Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is the World Ready for a Repeat?

Below are: 1) anti-semitic graffiti on a shop in Berlin, Germany in 1933, 2) & 3) anti-Baha'i graffiti in Isfahan, Iran in 2008, stating "death to baha'ism."
Credit (1): Holocaust Memorial Museum
Credit (2) & (3): Baha'i Blogfa

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ongoing Dialogue: Status of the Baha'i Religion in Egypt

Egyptian and Middle Eastern media continue to examine the recent court verdicts that permitted some of the Baha'is of Egypt to obtain ID cards and birth certificates. They also address the general status of the Baha'is of Egypt as a religious minority in a modern society. The scope of these articles extends beyond the mere description of the court ruling itself, but rather carefully examines other essential elements regarding Egypt's need to come to terms with the fact that the Baha'i religion is one of the established religions worldwide.

For example, these articles are now addressing the roots of the current crisis, dating back to Nasser's Presidential Decree (263) of 1960 that outlawed the Baha'i religion in Egypt, confiscated all Baha'i properties, dissolved Baha'i institutions and arrested many leading Baha'is. The question of the official recognition of the Baha'i religion in Egypt is being openly discussed and arguments in its favor are put forward.

One of the headlines even dares to go as far as stating that "the problem with the Baha'is is the need to recognize them and not necessarily the implied acceptance of their beliefs."

Some of the articles attached to this post (Qattar's Al-Raayah-page 31 & Egypt's Al-Qaherra) are currently being translated and will be hopefully posted again in the near future.

The 29 January 2008 court ruling allowed only those Baha'is who had previously held paper ID cards or birth certificates stating that they were Baha'is to obtain the newly established national ID number and identification documents (with no religion entered), thus permitting them to enjoy the rights of citizenship owed to them. However, those Baha'is who do not hold an old ID card or birth certificate, or if the documents held had wrongly stated other than their religion in the specified field, will continue to have no solution to their dilemma. That is if they want to obtain any of these official documents, they would be either forced to lie (in violation of the law itself) on the application form about their true religion and enter one of the three approved religions (Islam Christianity or Judaism) or be left without identity.

Clearly, as has been repeatedly proposed by Egypt's--government appointed--National Council for Human Rights, the ultimate solution to this ongoing crisis is the complete elimination of the field of religion from all identity documents, as is the case in several other (mostly Muslim) countries in the region and as in many other parts of the world.

Even though the recent verdict is limited in scope, it must be said that: 1) the Baha'is of Egypt are indeed pleased with this new development, 2) they hope that Egypt's government continues to work towards finding a satisfactory solution that would benefit all the Baha'is--and other religious minorities--of Egypt and not only a fraction of their population, 3) they are grateful to all those activists, human rights workers, journalists, bloggers, thinkers, scholars, attorneys, official figures and many others who have courageously supported them and defended their rights, and 4) the Baha'is of Egypt continue to analyze and study the full text of the recent two court verdicts--which are quite expansive and complex--in order for them to act on the implementation of their directives as well as to determine further necessary action in their quest for their full rights.

For example, another pressing and critical matter that must be addressed and resolved soon is that Baha'i marriage certificates remain unrecognized in Egypt, thus married Baha'i couples living in Egypt are considered to be living in concubinage and their children are considered by the authorities as illegitimate.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Economist Examines Egypt's Emerging Religious Freedom

The Economist, a weekly leading British newspaper with extensive worldwide readership has published yesterday an article about the recent developments affecting the pressing issue of religious freedom in Egypt.

It focused on the recent court rulings regarding the Baha'is of Egypt as well as Egyptian citizens who had converted from Islam to Christianity. Both religious minorities have been facing enormous barriers to their civil rights prior to these recent court verdicts that allowed them to be recognized as citizens, even though in the case of the Baha'is the ruling fell short of recognizing the legitimacy of their religion in Egypt.

In view of the recent opinion of Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice, it should be clearly pointed out that the Baha'i religion is recognized globally as an independent divinely-ordained religion. Additionally, the Baha'i International Community (BIC) is permanently represented in the United Nations along with other prominent non-governmental organizations (NGO). The BIC's new website can be linked to here.

As to the ruling affecting Egyptian Christians, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has just ruled that Egyptians who were initially Christian who, for one reason or another, had converted or were forced to convert to Islam, and who want to return to Christianity can do so freely and are now allowed to obtain identity documents verifying their current legal status.

The full article can be accessed on at this link.

The article in the Economist which was published on 14 February 2008 and posted on the newspaper's website from its print edition carries the following title:


A bit more religious freedom
Apostasy need not necessarily be punished by death

The report begins with the following paragraph:
TWENTY-SEVEN years ago, Egypt revised its secular constitution to enshrine Muslim sharia as “the principal source of legislation”. To most citizens, most of the time, that seeming contradiction—between secularism and religion—has not made much difference. Nine in ten Egyptians are Sunni Muslims and expect Islam to govern such things as marriage, divorce and inheritance. Nearly all the rest profess Christianity or Judaism, faiths recognised and protected in Islam. But to the small minority who embrace other faiths, or who have tried to leave Islam, it has, until lately, made an increasingly troubling difference.

It then continues with:
Members of Egypt's 2,000-strong Bahai community, for instance, have found they cannot state their religion on the national identity cards that all Egyptians are obliged to produce to secure such things as driver's licences, bank accounts, social insurance and state schooling. Hundreds of Coptic Christians who have converted to Islam, often to escape the Orthodox sect's ban on divorce, find they cannot revert to their original faith. In some cases, children raised as Christians have discovered that, because a divorced parent converted to Islam, they too have become officially Muslim, and cannot claim otherwise.

Such restrictions on religious freedom are not directly a product of sharia, say human-rights campaigners, but rather of rigid interpretations of Islamic law by over-zealous officials. In their strict view, Bahai belief cannot be recognised as a legitimate faith, since it arose in the 19th century, long after Islam staked its claim to be the final revelation in a chain of prophecies beginning with Adam. Likewise, they brand any attempt to leave Islam, whatever the circumstances, as a form of apostasy, punishable by death.

And it concludes with:
But such views have lately been challenged. Last year Ali Gomaa, the Grand Mufti, who is the government's highest religious adviser, declared that nowhere in Islam's sacred texts did it say that apostasy need be punished in the present rather than by God in the afterlife. In the past month, Egyptian courts have issued two rulings that, while restricted in scope, should ease some bothersome strictures. Bahais may now leave the space for religion on their identity cards blank. Twelve former Christians won a lawsuit and may now return to their original faith, on condition that their identity documents note their previous adherence to Islam.

Small steps, perhaps, but they point the way towards freedom of choice and citizenship based on equal rights rather than membership of a privileged religion.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Iran's Draft Penal Code: A Clear Danger to Human Rights

The Assyrian International News Agency has recently posted a report on Iran's draft penal code intended to entirely delegitimize its Baha'i population. Baha'is in Iran are the largest religious minority.

The report is titled: Iran Draft Law Proposes Death Penalty for Religious Conversion

It begins with the following introduction:

Washington -- The Iranian Parliament is reviewing a draft penal code that for the first time in Iranian history legislates the death penalty for apostasy. The draft clearly violates Iran's commitments under the International Covenants on Human Rights, to which the State is party. Read more here....

Additionally, the European Union has just released the following declaration addressing the current critical situation of the large Baha'i population of Iran:

Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the deteriorating situation of the religious minority Baha’i in Iran

The EU expresses its serious concern at the worsening situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, in particular to the plight of the Baha’i. According to reliable reports, the Iranian Judiciary confirmed that 54 Baha’is were sentenced by a court in Shiraz for ‘propaganda against the regime’. Three of the convicted Baha’is were sentenced to four years in prison, while 51 were given one year suspended prison terms.

The EU is concerned about the ongoing systematic discrimination and harassment of Baha'is in Iran, including the expulsion of university and high school students, restrictions on employment and anti-Baha'i propaganda campaigns in the Iranian media.

The EU wishes to express its firm opposition to all forms of discrimination, in particular regarding freedom of religion. In this context, the EU urges the Islamic Republic of Iran to release the Baha’i prisoners and stop prosecuting members of the Baha’i minority due to their belief and practice of the Baha'i Faith.

The Candidate Countries Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and the EFTA countries Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, members of the European Economic Area, as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this declaration.

* Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Egypt: Extensive Media Reaction to the Verdict on Baha'i Rights

Several news outlets reported on the recent verdict that placed the Egyptian Baha'is in a position to obtain ID cards, birth certificates and other official documents.

Some reports were in Egyptian newspapers while others were in international newspapers and websites as shown in previous posts and in this one as well.

Several international articles were published in Arabic as linked to at the end of this post. Among the recent publications was an article written by Mr. Gamal Nkrumah in Al-Ahram Weekly, which is the English version of Egypt's daily semi-official newspaper. On three previous occasions, Mr. Nkrumah had courageously written on the Baha'i case as was posted here, here and here. His coverage has been objective, balanced, well-informed and accurate.

Below is the complete transcript of his current article:

A question of faith

Gamal Nkrumah sounds out rights activists' reactions to a new court ruling this week that no longer denies Bahaais essential identity documents


Bahaai community in Egypt, local and international human rights organisations warmly welcomed an Administrative Court ruling this Tuesday (29 January), which reversed the official state policy of denying essential identity documents to Egyptians who do not wish to be identified in official documents as adherents of the three Monotheistic religions recognised by the state.

Bahaai Egyptians, leading a legal battle over the past few years to be certified as Bahaais on official documents, won a first step court ruling to that effect in April 2006. The 2006 court ruling, however, was overturned later by the Supreme Administrative Court.

This week's new sentence seems to meet the Bahaais' demand half way, since while rejecting the demand that the Bahaai faith is a religion, it allowed those who do not wish to be identified as followers of Islam, Christianity or Judaism to have official documents in which the religion category would either be filled by a "hyphen" or the word "without".

"This is not just a victory for the Bahaai community of Egypt, but it is also a victory for all those Egyptians who do not adhere to the three monotheistic religions," Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) told Al-Ahram Weekly. "For the first time in contemporary Egyptian history, an individual who professes Hinduism or Buddhism, or even those wishing to call themselves non-believers, could enjoy full citizenship rights. That in itself is a great advance of human rights and will tremendously enhance the country's human rights record," Bahgat explains.

Basma Moussa, a leader and spokeswoman of the Bahaai community of Egypt, concurs. She was ecstatic. "This ruling is what we have been struggling to achieve for years. At last our prayers have been answered. We are extremely grateful that justice has been served and that finally we can lead normal lives as Egyptian citizens," Moussa says.

Labib Iskandar, a leading Egyptian Bahaai, and a professor of engineering at Cairo University laments that, "we used to 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."

"Inability to produce an ID card entails a five-year prison sentence," Moussa, a dentist and an assistant lecturer at Cairo University says. "The civil status law makes it obligatory for every Egyptian citizen to carry on his or her personal ID card".

"These documents are essential to obtain education and employment, register births, immunise children, and conduct basic transactions such as opening a bank account, obtaining a driver's licence, or collecting a pension," Bahgat extrapolates.

"A previous ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court in December 2006 had upheld the state policy of refusing to recognise the religious affiliation of Bahaais in official documents, arguing that such recognition would violate public order and Sharia [Islamic law] requirements," Bahgat explains.

The December 2006 ruling prompted Bahaai Egyptians to file two other lawsuits -- the subject of Tuesday's ruling -- requesting documents that do not list any religious affiliation. "The new cases, filed by EIPR lawyers, argued that forcing Bahaais to identify falsely as Muslim or Christian violated their rights to freedom of conviction, privacy, equality and full citizenship rights," Bahgat notes.

Bahaais began to experience grave difficulties beginning in 1995, when the authorities insisted that all Egyptians had to acquire or replace personal documents with computerised ones from the central Civil Registry Office in the Ministry of Interior.

It is hoped that this week's ruling would finally allow Bahaai Egyptians to obtain birth certificates and computerised identity cards leaving the religious category void.

Bahgat, Iskandar and Moussa hope that the state would implement the ruling as soon as possible. "We urge the government to implement the decision without delay, and not to appeal this clear verdict of the court," Bahgat says.

Other articles can be viewed at the following sites:

Radio Netherlands Worldwide (Arabic): حرية العقيدة في مصر: أحكام متباينة

BBC (Arabic): هل يحق للدولة الاعتراف بديانات دون أخرى؟

US Copts (Arabic): تغطية الفضائيات المصرية للحكم بترك خانة الديانة فارغة للبهائيين

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights "EIPR" (Arabic):
مصر: القضاء يبطل حرمان البهائيين من الوثائق الرسمية
على الحكومة أن تمتثل لتطبيق الحكم دون إبطاء

Friday, February 01, 2008

Egypt: Television Coverage of Verdict Allowing Baha'is ID Cards

The following is some of the television news coverage on 29 January 2008 immediately after the announcement of the verdict by Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice which allowed the Baha'is to obtain birth certificates and ID cards without forcing them to enter one of the three recognized religions in Egypt (Islam, Christianity & Judaism).

With this verdict, as one can watch the judge explaining in the courtroom, the Baha'is cannot enter their religion either, but can leave that section of official documents vacant, enter a dash (-) or enter "other." Therefore Baha'is can obtain ID cards and other official documents without being forced to lie about their religious affiliation. Consequently, Baha'is in Egypt will be in a position to enjoy all their citizenship rights such as employment, health care and education.

Without ID cards, Egyptian citizens would face "civic death," thus the government has no options but to fulfill its obligations to its own citizens by allowing them to be identified.

The contemplated appeal by the Ministry of Interior would be entirely pointless and would not serve any purpose but to disrupt "public order" and to continue to isolate and disfranchise a group of law-abiding Egyptian citizens, to whom the Ministry has the obligation and the charge to protect. Before deciding on such ill-advised appeal, the Ministry of Interior must think first of what other options would it have to solve this complicated crisis.

First video: Cairo's Dream-2 Channel

Second Video: Cairo's Al-Muhawar Channel