Saturday, December 29, 2007

An Eventful Year in Egypt: Religion Vs. Citizenship!

In wrapping up the year's events and its significant developments, Al-Ahram Weekly, the English version of Egypt's semi-official newspaper, published an extensive article authored by several writers and under various titles. The main article carries the title "All's not well on the domestic front." One of the article's sections, with the heading "Much to be modest about," was written by one of Al-Ahram's most-respected editors, Mr. Gamal Nkrumah, who addresses the pressing issues of citizenship and religious freedom.

He begins by stating: MUDDLED expectations, more openness on religious freedoms and the correlation between religion and civil rights were defining features of 2007.

Perhaps one of the most determining characteristics of 2007 is not so much the manner in which religion generally has had an ever-increasing impact on public life. Rather, it is that the entire question of religious affiliation and the precise nature of its correlation to citizenship and civil rights have become the subject of a pronouncedly open public debate. The rough edges of the politico-religious debate have not been sanded off. What has changed is the nature of the debate and the fashion in which the media tackled the prickly question of religious rights.

Further down in his article, he addresses the crisis of identification documents for Egyptian Baha'is by writing the following:

How did other religious minorities fare in 2007? The Bahaai community in Egypt is among the most disgruntled. The Bahaai community is generally among the most prosperous and law-abiding in many countries around the world and not only in the West. In Egypt, however, they have had a rotten luck. That is a good cause for worry. Amid confusion and half-truths, the controversy surrounding the nature of the Bahaais of Egypt continues unabated.

As far as the Christian communities of Egypt are concerned, the most pressing issue is full citizenship and civil rights. The same goes for the Bahaai community in Egypt today. "The crux of the matter is our struggle for official recognition as Egyptians and for full citizenship rights," Labib Iskandar, a leading Egyptian Bahaai, and a professor of engineering at Cairo University told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We move about without personal identification cards. That is a criminal offence in Egypt. We could be stopped by police at any moment, anywhere and asked for our ID," he explained. The removal of religious affiliation slot on computerised ID cards has become not only a question of priority for the Bahaai community, but has also been advocated by non-other an influential organisation than the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).

"Inability to produce an ID card entails a five-year prison sentence. Still, we have faith in the legal system," Basma Moussa, a dentist and an assistant lecturer at Cairo University, yet another outspoken Egyptian Bahaai concurred. Moussa, a vociferous spokeswoman on the plight of Egypt's Bahaais, told the Weekly that the conditions of Bahaais in Egypt has become untenable. "I am a university professor but cannot even withdraw money from my bank account because I do not have an ID card. I cannot even buy or register a car," she complained. "Worse, there are many Bahaai youngsters who cannot even enroll at schools or universities because they do not have birth certificates or ID cards. This causes serious psychological traumas. It is most distressing for the parents and disheartening for the youth. The right to education is a particularly important human right," she explained. "All Bahaai children born in 2004 and afterwards cannot have birth certificates. Shall we lie about our religion in order to secure false birth certificates," she demanded in desperation.

Ironically, in 1924, Egypt became the first predominantly Muslim state to legally recognise the Bahaai faith. However, this initial tolerance was repealed in the 1960s. Currently, Bahaai institutions and public practice of the Bahaai faith is prohibited by Law 263.

In an ideal world, they should. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former secretary-general of the United Nations and currently head of the National Council for Human Rights assured the Weekly that his organisation, an advisory body, had recommended to the government that the slot pertaining to religion on the ID cards be discarded. Conceivably in the not so distant future, this demand by Bahaais and others will be realised.

And, 2007 has been a year in which their specific grievances have come to the fore. "That is the only positive aspect of 2007. At least now we are discussing our predicament in public forums and that makes 2007 relatively better than 2008," Moussa concluded.

As Copts, too, contemplate a prouder future, positions differ on how precarious the situation is. Some Copts want to engage more prominently in peaceful politics, to partake of the democratisation process. But it is hard to determine precisely what degree of freedom the country's assorted religious minorities have attained in 2007.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Another Year Passes With No Solution for Egypt's ID Crisis

International Herald Tribune's "Daily News Egypt", the country's only independent English-language daily, has just published a story regarding yesterday's postponement of the two cases involving Egyptian Baha'is who are attempting to obtain their basic civil rights. Because of "Internet Explorer" incompatibility with the newspaper's website, the entire article is re-posted below:


By Alexandra Sandels
First Published: December 25, 2007

CAIRO: The Cairo Court of Administrative Justice postponed Tuesday its verdict in the two Bahai trials to Jan. 22, citing “continuing case deliberations.”

Postponed for the fifth time in a row, the verdict would determine whether Bahais could obtain official documents without affiliating themselves to a religion different than their own.

Many members from the Bahai community along with journalists and activists turned up for the session, which many believed would deliver the final decision.

“I’m disappointed. The plaintiffs are ready for the case to be closed. It’s been ongoing since 2004,” Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Daily News Egypt.

Shady Samir, a Bahai activist, said that “he’s become used to it” at this point.

“There seems to be a lot of debate about the case. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t been able to make a decision yet,” Samir told Daily News Egypt.

The first suit involves 14-year-old twins Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who have been unable to obtain birth certificates. Prohibited from enrolling in school without official documents, their father Dr Raouf Hindi had to send them to a British School in Libya.

The second lawsuit concerns Hosni Hussein Abdel-Massih, a Bahai student who has been ordered to leave his university studies since he cannot obtain a national ID card.

In order to obtain any kind of official documents in Egypt — including birth certificates, identity cards and marriage licenses — one must state their religious affiliation. Currently, authorities only recognize Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Passports are the only exception, and do not require citizens to list their religious faith.

Citizens cannot enroll in school, receive medical treatment, take bank loans, or buy a car without government documents such as identity cards and birth certificates. Young children cannot receive vaccinations against diseases without a birth certificate.

Bahais want to either write their faith as is or leave a blank space on the religion entry in official documents.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cairo: Court Postpones Baha'i Cases Again!

The two Baha'i cases before Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice, involving the twin children's request for birth certificates and the university student's dismissal & demand for ID card, got postponed again today--in a very swift session--for a ruling until 22 January 2008.

Television news court interviews:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Egypt's Watany Newspaper on Mixing Citizenship with Religion

Cairo's Watany newspaper has just published an extensive article on the question of confusing citizenship with religion in Egypt. It gives examples of Egyptian Baha'is, Christians and free thinkers who have been deprived of their identity or even citizenship on account of their chosen religions, personal philosophy or thought. It poses clear and penetrating questions regarding the legitimacy of such procedures that are intended to deprive Egyptian citizens of their basic human rights.

The article explains that the Baha'is were placed in a sector of society that has been labeled "Fe'aat al-bedoon" meaning "the 'without' congregation!" It also quotes Dr. Fouad Abdel-Meneim Ryadh who described the situation of the Baha'is of Egypt to be equivalent to "exile." The author, then, likens this to a schizophrenic presentation and questions its conflict with the first article of the Egyptian constitution which guarantees the rights of citizenship.

النموذج الاول:-قضية البهائيين والمرتدين عن الإسلام
فى 16 ديسمبر حكم قضاء مجلس الدولة بعدم أحقية البهائيين فى الحصول على بطاقات الرقم القومى. والبهائيون متواجدون فى مصر منذ منتصف القرن التاسع عشر، وهم كمواطنيين متواجدون قبل ذلك بمئات السنيين وقد تحول بعضهم عن المسيحية واكثرهم عن الإسلام. ويشكلون الآن آلافا من المواطنيين فى مصر. وحرمانهم من ذكر كلمة بهائى فى اوراق الهوية وإمتناع الدولة عن إصدار بطاقات الرقم القومى لهم هو حرمانهم من أهم حقوق المواطنة، فبناء على الأوراق الثبوتية تسير كافة الأمور فى مصر بما فى ذلك الحصول على الوظائف وإستلام المرتبات والمعاشات ، والالتحاق بالمدارس والجامعات والحصول على رخص لقيادة السيارات، والالتحاق بالخدمة العسكرية، بل وإستخراج شهادات الزواج والطلاق والوفاة.أى إنهم عمليا جرودا من جنسيتهم المصرية واصبحو فى وضع " فئة البدون" فى الكويت، وهذا يمثل اسوأ تعسف فى الربط بين حقوق الجنسية والدين...فكيف تجرأ قاضى بالحكم على مواطنيين مصريين بهذا الموت الإجتماعى. لقد وصف د. فؤاد عبد المنعم رياض هذا الوضع ب "الافناء"، ووصف مفوض الأمم المتحدة لحقوق الإنسان من يتحولون عن الإسلام فى الدول الإسلامية بأنهم فى حكم الموتى إجتماعيا فى بلدانهم بحرمانهم من كافة حقوق المواطنة الأساسية.
ونفس ما يتعرض له البهائيون فى مصر هو نفس ما يتعرض له المتحولون عن الإسلام، بل ويضاف إليهم مخاطر مطاردتهم جسديا لقتلهم بعد الفتاوى التى صدرت ضدهم من بعض المشايخ بانهم مرتدون ، بالاضافة إلى مطاردتهم فى المحاكم وإعتقال الكثيرين منهم إداريا والهجوم على منازل أغلبهم مما اضطرهم لهجرة هذه المنازل خوفا من القتل.
هل يستطيع أحد أن يفسر لنا هذه الشيزوفرنيا؟ وكيف يستقيم مبدأ المواطنة الذى يتصدر المادة الأولى من الدستور مع هذا السلوك؟

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Egypt: Baha'i International Community on Upcoming Court Cases

Baha'i World News Service has published a news release on 20 December 2007 in anticipation for the upcoming "final judgement" by Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice, scheduled for 25 December. These cases, after many postponements, we last heard in court on 13 November 2007, as reported in this previous post.

The entire news release is posted below:

Egypt court to rule next week on new religious freedom cases

20 December 2007 (BWNS)

A court is expected to rule early next week on two cases related to the government's policy on religious affiliation and national identity papers, an issue that has been hotly debated here in recent months and a focus of international human rights concerns.

The first case involves a lawsuit by the father of twin children, who is seeking to obtain proper birth certificates for them. The second concerns a college student, who needs a national identity card to re-enroll in university.

Both are set for "final judgment" by the Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo on 25 December 2007. In both cases, the individuals involved are unable to obtain government identification papers because they are Baha'is.

"The world has increasingly come to understand the basic injustice imposed by the Egyptian government's policies on religious affiliation and official documents -- and the court has before it in these two cases the chance once again to right that wrong," said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha'i International Community.

"Last year, under pressure from Muslim fundamentalists, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected a lower court decision that had required the government to include the word 'Baha'i' on official documents. These two new cases offer a compromise solution, asking merely that the religious affiliation field be left blank or filled in with the word 'other,'" added Ms. Dugal.

The government requires all identification papers to list religious affiliation but then restricts the choice to the three officially recognized religions -- Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Baha'is are thus unable to obtain identification papers because they refuse to lie about their religious affiliation.

Without national identity cards -- or, as in the case of the twin children, birth certificates -- Baha'is and others caught in the law's contradictory requirements are deprived of a wide range of citizenship rights, such as access to employment, education, and medical and financial services.

More Details

These problems were highlighted in a report issued in November by Human Rights Watch and the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

"Employers, both public and private, by law cannot hire someone without an ID, and academic institutions require IDs for admission," said the report. "Obtaining a marriage license or a passport requires a birth certificate; inheritance, pensions, and death benefits are contingent on death certificates. The Ministry of Health has even refused to provide immunizations to some Baha'i children because the Interior Ministry would not issue them birth certificates accurately listing their Baha'i religion."

The issuance of birth certificates is at the heart of the first case, which concerns 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Rauf Hindi. Their father, Rauf Hindi, obtained birth certificates that recognized their Baha'i affiliation when they were born.

But new policies require computer generated certificates, and the computer system locks out any religious affiliation but the three officially recognized religions. And without birth certificates, the children are unable to enroll in school in Egypt.

The second lawsuit was filed by the EIPR last February on behalf of 18-year-old Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University's Higher Institute of Social Work in January 2006 due to his inability to obtain an identity card because of his refusal to falsely identify himself as either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

In both cases, lawyers representing the Baha'is have made it clear that they are willing to settle for cards or documents on which the religious affiliation field is left blank or filled in, perhaps, as "other."

This solution is what makes these two cases different from the lawsuit that was rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court last year, said Hossam Baghat, director of the EIPR.

"The negative ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court has forced us to file these new cases," said Mr. Baghat, whose organization has been at the forefront of defending Egyptian Baha'is in this controversy. "The facts are extremely similar to the case that we lost last year, but we are calling this time for documents without any religious affiliation.

"For us, this is really the test for the government and the judiciary on this issue. Because if the main problem is the fact that the Baha'i Faith is not recognized in Egypt, then there should be no grounds for them to deny these Egyptian citizens documents that are necessary for their daily life without any reference to religion."

Mr. Baghat said the cases also have implications for religious freedom in general in Egypt.

"So far, the problem only affects Egyptian Baha'is, but the same problem could arise in theory with Egyptians who are adherents of Buddhism or Hinduism," said Mr. Baghat. "But it is also important for people who do not wish to be identified with any religion, which is a right guaranteed by both Egyptian and international law."

For Egyptian Baha'is, the facts of life on the ground continue to deteriorate in the absence of a solution, said Labib Hanna, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Baha'i community.

"We are not able to do anything without valid identification papers," said Dr. Hanna, who is a professor of mathematics at Cairo University. "We cannot renew a driver's license, we cannot obtain permanent employment, and we cannot send our children to school."

He said many Baha'is are able to meet the needs of daily life by taking temporary positions, dealing with banks, schools, or other institutions where they have an established relationship, or by continuing to use old, paper-based identification cards that allowed for other options in the religious affiliation field.

"We are trying to survive," said Dr. Hanna. "But it is difficult. We are struggling."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Egypt Moves Forward in the Path of Human Rights

This week, in the English version of Egypt's semi-official newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, Gamal Nkrumah wrote an article about Egypt's celebration of Human Rights Day. Al-Ahram newspaper is the voice of Egypt's government.

Below are a few selected paragraphs quoted here for their relevance. In order to read the entire article, please click here....

Egypt celebrated International Human Rights Day this week, drawing attention to the country's mixed record, writes Gamal Nkrumah.

On Monday, a ceremony took place at Al-Ahram organised by the Human Rights Capacity Building Project (BENAA, or "Building" in Arabic), during which prizes were distributed to journalists whose writings promote human rights.

Among the topics raised in the winning articles were the role of Internet blogs in enhancing public awareness of human rights, as well as violence against women, the issue of street children and the prickly subject of torture.

"We based the NCHR's third annual report, the Human Rights Situation in Egypt 2006/2007, on complaints received from citizens from all walks of life. We took into consideration infringements and violations of their rights as provided for in the Egyptian constitution, national laws and legislation, and in the international Charter on Human Rights," Boutros-Ghali explained.

He stressed that the focus of the NCHR was to "identify the most serious infringements of human rights."

Ghali also noted that particular problems faced by religious minorities, such as Coptic Christians and Bahaais, had been carefully examined. "However, many Muslims also complained about what they saw as infringements of their human and social rights," Boutros-Ghali added.

"The violation of the rights of one citizen is as important as the collective violation of the rights of many citizens," Boutros-Ghali said.

He said that in the case of the Bahaais, the NCHR had recommended that the religious identity of individuals should not be written on identity cards. This, he noted, was of particular importance to Bahaais and to people who had changed their religious affiliations.

"Religion should be a private matter," Boutros- Ghali insisted. "No citizen should be discriminated against because of his or her religion, gender, race or political affiliation."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Voice of America Report on Egypt's ID Crisis

This radio report, prepared by Challiss McDonough, was aired on 12 November 2007 by Voice of America. It addresses the current identification crisis in Egypt. Egyptian Baha'is continue to be deprived of their basic civil rights in their homeland. Two landmark cases will be ruled on by Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice on 25 December 2007. To review the story behind these cases, please click here.

Listen to the radio broadcast by clicking on the player below:

Friday, December 07, 2007

BBC Xtra: Program on Baha'is of Egypt

BBC Xtra Arabic program aired on 5 December 2007 a broadcast on the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt. A number of Egyptian Baha'is, human rights activists and journalists were interviewed regarding their current status of being deprived of their civil rights in their own homeland.

The introductory paragraph (attached) explains that, for example, in Lebanon after long years of civil war, the authorities had finally eliminated religious classification from ID cards. However, it added, in some other Arab nations, the authorities demand that all citizens enter their religion in ID cards. Only Egypt allows just three choices for religion to be entered: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It then states that religious minorities, for example Baha'is, are left without ID cards because they do not belong to any of the three religions.

The introductory article, then, elaborates on the court case of the Egyptian Baha'i twins who are without birth certificates, merely because of their parents' religious affiliation.

Listen to the radio program by clicking on the link below:
خانة الديانة في بطاقات الهوية

في مطلع التسعينيات في لبنان، وبعد سنوات الحرب الطويلة، توقفت السلطات عن وضع خانة الديانة على بطاقات الهوية. ولكن في بعض الدول العربية الاخرى، تفرض الحكومة على الجميع ان يكتبوا ديانتهم على بطاقة الهوية الشخصية. ولكن في مصر، هناك ثلاثة خيارات لا غير يمكن ان توضع على البطاقة: الاسلام المسيحية واليهودية. ولكن المشكلة هي في تسجيل الاقليات الذين يقولون ان الخيارات الثلاثة لا تنطبق عليهم. البهائيون مثلا، وهم طائفة دينية من الاقليات في مصر، رفضوا مؤخرا هذه الخيارات وفضل معظمهم ان لا يحمل بطاقة هوية على الاطلاق على ان يزور (كما يرى) في المعلومات الشخصية عليها. وتشهد المحاكم المصرية حاليا قضية مراهقين توأم شغلت الراي العام حيث يطالب الابوان بالسماح لهما بتسجيل البهائية في خانة الديانة بينما ترفض السلطات ذلك.. اليكم تقرير بي بي سي اكسترا الذي يبدأ بصوت والد المراهقين المذكورين: عماد ونانسي

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Radio Netheralnds: Religious Freedom in Egypt!

The inhumane treatment of religious minorities in Egypt is clearly portrayed in this Radio Netherlands program. It interviews a number of individuals who are directly affected by their inability to obtain the national ID card solely because of their belief.

The case of a young Baha'i university student who was expelled from the university because of his religion is presented in his own voice. Since his father is now dead, this young man is struggling to fulfill his responsibility to support the rest of his family but he cannot because, according to the current arcane authoritarian policies, he does not exist without an ID card--thus he suffers civil death!

The program also examines the dilemma of those who, at one time, were forced to convert from Christianity to Islam and now want to return to Christianity--all road blocks are placed in their path!

This program is indeed worthy of listening to...please click here to listen.