Saturday, April 19, 2008

Freedom of Speech Versus Anarchy in Egyptian Society

About two years ago, a group of concerned citizens in Egypt formed an organization called MARED, an acronym for "Masryoun [Egyptians] Against Religious Discrimination." The main goal of this group is to finally bring some sort of sanity to the current state of a deeply divided Egyptian society, a division rooted in religious discrimination and intolerance.

This group (MARED) is made up of highly respected intellectual members of the Egyptian society, such as academicians, journalists, businesspeople, government officials, scientists, human rights activists, artists, philosophers, religious thinkers and many others. Most of them are Muslim, but the organization also includes Christians and representatives of other religious and secular groups in Egypt.

A few months ago, MARED decided to make plans for holding its first congress, aimed at discussing the roots of and solutions for the crisis of religious divide and discrimination in the Egyptian society. The congress carried the slogan "Could Egypt be for All Egyptians?" Several prominent representatives of society including government officials, journalists, human rights activists and academicians were invited to make presentations at this forum. Among those invited was a representative of the Baha'i community of Egypt who would make a presentation on the current status of that community in its quest to obtain its civil rights.

The congress was scheduled for 11 & 12 April 2008 and a hall at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate in Cairo was reserved and paid for by MARED. The congress' agenda was prepared, was shared with the syndicate and was publicly announced.

Just a few days before the congress, a member of the journalists syndicate's council, who portrayed himself as a protector of Islam, went on a nationally televised program (View it here) and made direct threats to the congress and to the representative of the Baha'i community, naming her in person and accusing her of apostasy. He called for her punishment according to his own interpretation of Islamic law. He also called for her arrest on the spot if she appears at the congress. He misrepresented the purpose of the congress and went further to promise "a catastrophic event to happen on the day of the congress" if it were to be held as planned.

The night before the congress, this gentleman accompanied by a band of his supporters, later described by the Egyptian media as members of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) movement, occupied the Journalists Syndicate building and barricaded themselves inside. They posted placards on its walls with insults directed at the congress, Israel, the Coptic Christians and the Baha'is.

The following morning, the head of the syndicate arrived to open the building for the congress and had to force himself in, as shown in the above attached video depicting the events of that morning. After being verbally and physically assaulted by this barricaded group of extremists, some of whom still wearing their pajamas and others armed with sticks and bats, he was finally able to enter the building, and through intermediaries attempted to negotiate with those inside the building.

After he had encountered much shouting, he emerged from the building and apologized to the MARED group for his inability to assist them in holding their congress as planned. Consequently, representatives from Tagamoh [Unity] Party invited those planning the event to proceed to move the congress to the Tagamoh Party building. As a result, the congress was held, as scheduled, but in this new location. The Baha'is were also able to make a presentation at the congress.

Al-Hurrah TV reported on the congress in this news clip:

An unprecedented amount of extensive Egyptian media coverage ensued (see a partial list here). Some of the articles printed in English can be seen here and here. Journalists were outraged at the fact that their syndicate was violated in such a way and were infuriated by how the head of their Syndicate was treated, in such disrespectful manner, by that band of disorderly and fanatic individuals. The very freedom and integrity of the press was felt to be under siege and in great danger if such a trend is allowed to emerge and continue.

Consequently, the person--who is also a member of the syndicate--responsible for this illegal action was referred to the investigative committee of the syndicate and a few days later was sentenced, in an unrelated case, to three months imprisonment and monitory fines for insulting another member of the syndicate's council during one of its past meetings. Additionally, the head of the syndicate, as a result of the humiliation he had endured at the hands of this gang of men, has offered to resign his position.

Of great interest, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood who is also a council member of the syndicate, as reported in the attached newspaper article, "denied any relation of Muslim Brotherhood to the crisis" and added that "the Brotherhood is not responsible for Islam in Egypt, but rather all Egyptians are responsible for it," pointing to the fact that "this represents freedom of belief." He also "welcomes the Baha'is to the Journalists Syndicate at any time."

To this date, much more media coverage continues in leading newspapers, magazines, blogs, television and radio. The subject is indeed taking on a life of its own.

When one tries to reflect on these events, it must be said that much learning can be gained from such a crisis, for example:
1) The Egyptian society can and will resist anarchy.
2) Many well-informed Egyptians can see through injustice and will stand up for the rights of the oppressed, even though their stand can place them in harm's way.
3) The wind of change and progress is unstoppable, even by those who continue to aggressively intimidate and terrorize their fellow citizens.
4) Sooner or later, justice tends to always prevail.
5) The resistance and this crisis created by the extremists has, unintentionally, reinforced the legitimacy of MARED and had placed the issue of religious discrimination in the spotlight.


  1. Wow, this really is part of the "greatest drama in the world's spiritual history" and thankyou so much for all your information about what is happening, Bilo. The heroism of Baha'is, and of Muslim supporters of human rights, is so heartwarming to read about.

  2. What a circus this group of fanatics and thugs have created to disrupt a civil discourse about the rights of ALL Egyptians!

    Thankfully the conference went ahead as scheduled. Will these thugs get tried and sentenced for their uncivil behavior? Will they continue to have their IDs while law-abiding citizens continue to be denied their human rights? Even criminals have their human rights preserved!

    Representatives of the Egyptian press have now risen to the occasion and proven their mettle! When will the Egyptian authorities rise up and protect the rights of ALL Egyptian citizens regardless of religion or beliefs?

  3. the only solution for this Problem is Patience...

    I remember Stories that happened in the United States during the 1950's and 1960's when African Americans were killed,harassed and assaulted on all sides by white Southerners who were supposed "Protectors of White purity" because of differences in skin pigmentation and the assumption that if you were not descended from European Casucasian you were inferior....and anyone who challenged that percieved purity were attacked in a similar manner...

  4. One must also credit the civil rights movement, without which no change would have been realized.


Your opinion is valuable. Please share your thoughts.