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....


  1. The Egyptian government has always been greatly concerned about its own sovereignty and its resentment of outside interference. Its lack of action has led to exactly what it does not want, that is outside interference and worldwide outrage at its ineptness and refusal to treat its minorities justly. Perhaps it is now time for the government to prove to the world that it is indeed just and means what it says about citizenship rights. It cannot afford any more delays in acting.

  2. Egyptian courts are handling the Baha’i case as a “hot potato.” None of the judges would want to make a ruling one way or the other, because they are damned if they do rule for the Baha’is and damned if they do not. They obviously lack the courage and integrity to rule justly. Because of this, the Baha’i case will need to be solved by the government and not the courts. If indecision lingers on, the situation can only get worse for the government.

  3. The barrier had collapsed. It is now long past concern for "outside interference." Simply put, it is time for action!

  4. A correction to the San Francisco Chronicle article: Baha'is do not consider Baha’u’llah the last Prophet instead of Muhammad. The Baha'i belief of progressive revelation is a central theme that clearly affirms successive divine dispensation; Messengers sent throughout periods of time with teachings in accordance to the conditions and requirements of a particular phase of humanity’s development.

  5. Thank you for this correction to the Chronicle's article. Another point to mention is that there is no such term as "Bahaism" as stated in the article. It should be referred to as Baha'i Faith instead.

  6. It is not surprising at all that the Egyptian authorities (Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Interior), in response to this report, deny that there is any problem for their citizens. They insist that Egypt guarantees freedom of belief! Either they must be watching “another game” or they have their heads buried deep in the sand.

  7. one thing that one should consider about the ID cards is that the Shiite sect of Islam which dominates Iran and also probably have a great influence in Egypt are one of the main factors behind this injustice. May be one should consider first to address this problem in both countries. I don't see in any articles mentioning the name of Shiite sect of Islam. The Bahai Faith has been under attack since the beginning in Iran, not only losing their lives, livelihood, but also destroying the holy places all over the country. You cannot have a democracy in any country where fenatism rules. Unfortunately, in all Islamic countries politics and religion is intertwined and cannot be separated. Until those who think that there are only three divine relligions change their behavior, this will be ongoing for generaltions to come. My prayers for all the oppressed of the societies and may justice prevail.

  8. Before the Egyptian courts/government decide denying the Baha’is their rights, I believe they should debate what their intentions are in doing so and what they are going to achieve, as these might be two very different things.

    I think one can assume that the authorities intention would be to:
    - punish: you don’t conform with any of the 3 main religions, hence you are breaking the law, hence we are punishing you.
    - scorn: see what we can do to you even though we know it’s illegal but you can’t fight back, we’ll make your life miserable.
    - force conversion: that is your only way out of this dilemma, convert or else
    - gain the favors of a small group of intolerant religious extremists
    - make this minority disappear all together as they are not a true religion

    What they would achieve would most likely be:
    - an outrage among a lot of Egyptians and around the world because this act would be illegal according to the Egyptian constitution.
    - the timeless passive resistance from people who are used to being scorned. It has been working so far. Without public protest, without shouts of hatred, without public display of anger, in their miserable conditions, the Baha’is have been strong and would still be a thorn in the authorities’ side.
    - obviously no conversions from the Baha’i faith to another religion. It is well known that persecution only strengthens beliefs. Possibly conversion from another religion to the Baha’i faith from people who did not know it even existed until the authorities placed it in the limelight and made its tenets very attractive compared to the narrow minded views of its persecutors.
    - certainly delight for the above mentioned extremists… but sometimes you have to be careful in deciding which minority you associate with. When choosing an ally, compare actions and behaviors over time and space before you decide…
    - bringing even more attention to the predicament of this small group whose cause would be championed by well wishers all around the world who know it is not up to mankind to decide if a religion is true or not.

    On the other hand, let’s look at what the authorities would gain in giving the Baha’is their rights to have ID cards to their liking (with or without their religion named)
    - the admiration of the world for redressing a tort
    - the gratitude of people who have been abused for too long
    - a step toward tolerance of others
    - the regain of self esteem for the authorities and the feeling that justice has been served
    - mostly a nod of approval from the “authority” above….

    So what is it going to be?

  9. Just a response to one of the above comments regarding "Shiite Islam." Shi'a Islam is a minority in Egypt. They are discriminated against in Egypt by Sunni Islam. Egyptian Shi'a Muslims are somewhat different and have been supportive of the Baha'is of Egypt in their struggle. It is also important to note that not all Shi'a Muslims are discriminating against the Baha'is, only the extremist few have done so.

  10. Even though Shiite Islam is a minority in Egypt, but they are very much in the same line with the ones in Iran, of course not the population, but the clergy and fanatics. You can be sure if they had the majority in Egypt they would follow the same philosophy as the fanatics in Iran, (e.g. look what happened in Lebanon once they became a pollitical force). They are supportive of the Baha'is because of their own self interest. Sorry but everywhere I look I see their stamps on all evils. I need to see action and public declaration in front of the whole world before I believe it. I am sure the whole world is aware of the 25 years of the inhumane conditions that the Bahai's live under in Iran, not even to mention that they even don't leave the deads alone, and because of the self interest of superpowers and domination the civilized world has closed its eyes. With all the above I firmly believe in God's justice and may He be the protector of all the oppressed. Stay firm and don't lose faith.

  11. You bring up important issues. My tendency though is to avoid generalization. Many Shi’a out there genuinely support the Baha'is and are offended by the actions of their co-religionists.

  12. Thank you bilo for your comments. My writing is based on what I have witnessed personally as I have travelled throughtout the world. Unfortunately, I have not had the chance yet to visit Egypt and my hope is that the Egyptians have a different mentality and are more tolerant. It is really sad how Islam has been hijacked by fanatics, and I hope all of our Moslem brothers and sister take a step back and really understand the Holy Quran and the Islamic traditions. thank you again.

  13. You are always welcome with your valuable contributions.

  14. The distinction between authority of leadership, political and religious, and the public community is one that cannot be overemphasized. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that the common civilian, whether Muslim or Christian, is not unreasonable when it comes to acknowledging that all Egyptians have the basic rights of citizenship. It is an uncommon occasion when an individual Baha’i is confronted in an exceptionally abusive manner, and even so by those officials who are instructed to carry out orders despite their personal abhorrence to do so. Such people display compassion, regret, and on occasion, go out of their way to grant exceptions and accommodate difficult procedures that are within their jurisdiction. There are those who take pleasure in exercising authority in an abusive and degrading manner, however, this characteristic is by reputation, an inherent quality that is exercised, to some degree or other, upon all who have the misfortune of having to pass through their door. For these reasons, the application of blanket terms as Muslims, Shiites and such, may be deemed inaccurate and obstruct efforts that require focus on those who are the true agitators.


Your opinion is valuable. Please share your thoughts.