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."

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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.


  1. This is quite comprehensive. A true example for objective journalism.

  2. Thank you Daily News Egypt for your professionalism and objectivity. I wish the news media in the most democratic countries were as objective as yours. Truth always prevails, sooner or later, and God is the all seeing and hearing, and that how we distinguish between the true blievers and fanatism. Thank you again.

  3. It is wonderful to see objective journalism from Egypt. I only wish this report is translated and published in a major Arabic newspaper!

    As anonymous 2 mentioned, truth has a way of prevailing, if not today, then tomorrow, if not this year, then next, if not this decade, then the next decade! Some are champions of truth, others are stirrers of sedition and thrive on distortion. From DNEs objective reporting, Daily News Egypt clearly falls in the former category!

  4. i do not know how long we will not receive our human rights

  5. I wonder what is in store tomorrow, November 13, 2007, for the several court cases that were postponed until this date?

    Egypt can resolve the problem and it would be a pleasant surprise, but I am not holding my breath!

  6. Egypt is the less developed country in the world. No wonder that all minorities are still suffering. Even Al Qura2nein, who are Muslims, are being presecuted.
    Human rights are non-existent in Egypt. I really don't want to offend any Muslims, but I just want to ask them why does your religion make it so hard for anybody, who is not a Muslim, to live? Why are Muslims so intolerant? Muslims around the world are very intolerant esp. Egyptian Muslims. Why, why and why? See how Muslims live in the West. They have their own mosques, foundations and organizations. They are free to practice their religion.
    When will we see our beloved country Egypt a civilized country with a strong legal system that would protect minorities and not presecute them? This is one of the questions in life that certainly have no answer.

  7. You can always judge a country by the way it treats its weakest minority....


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