of the National Council for Human Rights--a government-appointed advisory council--are indeed enforceable through actions of the parliament. Also, equally important is that the parliament is seriously considering and addressing the findings of other regional, national and international human rights organizations. Egypt is to be congratulated on this very significant and progressive milestone towards a stable and equitable civil society.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Egypt: A “Journalist” Grabbing at Straws in Desperate Attempt to Deny Rights of Baha’is!

In an article published today in Egypt's semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram, the writer Muhammad Dunya attempted to refute the recent report that was jointly produced by Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights referred to in this previous post.

This writer presents deeply flawed arguments that are clearly illogical and based on false assumptions which cannot be backed by the exact same sources used by that same writer in his justification for his statements.

He begins the article by pointing to statements in the report which are critical of Egypt's treatment of its Baha'i minority population.

He then accuses the report of making "gross errors" in its conclusions. He tries to refute these facts by indicating that Egypt guarantees freedom of belief based on its constitution.

In the same breath he also states that Baha'is should not be granted their citizenship rights. He bases his argument on his claim that Egypt recognizes three religions only: Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which is in direct contradiction to his earlier assertion that Egypt guarantees absolute freedom of belief and freedom of religious practice. He conveniently neglects to state that nowhere in Egypt's constitution there is any reference to his claim that Egypt recognizes only three religions.

He also uses the usual argument brought up by many extremists before him, that is "public order." Again, as has been clearly established by several sources before, including the Human Rights Watch report itself, no one had ever explained what the issue of civil rights for the Egyptian Baha'is has to do with "public order!" No one had ever explained how allowing the Baha'is--who are Egyptian citizens--to obtain identification documents could disrupt "public order!" Even though if "public order" was disrupted, it was never stated by any of those using that argument what this exactly means! It remains a vague "catch phrase" used by those who continue to promote and enforce the oppression and the denial of civil rights of a law-abiding segment of the Egyptian population (Baha'is), and to mislead and inflame the masses against them.

This meager piece of journalism must remain filed with the few others who have constantly plagiarized each other's arguments and false statements in their efforts to discredit the Baha'is and deny them their basic civil rights.

Lastly, if we assume that this logic is the only one left for those grabbing at straws to use against the rights of Egyptian Baha'is, what then do they propose instead for a solution? What can this segment of Egypt's citizenry do without identification documents? How can you provide them with official identification without forcing them to lie on official documents by denying their true faith?

It is indeed a shameful day for Egypt's journalism!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Iran Imprisons its Youth for Initiating Socioeconomic Projects!

The following message was just received regarding the imprisonment of three Baha'i youths in Shiraz. They were sentenced to four years of imprisonment. Their only crime is: initiating and participating in socioeconomic projects that serve their co-citizens. Their names: Haleh Rouhi, Raha Sabet and Sasan Taghva.

"Dear friends,
I have received this news through one of my friends. Unfortunately 3 Baha'i youths of Shiraz were imprisoned the day before yesterday after a verdict based on participating and initiating a social and economic project in Shiraz more than one year ago. These 3 Baha'i youths have to spend 4 years of the best years of their lives in prison. Yet, I am sure it is to their utmost desire to suffer a small portion of what Baha'u'llah suffered in this world. One of them, Miss Haleh Rouhi, is one of my close friends. Please send this news to any Human Rights association you know."

The two videos below are posted in respect for these noble human beings. The first film is a prayer chanted by the Baha'i youth of Shiraz, Iran. The second is a documentary on the desecration of Baha'i cemeteries near Isfahan, Iran.

Chant by the Baha'i Youth of Shiraz

Persecuting the Dead

Monday, November 19, 2007

Egypt: "Identity Crisis" Entire Film Now Available!

The documentary film produced by the independent filmmaker, Mr. Ahmed Ezzat, has been just made public for free viewing in its entirety on an internet site. The 34-minutes film, "Identity Crisis: My Religion or My Country," documents in vivid details the struggle of the Egyptian Baha'is in search for their basic civil rights in their homeland. Mr. Ahmed Ezzat is not a Baha'i. He is an Egyptian human rights activist who has graciously provided this film for public viewing at his own expense and on his own precious time.

To view the entire film, please CLICK HERE....
(This version does not include subtitles)

Previously published promotional segment on YouTube

P.S. When linking to the website, under the film's image--written in Arabic--are three choices for downloading: high speed (top one), medium speed (middle one) or low speed (bottom one) copies of the film.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Extensive Media Coverage on the ID Crisis of Egypt

Joe Stork of HRW & Hossam Bahgat of EIPR

In its yesterday's edition, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article on Egypt's refusal to recognize its minorities and its stance in refusing them their civil rights. The article is based on the recent comprehensive report of Human Rights Watch (HRW) which has garnered worldwide media interest following the press conference jointly held with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). The press conference was held in Cairo shortly after the release of the joint report prepared by these two human rights organizations; HRW is based in New York and EIPR is based in Cairo. The report was released on 12 November 2007, a day prior to Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice convened to rule on the Baha'is cases before it, as described in the previous two posts.

The article begins with the following:

San Francisco Chronicle

Egypt hindering religious freedom, human rights groups say

Steven Stanek, Chronicle Foreign Service
Friday, November 16, 2007

(11-16) 04:00 PST Cairo - --

The Egyptian government refuses to recognize minority religions and Christian converts in official state records, according to a report released this week by human rights activists who say the policy is a violation of Egyptian law.

New York's Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in Cairo said government officials are systematically withholding national identification cards and birth certificates from members of the Baha'i faith because it is not one of the three "heavenly" recognized religions - Islam, Christianity or Judaism.

Egypt has an estimated 2,000 adherents to Bahaism, a 150-year-old religion derived from Islam, but which considers the 19th century nobleman Baha'u'llah as the last prophet instead of Muhammad - a direct challenge to Islamic principles. It is the largest, and perhaps only, unrecognized religion in Egypt, according to the report.

There are roughly 70 million Muslims and 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt. Experts estimate that a once-thriving Jewish community has dwindled to fewer than 200 people.

The 98-page report, "Prohibited Identities: State Interference With Religious Freedom," also criticized the government's refusal to change religious affiliation on identification cards issued to those who converted from Islam to Christianity, which is considered a sin under Islamic law but protected by the country's Constitution.

"Officials apparently believe that they have the right to choose someone's religion when they don't happen to like the religion that that person, him or herself, has chosen," said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch for the Mideast and North Africa. "It's a policy also that strikes at the core of a person's identity. It has far-reaching consequences ... for daily life." Read the rest here....

In addition to this coverage, several newspaper articles were published in Arabic in prominent Egyptian newspapers. Links to these publications can be found on Basma's blog in the following posts: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5.

The Baha'i World News Service has also just published an article commenting on the Human Rights Watch report. It states the following:

Human rights groups issue report on Egypt

NEW YORK 16 November 2007 (BWNS)

Egypt should end discriminatory practices that prevent Baha'is and others from listing their true religious beliefs on government documents, said Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights in a major report released this week.

The 98-page report, titled "Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom," focused on the problems that have emerged because of Egypt's practice of requiring citizens to state their religious identity on government documents but then restricting the choice to Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.

"These policies and practices violate the right of many Egyptians to religious freedom," stated the report, which was released on 12 November 2007.

"Because having an ID card is essential in many areas of public life, the policies also effectively deny these citizens a wide range of civil and political as well as economic and social rights," the report said.

The Baha'i International Community welcomed the report.
Read the rest of the article here....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Egypt: the Judge Mocks the Baha’is then Delays his Verdict

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice convened today to rule on a number of cases including the most recent two litigations brought by the Egyptian Baha'is in their desperate attempts to obtain their civil rights. These two cases were described in this earlier post which reported on the postponement of the verdicts until today's session of 13 November 2007. The first case involves the twin children Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi; the second case involves university student Hussein Hosni Abdel-Massih.

Yesterday and today, all major world media outlets have published extensive articles on this deplorable situation facing the Egyptian Baha'is. By clicking on the headline tags posted with this article, one can read the full coverage provided in these publications.

The following is a description of the scene in this Cairo court as reported by one of those attending today's session:

"Today was the re-hearing of the two cases of Dr. Raouf Hindy and Hussein Hosni. They were both after each other--in order. Dr. Raouf was first; the judge asked him if he has something new to add. Dr. Raouf repeated the request for 'enabling us to say the truth and not deny our faith.' The judge's reply was a surprise to all who were present, he said 'it is well known that the Baha'is have Muslims and Christians among them, there are Muslim Baha'is and there are Christian Baha'is. Each should state his original religion.' Dr. Raouf stated that he is 'neither Muslim nor Christian,' and the lawyer for the Baha'is stated that 'this is a form of forcing Baha'is to convert,' the judge replied 'the Ministry of Interior is not forcing you to change your belief...forcing would mean to ask you to stop being a Baha'i and believe in something else in your heart. The Ministry only allows three religions to be stated in official documents, but you are free to believe in what you want.'

The judge then did not want to go on with the argument and asked if there are any new documents or memos that any of the parties would like to add but neither of the parties had anything to add. He said the decision will be announced at the end of the session.

He then called for Mr. Hosni, the father of Hussein and jokingly mocked him 'of course you're enjoying what Dr. Raouf is saying' and followed this by saying 'your case is the same, together you will hear about it at the end of the session.'

The attitude of the judge was very disappointing to everyone and it was clear what the verdict will be like.

However, at the end of the session, with the Baha'is sitting--waiting--in court until 5 PM, the judge revealed his decision that a verdict will be announced on 25 December 2007."

There are several issues that must be addressed here:

1) These cases concern real people whose rights are being violated and who continue to suffer on a daily basis. This is not a laughing matter that can be taken jokingly by a respected judge. It is not appropriate or ethical for a judge to mock these innocent and helpless victims.

2) Contrary to what the judge has said, Baha'is are neither Muslims nor Christians. They are Baha'is--many of whom have been so for several generations. If they falsely state another religion on government documents, then they would be in violation of the law, to which the judge is subservient and obligated to uphold and protect.

The application form required for obtaining ID cards states that any false statements will be punishable by imprisonment and monitory fines.

Since Egypt was invaded by Muslim conquerors from Arabia several generations ago, the judge's ancestors were possibly either Coptic Christians, Jews, or even followers of the Pharaoh, would this mean that he must state his religion as one of these three? How would the judge feel if someone forces him to do so?

3) If the Baha'is were forced to state their religion as Christian, Muslim or Jew, what would the judge do if one of these Baha'is, who would have been holding an ID card stating that he is a Muslim, marries the judge's daughter? Would that be acceptable to him then?

4) For a variety of reasons, it is becoming glaringly clear that the Egyptian courts are incapable of solving this identification crisis. The Egyptian government must now step in and produce a satisfactory resolution to the ID crisis facing the Baha'is and the other minorities in Egypt.

Even the Pravda, the preeminent Russian newspaper in its first time covering this crisis, showed its strong interest in this matter by publishing:

Human rights groups wish Egyptian authorities to change their policy of not allowing converts from Islam and members of the Bahai faith to register their religion in official documents.

In a report two years in the making, the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the local Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR, described how Egyptians of religious persuasions authorities disapprove of are unable to get birth certificates and identification cards.

Joe Stork, the HRW Middle East deputy chief, said it was a systematic policy to deny documents to members of faiths other than Islam, Christianity and Judaism - the only three religions officially recognized by Egyptian authorities.

ID cards are mandatory here, but persons seeking to have "Bahai" listed as their faith on the card, for example, are denied the document, Stork told reporters in Cairo. Read more here....

Monday, November 12, 2007

Egypt: Urgent Press Release by EIPR & Report of Human Rights Watch

The following Press Release was just published by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) regarding the ID card crisis in Egypt. The two links at the end of this Release will take you to the comprehensive 98 page report of EIPR & Human Rights Watch regarding the ID crisis, titled "Prohibited Identities" in PDF or HTML format. [Arabic version of Report & Arabic version of Press Release].

BBC coverage of the Press Release can be seen here in English & Arabic.

Press Release- 12 November 2007

Egypt: Allow Citizens to List Actual Religion on ID Cards

End Discrimination, Harassment of Baha’is, Converts From Islam

(Cairo, November 12, 2007) – Egypt should allow all citizens to use their actual religious identity when required to list religion on government documents, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said today. The government’s discriminatory practice of restricting identity to three religions, directed at Baha’is and preventing converts from Islam from listing their true belief, violate many rights and cause immense hardship.

In their 98-page report “Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedom,” Human Rights Watch and the EIPR document how Ministry of Interior officials systematically prevent Baha’is and converts from Islam from registering their actual religious belief in national identity documents, birth certificates, and other essential papers. They do this based not on any Egyptian law, but on their interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia. This denial can have far-reaching consequences for the daily lives of those affected, including choosing a spouse, educating one’s children, or conducting the most basic financial and other transactions.

“Interior Ministry officials apparently believe they have the right to choose someone’s religion when they don’t like the religion that person chooses,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The government should end its arbitrary refusal to recognize some people’s religious beliefs. This policy strikes at the core of a person’s identity, and its practical consequences seriously harm their daily lives.”

All Egyptians, on reaching the age of 16, must obtain a national identification card. This document is essential to conducting transactions as basic as opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, entering a university, getting a job, or collecting a pension. The Civil Status Department of the Interior Ministry administers these national ID cards as well as other vital records such as birth certificates, all of which require a person to state his or her religious identity. But ministry officials limit the choice to one of the three “revealed” religions – Islam, Christianity, or Judaism. No Egyptian law requires this, but the officials say they are acting on what they understand to be the requirements of Sharia, thus excluding members of Egypt’s Baha’i community.

On similar grounds, these officials refuse to recognize the religious conversion of any Muslim to another religion on identity documents, although Egypt’s Civil Status Law permits persons to change or correct information in their identification documents, including religion, simply by registering the new information. Interior Ministry officials cite the Islamic law prohibition against any “repudiation” of the faith as apostasy to refuse such requests, even from Egyptians who were born Christian, converted to Islam, and want to convert back to Christianity.

“Prohibited Identities” documents how the Egyptian government selectively uses Sharia to deny some citizens their right under Egyptian and international human rights law to exercise religious freedom without discrimination or penalty.

Human Rights Watch and the EIPR interviewed more than 40 victims, lawyers, and religious and community leaders in preparing the report. In addition, the EIPR examined the files of 304 court cases filed by victims and their relatives, as well as higher court decisions and relevant laws. Human Rights Watch’s requests for a meeting with the head of the Interior Ministry’s Civil Status Department were turned down. Human Rights Watch then submitted questions to Interior Minister Habib al-Adli (reproduced as an appendix to the report) but both letters received no reply.

“Our research clearly shows that there is no fixed Islamic law position on the administrative requirements for religious identification in the public records of a modern bureaucracy,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the EIPR. “Officials should pursue an approach that upholds basic principles of justice and equality, instead of one that directly violates the rights of its citizens.”

The problem has become particularly acute in recent years, after the Interior Ministry began issuing computer-generated documents carrying a unique “national number” (raqam qawmi). Officials say that in the near future, perhaps as soon as early 2008, even persons with valid paper IDs will have to acquire the new computer-generated documents, and that the only options for the religion line will be Islam, Christianity or Judaism.

Many Egyptians interviewed for the report recounted how Interior Ministry officials tried to intimidate or bribe them into identifying themselves as Muslims against their express wishes.

Human Rights Watch and the EIPR urged authorities to exonerate persons convicted for obtaining forged identity documents solely because the government refused to list their actual religion.

“The Interior Ministry’s policy essentially says: ‘If you lie we’ll give you the documents you need, but if you tell the truth about your religion we’ll make your life miserable by withholding them’,” Stork said. “It is punishing people solely on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

Some Egyptians have battled these abusive policies by filing complaints against officials before Egypt’s Court of Administrative Justice. Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court is scheduled to issue a final ruling on November 17 regarding the right of Christian converts to Islam to re-convert back to Christianity. The court decision is expected to have a major impact on the legal treatment of other forms of religious conversion and on the overall situation of freedom of religion and belief in Egypt.

The quasi-official National Council for Human Rights submitted a memorandum to the government in December 2006 recommending that the government remove religious affiliation from ID cards or reinstate the policy of entering “other” in the line reserved for religion.

“Eliminating the religion line in IDs would send a positive signal of the state’s neutrality regarding the religious affiliation, if any, of citizens,” Bahgat said. “But the root of the problem is the government’s insistence on misidentifying these citizens in the central records. This is what the government needs to address urgently.”

Testimonies from ‘Prohibited Identities’:

“I tried to obtain the national ID card. In the application, I wrote that my religion was Baha’i. The officer refused to accept the application and asked me to present my birth certificate. I showed it to him. It stated that I was Baha’i and so were my parents. He still refused to accept the application and asked me to apply in Cairo. When I went to Cairo, I met an officer called Wa’il who opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a big pile of documents and said, ‘You see, all these applications are from Baha’i who want IDs. You will never ever get them.’ ”

—Nayer Nabil, Cairo

“My ID card says I am Muslim. One option is to get a forged ID, but it’s not an option for me. The children are the key. We moved to Alexandria because it’s a lot bigger; we can disappear. But this can’t continue, for psychological as well as legal reasons. The children’s birth certificates will say Muslim, but they are raised Christian. When they start school, then the problems really start. Religion class starts in the first grade.”

—Name withheld on request, Cairo

“My husband died in 2003. He worked for Al-‘Ameriyya Oil Company. To pick up my pension from the bank or the post office, I need an ID card. I’m supposed to get 70 percent of my husband’s salary, but I’ve gotten nothing since he died. I have to rely on my kids to help me because I have no other income. Everyone should be free. The state should not be responsible for anyone’s religion.”

—Qudsiyya Hussein Ruhi, Alexandria

“State Security tried to persuade us both to be Muslims. We were exhausted, more than 24 hours with no food. When they failed to convince us to become Muslims, they referred us to criminal investigation. From five in the morning until five at night, the State Security grilled us. They said that they would bring forgery charges against both of us.”

—Names withheld on request, Heliopolis

“Without national ID cards issued to Baha’is, suddenly, voila, there are no Baha’is in Egypt.”

—Labib Hanna Iskandar, Cairo

“He said I’d committed a sin against God. He asked why I wanted to go back to Christianity. ‘If you had bad luck with your first husband, you should have found another Muslim man.’ He offered me assistance and favors. ‘I can find you a good Muslim man,’ he said. ‘If it’s financial, we can help you find a job. If you went back to your family for lack of any alternative, we’ll help you find an apartment.’ When I insisted on staying a Christian, he said, ‘Well, we have to start an investigation into the forgery.’”

—Golsen Sobhi Kamel, Cairo

The report is available at:

All rights reserved © Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Daily News Egypt: Thorough Coverage of Baha'i Case

A day after Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice postponed its ruling on the Egyptian Baha'i cases until its upcoming session of 13 November 2007, Daily News Egypt, distributed by the International Herald Tribune (IHT), published an article authored by Alexandra Sandels with the headline "Egyptian Baha'is: second class citizens in their own country."

The article is quite comprehensive and touches on all key issues involving the persecution of Baha'is in Egypt. It provides in-depth interviews and describes the current litigations.

"The International Herald Tribune (IHT) is the world's foremost global newspaper. The IHT is the only English-language international paper printed in Egypt and available the same day. Together with the IHT's first-class international news service, Daily News Egypt provides readers with a complete bouquet of all the news they will need."

P.S. If the links above do not work well with Internet Explorer (IE), try a different browser!

Because of problems linking to the Daily News site with Internet Explorer, the entire article is posted below:


By Alexandra Sandels
First Published: October 31, 2007

CAIRO: Shady Samir, a 33-year-old business owner, lost his father two years ago. Yet, he is still paying the yearly taxes on his father’s business as if he was alive. Why? Because his father is Bahai and official Egyptian documents such as the death certificate only recognize the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish faiths.

For Samir’s father to be “officially dead” to the national authorities, he would need to convert and become a Muslim, Christian, or a Jew upon his death.

(Shady Samir’s paper ID card features a dash in the religious faith entry)

Official documents such as identity cards and birth certificates are a survival necessity. Citizens cannot enroll in school, receive medical treatment, take bank loans, or buy a car without their national ID card. Young children cannot even receive vaccinations against diseases without a birth certificate.

Those Bahais who refuse to pose as Christians, Muslims, or Jews are left in limbo, living as stateless people in their own country.

“Egyptian Bahais exist in nature but in the eyes of the state they are non-existent,” said Hossam Baghat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights (EIPR).

Dr Basma Moussa, an assistant professor in oral surgery at Cairo University and of Bahai faith, argues that Al-Azhar issued a certificate claiming that she is an apostate, which delayed her tenure for several years.

Ragi Labib, a 27-year-old Bahai student at Cairo University with an easy smile, also struggles in life for refusing to officially adhere to one of the three religions deemed suitable for official documents by the government.

Labib is eager to travel the world and dreams of someday acquiring a passport — the only official Egyptian document that does not require a statement of religious affiliation. That however, can prove a difficult task as well, since the passport application process requires other official documents that state the person’s religious faith.

“While most people dream of having a family, a car, and a big house, I dream of having a passport. It’s ridiculous,” Labib told Daily News Egypt.

The court battle for the rights of Bahais to obtain official documents has been going on for years. In 2004, EIPR reportedly started receiving complaints from Bahais who claimed they were forced to write that they were Muslims, Christians, or Jews in order to obtain official documents.

“I can’t even prove that I am married because the national authorities do not recognize Bahai marriage certificates,” Samir argued.

The Supreme Administrative Court reversed a ruling in favor of the Bahais in December 2006 on the appeal of Egyptian authorities. The new ruling granted the state the right to deny Bahais identity documents recognizing their religious affiliation.

Shortly thereafter, EIPR’s lawyers modified their requests arguing that Bahai Egyptians should at least have the right to obtain documents without having to state religious affiliation at all.

The issue at stake is particularly pressing as Sept. 30, 2007 marked the last day the old handwritten ID cards could be used. Several Bahais still possess the now useless handwritten document where a dash marks the field for religious affiliation — a common procedure practiced up until 2003.

According to Samir, a 2003 internal memo in the Ministry of Interior reversed that privilege, making it impermissible to leave the box for religious affiliation unmarked on the computerized ID card.

On Tuesday, a Cairo Administrative Court postponed its decision in two legal cases concerning the rights of Bahais to be exempted from putting religious affiliation in their official documents.

The lawsuits concern 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who are still unable to obtain computerized birth certificates unless they claim they are either Muslim, Christian or Jewish. It also concerns 18-year-old Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih who has been suspended from his university studies as a result of his inability to obtain an identity card.

“We can’t work, we can’t do anything. I don’t know how to live in my own country,” Hussein Hosni, the father of Abdel-Massih told Daily News Egypt.

The father of the twins, Dr Raouf Hind, has been fighting his daughters’ case in court since 2002. He obtained birth certificates for the twins upon their birth in the Sultanate of Oman in 1993 that recognized their true religious affiliation. Problems arose, however, when Hindi sought to exchange the documents for Egyptian birth certificates.

“The clerk told me that I had to select Christianity, Islam, or Judaism as my daughters’ religious affiliations. I told him we are third generation Bahai,” Hindi said in an interview with Daily News Egypt.

When Hindi refused to fill in the field for religious affiliation in his daughters’ birth certificates, he was allegedly told to “go to court.”

“All I am asking from the authorities is to let us leave the field for religious affiliation blank in my daughters’ official documents and not force us to be something we’re not,” Hindi added.

Unable to send his children to school in Egypt, Hindi said his twin daughters attend a British school in Libya where their mother works as a physician.

On one of the court benches sat Medhat Nos, a young Christian blogger and moderator of the Internet blog “7rakat” (Movements). He traveled all the way from Assiut to show solidarity with his fellow citizens.

“We need to defend the human rights of our people regardless of their religious affiliation,” said Nos.

The obstacles facing Bahais also sparked the interest of Egyptian human rights activists who demonstrated in support of the Bahais several times in downtown Cairo last year.

Video clips and pictures from the rallies show large crowds of activists holding up enlarged versions of ID cards belonging to Bahais where the box for religious affiliation is marked by a dash or has simply been left blank.

The issue also caught the interest of freelance moviemaker Ahmed Ezzat. His documentary “Identity Crisis” came out February this year.

A portrayal of the lives of Egyptian Bahais, the film depicts their struggle to become recognized citizens in their own country. So far, Ezzat’s film has been reportedly banned from several Egyptian film festivals, including the Alexandria Film Festival.

“Religion is a controversial topic here. My film was most likely banned to its sensitive content,” Ezzat told Daily News Egypt.

Ezzat maintains, however, that he recently was able to screen it before a group of members of the government-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), marking a step forward in the process.

The film begins by depicting the December 2006 court decision denying Bahais the right to state their true religious affiliation on identity documents.

As the verdict is read before the crowded court room, a group of Islamist activists raised their hands towards the ceiling victoriously shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) while waving the Quran before, stunned Bahais, human rights activists, and reporters.

One of the Muslim activists, Mohamed Salem goes on to say that Bahais are apostates and that “infidels should be killed.”

“How can I be an apostate when I was never a Muslim? I was born Bahai. I am fourth generation,” Samir countered.

While Bahais have lived in Egypt for more than a hundred years, there is no official record of them since President Nasser decided to shut down their national assembly in the 1960s.

“Some put the number of Egyptian Bahai at hundreds of thousands. My guess though is that there are a couple of thousands of us,” Samir said.

The next hearing in the two Bahai legal cases is scheduled for Nov. 13.

Egypt is a signatory of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making “protection of citizens from religious discrimination” and “education without distinction on any basis, including religion or belief” legally binding.