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....


  1. In reading this sorry excuse of a hearing, a few things come to mind.
    The attitude of the judge had the opposite effect of what he intended: he managed to disgrace himself and his office while the whole world was watching. Meanwhile, the consequences of his scorn will fuel more support for the Baha'is.
    Note, however, a very important point: if, according to him, there was nothing new and the verdict was to be announced at the end of the session, why wasn't it??? Would it be that the judge is aware of the growing outrage among Egyptians and that he realizes that a negative verdict depriving citizens of their rights will have far reaching consequences? His derogatory mocking is a sign of weakness, hiding the fact that he is not pleased that this is happening on his watch. In the back of his mind he knows only too well: something is rotten in the state of Egypt...

  2. The courts have proven themselves impotent in Egypt. They are at the will of the authorities, be they secular or religious! A mocking judge is a disgrace to the bench, to his position, and to his country. The courts are to administer justice, not to condone or worse yet perpetrate injustice. Here we witness a new form of the Spanish inquisition in Egypt! History is not on the side of this mocking judge! To be a good Muslim, and a good judge, fairness, fair-mindedness, neutrality, and open-mindedness are his attributes. Bigotry, narrow-mindedness, bias, prejudice, and hatred are neither the qualities of a good Muslim, nor a good judge!

    The blame for this situation falls directly on the government. If the government wished to treat all its citizens with dignity and respect, this situation would not have occurred in the first place. It is the government appealing one of the exceptionally fair verdicts upholding human rights that resulted in this denial of identity and existence. It is still unclear what the government's aim is other than misleading the public to gain political favor at the expense of a helpless tiny and peaceful minority.

    The government should promote understanding rather than hatred and bigotry. If it did, it might find that the Baha'is are the very same people who deeply love their country and, if allowed, would dedicate themselves to serving the entire nation by bringing a better understanding in all aspects of human endeavor.

  3. In the comprehensive report just produced by Human Rights Watch, it states very eloquently: Logically, it makes no sense for the government to say to citizens that they are free to believe what they like and then deem it unacceptable when citizens respond honestly when the government requires them to state what they believe. It is one thing for a government to say to citizens: “You can believe in whatever religion you want, but the state does not have to recognize it.” It is another thing entirely for the government to say: “If you do not lie when we ask you what religion you follow, we will deny you identification documents critical to daily life in this society.”

  4. The report continues by stating: Even assuming that truthfully stating one’s religion when required to do so constitutes “manifestation” of belief, the government’s “public order” justification fails on the facts. The government has consistently failed to demonstrate how public order would be harmed by allowing citizens to list their true religious affiliation in their identification documents

  5. In its concluding remarks, under "Remedies" it states:
    At least one quasi-official agency has attempted to address Egypt’s consistent failure to protect the religious freedom of Egyptian converts and Baha’is. The government-created National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on December 26, 2006, outlining the difficulties faced by Egypt’s Baha’i community and proposed removing religious affiliation from ID cards or reinstating the policy of entering “other” in the line reserved for religion. In August 2007, the NCHR announced its intention to draft an anti-discrimination bill that it would ask the government to present to parliament in order to introduce criminal penalties for violating the constitutional prohibition against discrimination.

    Abolishing the mention of religion in identification documents would undoubtedly constitute a positive measure, as it would signal the state's neutrality vis-à-vis the religious affiliations of citizens in everyday dealings. Yet the numerous accounts included in this report show that the root cause of the issue goes far deeper than what appears or does not appear on identification documents. The serious problems faced by Baha’is and converts to Christianity in areas such as accessing basic services are the consequence of the government’s insistence on misidentifying these citizens in CSD files in the Civil Registry, an issue that the NCHR’s recommendations do not address.

    The government of Egypt should therefore take immediate steps to ensure that a person’s religious identity in CSD files, as well as any religious identification listed on vital documents, accurately reflects their religious belief and the faith to which they adhere in practice without any negative civil or criminal consequences. The government should also instruct officials to cease pressuring individuals to convert to Islam, or to accept any religious identity against their wishes.

  6. Under "Recommendations," it states:

    To the government of Egypt

    -Implement the recommendation of the government-created National Council for Human Rights to eliminate the requirement to list religion on official identification documents.

    -Take immediate steps to ensure that any required religious identity in the Civil Registry, and any religious identity that the government continues to require on essential identification documents, accurately reflect an individual’s actual religious belief, whatever that belief may be, without unfavorable civil or criminal consequences and in accordance with Egypt’s obligations to respect the rights to freedom of religion under Egyptian and international law.

    -Exonerate any persons who were criminally convicted for having obtained forged identity documents solely because of the government’s refusal to allow them to identify themselves as converts from Islam.

    -Instruct officials of the Ministry of Interior to cease pressuring individuals to convert to Islam or to accept an official religious identity against their wishes, and discipline officials who engage in such unacceptable practices.

    -Conduct media and public awareness campaigns, with participation from civil society, to promote religious tolerance and equal citizenship rights, and clarify that changing one’s religion from Islam or publicly adhering to a religion other than Islam, Christianity, or Judaism should have no punitive civil or criminal consequences.

    -Adopt laws and other appropriate measures to fulfill the international legal obligation to uphold the rights of all individuals against discrimination, including on the basis of religion and belief. Ensure that individuals whose rights to freedom of religion or belief are violated shall have an effective remedy.

    -Grant the request, standing since 2005, of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief to conduct a mission to Egypt to assess the situation of religious freedoms and formulate recommendations for combating religious discrimination and intolerance.

  7. While Egypt is not the only country that requires a person to list their religion on national identity cards, many countries in the Middle East do not, among them Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. See http://www.uscirf.org/mediaroom/press/2006/december/20061219EgyptCardPolicy.htm

  8. The report also states:

    The Computerization Deadline

    Egypt introduced computer-generated birth certificates and plastic national identity cards in 1995. Since then, persons needing a birth certificate or national identity card because they had come of age, or needing to replace their existing paper ID, have had no option other than a computer-generated card. As this report documents, when Egyptians have requested identity documents reflecting the fact that they are Baha’i or adhere to any religion other than Islam, Judaism, or Christianity, officials have told them that government policy does not permit this and that, furthermore, the computers generating the ID cards were programmed in a way that prevented them from leaving the religion line blank or writing “other” on that line.

    Since 2004, government officials have been warning that older paper IDs would soon no longer be valid and urging citizens to approach Civil Status Department offices to obtain their computer-generated plastic cards. On August 13, 2007, General `Isam al-Din Bahgat, then-Assistant Minister of Interior and president of the CSD, asserted in Al-Ahram,the semi-official daily newspaper, that as of October 2007, government offices will no longer accept paper IDs in official dealings. According to the US Department of State, in its International Religious Freedom Report 2007, the government extended the deadline for the use of old identity cards to January 2008. As of this writing, the government had not issued any law or decree setting an official deadline for the expiry of old IDs.

  9. Whoever is overlooking the judges' conduct in Egypt should be made aware of what transpired Tuesday in court. It is not ethical for a judge to discuss one of his docket's cases with the plaintiffs of the next case (even if the cases are similar.) It would be the equivalent of a doctor saying "it’s a good thing you heard me telling my previous patient that he has a fatal disease, because you are suffering from exactly the same ailment!”

  10. No more clear a picture can illustrate the challenges faced when addressing Egyptian institutions. From the simplest of requests for basic services at branch departments to such significant bodies as the Court of Administrative Justice, the common exercise of incompetence, deceit, deviation of issues, and postponement are prevalent. That the least consideration to exercise tact and discretion in concealing such ineptitude – overlooking the most fundamental requirement to rectify such behavior - is not even exercised, is by itself an arrogant and offensive statement that challenges the objectives of all governments and institutions that aid and hold interests in Egypt. If the highest institutions are incapable of maintaining order within their own jurisdiction, what does this indicate of present and future stability and potential for growth? If this is a government that allows itself to recede to outdated and extremist ideologies, disregards the provisions of its own constitution, dishonors the numerous national and international covenants it is party to, then what is left that can be said to be of substance?

  11. It is hoped that this was only a reflection of this particular judge assigned to the case, and not the entire legal system in Egypt. As for the government, we will need to wait and see its action before passing judgement.

  12. How long a wait? How long will it take this government to recognize its errant ways? How long the suffering of widows and children? How long will it take to recognize that its policies are inflicting direct suffering on a non-political and peaceful minority? How long will it take this government to recognize that its actions are contrary to human principles, its constitution, and its international obligations? It is time for the government to do what is honorable!

  13. As mentioned in the post, it is now the government's duty and responsibility to find a satisfactory solution to this deplorable situation. This has to be done without delay.

  14. this Judge has shown the world the depth of his cowardice....He has shamed himself and the Egyptian court system....

  15. Excellent coverage. Thank you and thanks for referencing the Human Rights Watch 98 page report 'State interference with religious freedom' where there is a full section on the ' The Baha’is and policy of erasure'... here is the web site http://hrw.org/reports/2007/egypt1107/

  16. Thank you for your contributions and for pointing to the link for the full report.


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