Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hope for Showraniyah: Hope for Egypt

There appears to be some imminent positive prospects for the displaced Baha'i families of Showraniyah, the southern Nile village in the province of Sohag recently known for the burning of Baha'i homes.

According to an article in yesterday's edition of Al-Youm Al-Sabe'h [the Seventh Day] Egyptian newspaper, village elders, community organizers, State security agencies and the authorities are in the process of finding ways to solve the crisis surrounding the Showraniyah burning.

The strategy of the negotiations, conducted by these village leaders, is to provide favorable conditions for a state of peaceful reconciliation. It is intended to bring about a transition that would allow the Baha'i families to return to their homes, and to provide them with a safe environment within their village devoid of any exposure to further hostilities "from near or far." They will be promised that future conditions will bring about a state of normal coexistence in accordance with the "principle of citizenship."

As the perpetrators of offenses against the Baha'is can be subject to "the severest penalties," these healing developments have been met by family heads in the village with approval. They now understand the need to bring an end to the crisis and to bring back the village to a normal state of peaceful coexistence.

Some of the displaced Showraniyah Baha'is

Reports of these negotiations have been revealed to the newspaper by a "responsible source in [State] Security" who has indicated that the families in the village concur with these plans.

Showraniyah is a village located on a Nile island in southern Egypt. The Baha'i families lived in two sections [naighborhoods] of the village that are called Nag'h Kabir and Nag'h Hashem.

There were five large families of Baha'is living in the village. They have all been displaced since the burning of their homes on the night of 31 March 2009. The parents are now without work, the young children are out of school and two law students (one of whom is in his final year) have also been unable to return to their university since their expulsion from southern Egypt. These are the same families that were imprisoned in 2001 solely for believing in the Baha'i Faith. One of the children, who is now 9-years-old, was in jail for several months with his mother at the tender age of 6 months when they were incarcerated eight years ago.

It is clear that the time has come for these innocent citizens who want to live peacefully among their neighbors and friends to return to normal life. The children need to return to their schools and the parents are eager to return to their work so that they can all serve society as well as they have always done in the past.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Progress on Egypt ID Status

The document that many have been waiting for was finally published in the 14 April 2009 edition of Al-Waqa’eh Al- Massreyah [The Egyptian Gazette/Chronicles], which is the long-standing official journal where all laws must be published before their actual implementation. [see EIPR/Human Rights Watch joint press release here, also see story in BWNS here]

This decree by the Ministry of Interior is of profound historical significance, mostly because it contains a vital amendment of an older order issued in 1995 regarding the enforcement of Civil Status Law of 1994.

In short, this decree allows anyone who does not belong to one of the three approved religions in Egypt (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) to obtain identification documents with dash (-) in place of religion.

The published text of the decree was initially dated 19 March 2009, three days following the decision by the Supreme Administrative Court to uphold the lower court’s ruling allowing the Baha’is to obtain identification documents (birth certificates, IDs, etc…) with dash (-) instead of a stated religion. It also states that the decree is to be enforced the following day after its publication.

Since it was published in Al-Waqa’eh Al-Massreyah on 14 April, its implementation was supposed to begin on 15 April 2009. The law does not mention the word “Baha’i,” thus leaving the door open to anyone who does not belong to one of the three religions to apply for documents under these conditions.

The decree, signed by the Minister of Interior Habeeb El-Adly, states:
After reviewing law-143 of 1994 regarding civil status and its amended order-1121 of 1995, it is decreed that at the end of Article-33 of the 1995 order, the following is added: “and it must enter the sign (-) in the religion field for Egyptian citizens who were previously recorded, or acquired, or obtained, or their fathers [obtained] identification documents in which none of the three religions were stated, or if the sign (-) was placed in the religion field, or [in such cases] requiring enforcement of court orders that needed such implementation….”
This decree of the Ministry of Interior stipulates that the request for such documents must be submitted by those concerned to the Assistant Minister of Interior for the Civil Status authority, or to those deputized by him, and that it will be recorded in its specified register.

The office of civil status in Cairo is beginning to implement the order and is making arrangements to apply the necessary computer modifications that will allow the printing of these documents. It appears that, so far, this central office in Cairo will be handling all cases and has already received requests from a couple of individuals. Their documents should be issued as soon as the computer software modifications have been implemented. The process is expected to be gradual and orderly, and might take time to process all applicants.

Ironically, yesterday, a complaint was filed by a representative of al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council, known for its open opposition to the Baha’is, requesting that the law be reversed and that Baha’is be stripped of their Egyptian citizenship. Clearly this is a frivolous challenge which has nowhere to go. The Islamic Research Council in its desperate move has shown how absurd its strategy is, which will only lead it to a dead end. In its rush to challenge the order, it failed to notice one simple fact: the Ministry of Interior order is for all Egyptian citizens affected by its conditions; it does not mention Baha’is anywhere in its text. It must be realized that the Ministry of Interior is above such tactics and after all its hard work in finding a solution to the identity crisis, it does not intend to retreat from its move towards normalization of the status of the citizens of Egypt.

A few days ago, I took a taxi ride with Dr. Raouf Hindi, the one who was awarded the Supreme Court verdict on behalf of his twin children allowing them birth certificates, and who now dons a head cap and dark sunglasses on his outings. Even with his disguise, this was the second time on the same day when a taxi driver recognized him and asked him if he obtained the identity documents with dashes yet. The driver said that he has been following the Baha’i cases quite regularly and that, along with his family and friends, they watch the TV programs about the Baha’is while congregated in groups. He said that no one should be forced to change his religion and that everyone is entitled to his own belief. He also expressed his dismay at the Showraniyah burning. The man was extremely friendly and eager to hear more about the Baha'is. He was genuinely interested and not merely curious. This is just an example of random unsolicited opinions in the streets of Cairo. Undoubtedly many more are out there.

The Baha’is of Egypt are eager to obtain their identity documents so that they can join their fellow citizens in continuing to serve their homeland and to contribute to the welfare of their society. By reaching this milestone, they will move towards being integrated in the fabric of the Egyptian society, and not unlike many of their coreligionists are in over 200 countries worldwide. The issue is indeed about service regardless of religious affiliation.

These Egyptian citizens love their country and are longing for it to love them back. This bold move by the Ministry of Interior propels them towards that.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Unprecedented Flood of Egyptian Press Articles Supporting the Baha'is

Between 2 April and 9 April 2009 there were 81 Egyptian newspaper articles (all in Arabic) expressing outrage at the arson attack on Baha'i homes in the southern village of Showraniyah.

Egypt has never seen before the likes of this wholehearted support in its mainstream media for such a cause. It reflects the indignation felt by the multitudes of Egyptians who were labeled, at some point in the past, "the silent majority." This reaction is only natural, only because Egyptians by nature abhor flagrant manifestations of injustice.

The Showraniyah incident has clearly penetrated and stirred-up the very core of their sense of justice regardless of who the oppressed were, and even though these wronged ones were looked upon by the uninformed as alien to their traditional beliefs. Based on a very long and complex history, Egyptians know very well how such incidents can easily lead to disruption of the integrity of the very fabric of their society.

More recently, Egypt's government-sponsored National Council for Human Rights has also expressed its dismay at these inhumane violations of the rights of the Baha'is.

The time might be right for Egypt to finally acknowledge that its Baha'i population is a community of citizens who--inspired by their Faith--are dedicated to serve their country and its people and are committed to processes that promote a better world; and that rather than merely expressing the pursuit of their citizenship rights, their aim is to bring the water of life to humanity.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Why Is There More Than One Religion?

An ongoing serious point of discussion that is frequently raised by so many has been, why humanity needs continued Divine guidance? A line of reasoning as to this need is clearly expressed in the words of Baha'u'llah, the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith; He contends the following:

“All the Prophets of God,” asserts Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán, “abide in the same tabernacle, soar in the same heaven, are seated upon the same throne, utter the same speech, and proclaim the same Faith.” From the “beginning that hath no beginning,” these Exponents of the Unity of God and Channels of His incessant utterance have shed the light of the invisible Beauty upon mankind, and will continue, to the “end that hath no end,” to vouchsafe fresh revelations of His might and additional experiences of His inconceivable glory. To contend that any particular religion is final, that “all Revelation is ended, that the portals of Divine mercy are closed, that from the daysprings of eternal holiness no sun shall rise again, that the ocean of everlasting bounty is forever stilled, and that out of the Tabernacle of ancient glory the Messengers of God have ceased to be made manifest” would indeed be nothing less than sheer blasphemy.

“They differ,” explains Bahá’u’lláh in that same epistle, “only in the intensity of their revelation and the comparative potency of their light.” And this, not by reason of any inherent incapacity of any one of them to reveal in a fuller measure the glory of the Message with which He has been entrusted, but rather because of the immaturity and unpreparedness of the age He lived in to apprehend and absorb the full potentialities latent in that Faith.

Shoghi Effendi, in The World Order of Baha'u'llah

Monday, April 06, 2009

Egypt: Instigator & Perpetrator Summoned to Court for Inciting Against Baha’is

The MidEast news source, The Media Line has just published a story that reports that an Egyptian journalist and a member of parliament from the ruling party are being summoned to court for allegedly inciting against the Baha’i minority in the country.

The article, titled Egyptians Face Trial for Incitement Against Baha’is, and published on 6 April 2009, goes on to state:
The journalist, Jamal ‘Abd A-Rahim from the pro-government daily Al-Gumouriyya, and the MP, Muhammad Yusri from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), are being questioned about their role leading to the burning of Baha’i homes last week.

Residents of A-Shouraniyya, located in the Sohag governorate about 345 kilometers south of the capital Cairo, set fire to houses belonging to Baha’is last Thursday and forced them out of town.

Molotov cocktails were hurled at their homes and the water was cut off to prevent them from putting out the flames.

The police soon arrived and helped the Baha’i families flee the premises.

Twenty residents of the town who allegedly took part in the assault have also been summoned to court.

‘Abd A-Rahim is being accused of inciting against the Baha’i after he published an inflammatory article in which he described them as apostates who rejected Islam. Yusri expressed support for ‘Abd A-Rahim’s statements.

Thursday’s was the second attack on Baha’i homes in a week. During a similar attack in late March, the assailants chanted against the Baha’is, calling them “enemies of Allah.”

Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said these latest attacks were unprecedented.

The Baha’i community has had problems with the state in terms of being stripped of its legal status, having property confiscated or being prosecuted for contempt of religion, he said.

“But this is the first time we’ve documented physical assaults on Baha’i homes or property.”

Last week’s incident was a setback for Baha’i freedom in Egypt, especially since it came two weeks after this minority made a significant legal gain.

On March 16, an Egyptian court ruled that the “religion” field on national identity cards could be left blank.

Up until that decision, Baha’is had to identify themselves on their ID cards as being Muslim, Christian or Jewish, and cards would not be issued for whoever refused to be labeled under one of these three religions, effectively rendering them non-citizens.

“Unfortunately these attacks marred the positive reaction that the court ruling received,” Bahgat said.

There is no official data as to the number of Baha’is in Egypt, but unofficial data puts their number somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 believers.
Read more here....

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Denials & No Apologies: the Instigator Still on the Loose

In an attempt to hide his tracks, Gamal Abdel-Rahim, the journalist who has been inciting violence against the Baha'is in Egypt, removed his article (blogpost), also published in al-Gomhoriyah newspaper, and in which a person from the Egyptian province of Sohag* claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Baha'is of Showraniyah and the torching of their homes.
*.... This story was reported in a comment by the leader of that mob on Gamal Abdel Rahim's blog, which has been dedicated to attacks on Baha'is. This mob leader, who claimed responsibility for the attack, is named Mohammad Youssry Mohammad. He identifies himself as the secretary of the youth committee of the village's National Party (al- Hezb al-Watany) and a teacher in the religious institute of the village. He describes the village to have a population of 16,751 with a surface area of approximately 1,567 feddans [acres]. It has 17 mosques, 3 churches, 16 elementary schools, 2 preparatory schools and 1 secondary "commerce" school. He also reports that the Baha'is, who were expelled from the village following the burning of their homes, consist of 15 individuals from three families, among them children and nursing babies.

In the initial post, published on Baha'i Faith in Egypt, if one clicks on the link to Abdel-Rahim's blogpost, an error message returns directing the link to his blog. On his blog's main page, the post in question has gone.

Fortunately, one of the Egyptian human rights activists has kept an image of Abdel-Rahim's post with the comment of the perpetrator of the attacks below the post. The image of the post is attached here courtesy of Bahlam Be-Youm blog.

News of this unprecedented attack continue to capture the attention of the media everywhere. Of particular interest is the reaction of many prominent Egyptians, expressed in several articles and editorials. They are so many and are too long to translate on this site. They are, however , too important for all readers not to miss. A blog by Smile Rose has kept-up with all these publications. I only wish if they can be translated to English in full!

According to an article published in The National, Abdel-Rahim refuses to apologize for having incited this wave of terror and violence in Egypt. The entire article is posted below with permission:

The National

Anti-Baha’i columnist refuses to apologise

Matt Bradley, Foreign Correspondent

* Last Updated: April 05. 2009 8:34PM UAE / April 5. 2009 4:34PM GMT

Ahmed al Sayyid Abdul Ela, a Baha’i leader whose talk show appearance was followed by the torching of Bahai’s homes. Victoria Hazou for The National

Cairo // A newspaper columnist accused of inciting attacks last week against members of the Baha’i faith in an Upper Egyptian village said yesterday he remains unapologetic for his controversial comments.

Six Egyptian human rights groups have called on public prosecutors to investigate Gamal Abd al Rahim, a writer for the state-run Al Gomhurriya newspaper, for “incitement to felonies and misdemeanours”.

They say Mr al Rahim’s statements against Baha’is on a popular talk show led directly to an attack that saw villagers in the town of Al Shuraniya torch five homes known to belong to Baha’is.

The attacks in Al Shuraniya, in which eight homes were damaged but no one was injured, struck Egypt’s tiny Baha’i community only weeks after a decision by a constitutional court that will allow Egypt’s Baha’is to leave the religion section of their identity cards blank.

Baha’is had celebrated the verdict, which they hope will give their long-disenfranchised community equal citizenship status to Muslims and Christians. But if the court victory pointed to improvements in religious tolerance, the violence in Al Shuraniya revealed the latent communal tensions that persist in Egyptian society.

In an interview in his Cairo office, Mr al Rahim said the statements aired last Saturday, in which he said that a Baha’i leader who was a guest on the same programme “should be killed”, did not incite villagers in the town of Al Shuraniya to attack the homes of their Baha’i neighbours.

“I’m responsible for every word I said, and I don’t owe anyone any apologies,” said Mr al Rahim, who added that he condemns the attacks.

Instead, he said, the villagers were merely reacting to “disgraceful” statements by one of the show’s other guests, a Baha’i named Ahmed al Sayyid Abdul Ela, who boasted that his hometown of Al Shuraniya, about 400km south of Cairo, was “full of Baha’is”.

“The Egyptian people know how Sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] views this religion. They felt disgrace because of this man. And because of the strong customs and traditions of Upper Egyptian society, they attacked this man’s house.”

Mr Ela’s brothers were among those who appeared at a courthouse yesterday in Assiut, a governorate near to Al Shuraniya, to present their statements to police. On the evening of the attacks, police ordered all of Al Shuraniya’s Baha’i residents to leave the city before they could return to their homes to collect belongings. Most of them fled to Cairo.

“It was so painful to see all the children scared. It would have been better to have died than to have watched that,” said Abdul Bassit, Mr Ela’s brother, whose house was destroyed during the riots last Sunday night. “The police were there, but they were just watching. They didn’t take any of the kind of action that you would expect from police. This incident was such proof of ignorance and barbarism I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

Egypt’s constitution does not officially recognise the Baha’i faith and many Muslims consider them to be apostates.

Some, such as Mr al Rahim, also believe the Baha’i are agents of Zionism. While their numbers are few, he said, they are a dangerous threat to Islam and to Egypt.

“They are a group that is just related to Israel,” he said, citing the Baha’i headquarters in Haifa, Israel, as evidence of a Zionist conspiracy to permeate Egyptian society. “They just get money from abroad. They exist in Egypt, but their presence might cause discord in Egyptian society. I’m worried about Egypt.”

Even in the face of such ardent opposition, Baha’i community leaders say they are preparing to continue their struggle for basic rights.

After last month’s decision on identification cards, Baha’i leaders say the next step will be to pass legislation to allow civil marriage – the Baha’i still must leave Egypt to get married because they are prohibited from marrying in an unrecognised faith. But marriage is only one of several identity benefits denied to the Baha’i that most Egyptians take for granted.

Labib Hanna, a Baha’i leader, said his family still pays income taxes for his late sister, who was not issued a death certificate when she died five years ago because her religion was not recognised by the state.

“We are really true citizens. We love Egypt and we are obeying the government,” said Dr Hanna, a mathematics professor at Cairo University.

The Baha’is’ problems with the Egyptian government began in 1960, when Gamal Abdul Nasser disbanded the group’s official organisation and seized its property. That decision led to the periodic harassment and arrest of Baha’i adherents on charges of “contempt of religion” throughout the following decades.

Commentators in state-run newspapers continue to malign the Baha’i. The Baha’i religion teaches an ethos of global religious unity. Baha’i place the Prophet Mohammed on a continuum of divine prophecy that includes, but is not limited to, the teachings of Jesus, Buddha, Krishna and Abraham. God will continue to send messengers, the Baha’i believe, and those messengers will continue to reveal divine truth.

Baha'ism is tantamount to apostasy, say many Muslims, because Baha'is
believe God sent other prophets after Mohammed.

It is perfectly acceptable for Muslims to convey their opinion of Baha’ism, said Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights advocacy organisation that supported the Baha’is in the identity card case.

It is the incitement of violence, he said, that should be investigated and prosecuted by legal authorities.

“It’s much more serious than bigotry. Bigotry is a word I can use to describe all the views [Mr al Rahim] has expressed against Baha’is in the past month, against which Baha’is and rights activists chose not to take any legal action because we believe he was exercising his right to expression, as repulsive as the opinions he was expressing were,” said Mr Bahgat.

But some of Mr al Rahim’s comments, he said, were a “direct incitement to committing felonies and misdemeanours. We think that there is a clear link between the statements he made on TV and in a state newspaper to the type of violence we saw last week.”

Egypt: TV Program With Details of Attacks on Baha'is

Please see this Orbit TV program called al-Qahera el-Youm [Cairo Today], which presents in great details the attacks and the burning of Baha'i homes in the Egyptian village of Showraniyah. Several guests are participating, including a teenager from the village who gives a minute by minute account of the attacks. Also present is Mr. Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). A Muslim clergy invited to the program does his part in the usual rhetoric against the Baha'is. The program includes an extensive discussion of the Baha'i religion and involved audiance calling -in.

You can watch the videos posted below:








Friday, April 03, 2009

The Storm of Religious Strife Lingers in Egypt

Al-Hurra TV channel aired on its news program an extensive interview with Mr. Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). This organization has been taking the lead in defending the rights of the Baha'is of Egypt, particularly during the past five years. There is not enough credit that can be attributed to the unrelenting and courageous work this young activist organization has undertaken, particularly doing so while faced with a very strong national current of religious extremism and amidst a hostile public opinion.

Attorney Adel Ramadan with a villager

The case of the Baha'is of Egypt is not exactly a case that can be seen as a popular cause to defend, especially under these conditions and in a society marred with bigotry and resounding adherence to long-standing misguided dogma. Fortunately, for Egypt's sake, there remain people like these heroic individuals who have taken on such desperate causes and such convoluted cases.

Another person, also a member of EIPR, that has been in the forefront of this struggle--defending the Baha'is--is a young lawyer, named Adel Ramadan, who has selflessly and tirelessly devoted all his legal prowess to the multiple litigations before Egyptian courts, including the Supreme Administrative Court. He has been working very quietly, sticking to his message with great effectiveness and solid outcomes. He has never hesitated or given-up, even under the most disappointing and discouraging times that he frequently encountered during this long-fought battle of good versus evil.

Al-Hurra TV interview:

Continued post....

Ahmad El-Sayyid, Showraniyah Baha'i, exiting prosecutor's office

The storm of religious strife lingers over Egypt and the media in the entire region are taking note of the recent unprecedented and exceptional hostilities towards the Baha'is of Egypt. An example of this is an article published in al-Masry el-Youm with a somewhat misleading headline stating, "Baha'i Mass Escape from Sohag." It must be noted that Sohag is a very large Egyptian province with many inhabitants. Yes, there are Baha'is in that province, but no, there has not been a "mass escape" from Sohag. The only ones known to have left the area were those from the infamous village of Showraniyah. This article, published today, was written by Ahmed Shalabi and Abdel Aal Talaat in Arabic, and was then translated into English by the newspaper. The English version is posted below in its entirety.

N.B. Except for Adel Ramadan's picture posted above (credit: al-Masry El-Youm), the accompanying photographs have been added by the author of this blog.

Baha'i Mass Escape from Sohag

By Ahmed Shalabi and Abdel Aal Talaat 3/ 4/ 2009

Baha'ism followers in Shuraniya Village, Sohag, carried out a mass fleeing to Cairo after the village set fire to five of their homes, Al-Masry Al-Youm has learnt.

An official security source, who declined to be named, said the Baha'i homes have been put under security guardianship after their residents fled to Cairo. Sohag is home for 182 Baha'is, said the source.

Dr. Basma Moussa, a Cairo Baha'i, exiting prosecutor's office

Another source said the Baha'is 13 years ago took Shuraniya Village as a foothold to spread their ideologies as initiated by a man named Abdel Sami'e Sayed Abul-Ela and his brother Ahmed. They co-opted many followers, patricianly from the villages of al-Kabir and al-Sa'aydah.

Shuraniya, a small isle in the middle of the Nile, turned into barracks. Tight security was imposed, and the village inhabitants were banned from entering or exiting.

The media was also banned access to the village. 16 police cars, 6 armored cars and 4 fire engines were at the site, plus scores of secret policemen.

A meeting was held between Maghagha Local Council head and some policemen and leaders of influential families, who said the presence of Baha'is in the village was unacceptable by many.

Al-Masry Al-Youm visited the apartment of a Baha'i in al-Zahra'a area only to discover that he left it two days ago at dawn, according to the story told by the villagers. It also visited another two families in Husni Rashed area but they declined to talk.

Some Shuraniya people said Baha'i followers have good relations with all people in the area and were in good terms with everybody. They also said everybody should remain free to embrace whatever faith they want.

Meanwhile, 11 persons from Shuraniya were released after they were arrested on charges of attacking the homes of Baha'is one day before the fire. Some Baha'i followers and 6 human rights organizations yesterday lodged a request, calling on the Public Prosecutor to immediately look into the attacks on their houses in Sohag.

P.S. More media coverage: BBC, Reuters, LA Times

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Graphic Details on the Burning of Baha'i Homes in Egypt

Below is a video showing the burning of Baha'i homes in the village of Showranyiah in the province of Sohag in Upper Egypt (You can hear at the end of the video someone shouting for the person taking the video "el hokooma gaya" (The government [police] is coming):

The following is an account of the events surrounding the violence perpetrated against the Baha'is of Egypt and the burning of their homes in a southern village located in the province of Sohag. This information was related by a reliable source in Egypt:

This crisis began with a television program, named al-Haqiqah [The Truth], aired on Egypt's Dream-2 channel last Saturday, 28 March, from 7:30-8:30 PM, in which the extremist journalist, Gamal Abdel-Rahim, ferociously attacked the Baha'is, calling for their killing and for the killing of Dr. Basma Moussa who was also a participant in the same program. Another participant in this program was Mr. Ahmad El-Sayyid, an Egyptian Baha'i from the southern village of Showranyiah who indicated that there were many Baha'is living in his province of Sohag. The program was hosted by the well-known TV personality, Mr. Wael El-Ebrashy.

Shortly after the airing of this program on Saturday night, a mob went to the homes of the Baha'is in the village of Showraniyah, which is an island in the middle of the Nile consisting of two sub-villages named Nagh el-Kabir and Nagh el-Sa'aydah, in the southern province of Sohag. The mob began by shouting insults at the Baha'is, who were in their homes at the time, and chanted "No God but Allah" and "Baha'is are enemies of Allah," and began throwing bricks and rocks at these five homes.

Some of these Baha'is were able to contact the police and reported the attack. The police then interfered, dispersed the crowd, and took all the Baha'is to the police station and held them in protective custody until the police was able to negotiate with the mob and reach some sort of a truce. Subsequently, they released the Baha'is to return to their homes the next morning (Sunday) and provided police guards around the homes until Monday morning when the guards were pulled.

On Tuesday morning, 31 March, the journalist Gamal Abdel-Rahim wrote an inflammatory article, published in the government-owned al-Gomhoriyah [The Republic] newspaper, also posted on his blog, in which he stirred the emotions of the ignorant masses by slandering the Baha'is and calling for their killing. He also praised the villagers for their attacks on the Baha'is. That same day, when night fell, a mob attacked the homes of the Baha'is in Showraniyah (see video above), threw homemade Molotov cocktail bottles and fire bombs at the homes burning a total of 6 homes (according to the Egyptian media two homes did not belong to the Baha'is). They vandalized the homes and looted their property, some of which were electric appliances and other expensive items. Meanwhile, the Baha'i families and their children were desperate for a place to hide, some of whom were in the recesses of their homes and some were able to escape the fire and hide in alley corners in the dark.

In order to spread the fire, the mob cut-off the water supply to the homes and blocked access to the village so that fire trucks would be delayed in their response. Because the village is an island, fire trucks have to access the village by a ferry.

At last, the police interfered and arrested six villagers from the mob, and took the Baha'i families into protective custody again. They were able, then, to smuggle these families with their children and babies out of the village in the early dawn, Wednesday morning--only with their clothes on their backs--via the ferry and took them to several undisclosed distant locations in Egypt.

Today, 2 April 2009, six Egyptian Human Rights Organizations as well as Dr. Basma Moussa, the Egyptian Baha'i who was the target of death threats caused by Gamal Abdel-Rahim's calls for her murder, as well as several members of the Baha'i families from Sohag went to the offices of the State Council in Cairo. They met with Egypt's Attorney-General and filed formal complaints against Gamal Abdel-Rahim and the mob in the village of Showraniyah.

The Attorney-General referred Dr. Moussa's case to the Giza Attorney-General and referred the Baha'i villagers case to the Assyout (southern province) Attorney-General because it was felt that the Sohag office of the attorney might be biased against them. During that visit in Cairo, large crowds were present--many of whom were supportive--as well as riot police and security forces. Also present were several representatives from various media agencies, including al-Gazirah channel which has recorded interviews with those present. The media was not permitted to enter the building of the State Council [Maghlis al-Dawlah].

Several leading Egyptian newspapers have already reported on these events, some of which are linked to here (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). International news agencies have also picked up the story (AP-1, AP-2 & AFP, Reuters, Deutsche Presse-Agentur).

P.S. All pictures in this post are from today's visit to the State Council.

Al-Gazirah Channel:

Mohawar Channel, 48 Hours Program:

Today, six Egyptian human rights organizations, led by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) have issued a joint statement that expressed their disgust with these heinous acts against this innocent religious minority of Egypt, and have described their strategy in handling the situation. They are requesting the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of these acts as well as State-sponsored protective measures for the Baha'is. This is a very serious and strong statement (a must read), the statement was initially released today in Arabic, and was later translated to English. It is quoted below with permission:

Joint Press Release

2 April, 2009

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Hisham Mubarak Law Center

El-Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

Rights Groups Urge Prosecutions for Assault on Baha'i Egyptians

Six Egyptian human rights organizations today urged the Public Prosecutor to initiate an immediate investigation into assaults committed against Baha'i Egyptians over the past several days in the southern governorate of Sohag. In a complaint filed this morning, the groups called for the investigation to include those responsible for the direct incitement to the assaults and asked that the matter be referred urgently to criminal trial.

"The heinous and unprecedented attacks on Baha'i Egyptians are a crime against all Egyptians,“ the rights organizations said. “We shall never allow the perpetrators of these crimes to benefit from the same climate of impunity that has marred the government's response to sectarian violence against Egyptians Copts over the last four decades.”

Preliminary inquiries carried out by the rights groups found that the attacks began on Saturday evening, 28 March, in the village of al-Shuraniya, located in the Maragha district of Sohag, when dozens of village residents gathered outside of the homes of Baha'i citizens in the village and began chanting, “There is no god but God, Baha'is are the enemies of God.” Those assembled then began pelting the houses with rocks, breaking windows and attempting to break in. Although police forces arrived in the village after being called by the victims of the attack, the police simply dispersed the assembled parties without arresting anyone involved in the crime. Similar, though less intense, attacks occurred on 29 and 30 March.

On 31 March at approximately 7 pm, the attacks escalated when some residents of the village—known by the victims—threw improvised firebombs and Molotov cocktails at the homes of the five Baha'i families living in the village, leading to the partial destruction of the houses. The victims said that the assailants broke or disabled the water connections to their homes to prevent them from putting out the fires. According to the victims, the assailants also broke into the houses, vandalizing property inside and stealing some electrical appliances and livestock. There were no human injuries or losses. The attacks prompted some of the Baha'i families to flee their homes and hide in the fields until the following morning. The police arrived during the attacks and again dispersed the assailants; there was no information that any of the assailants had been arrested.

The next morning, 1 April, the police ordered the remaining Baha'is in the village to leave immediately and did not allow them to return to their homes to collect clothing, medicine, schoolbooks, money, or other necessities. Information gathered indicates that all Baha'is have left the village as of the evening of 1 April.

The assaults on the Baha'is in al-Shuraniya began after an episode of the program “al-Haqiqa,” aired on Dream 2 on 28 March, which discussed the situation of Baha'is in Egypt. The program featured a Baha'i from al-Shuraniya and Baha'i activist and dentistry professor Dr. Basma Gamal Musa. Also participating in the program was Gamal Abd al-Rahim, a journalist at the state-owned al-Gumhouriya newspaper and a member of the board of the Press Syndicate, who, during the program, said referring to Dr. Basma, “This one should be killed.” On 31 March, only hours before the homes of the Baha'is were torched in al-Shuraniya, al-Gomhouriya published an article by Gamal Abd al-Rahim in which he praised the residents of al-Shuraniya for stoning the homes of Baha'is in the village in the preceding days. He considered these crimes to be evidence of al-Shuraniya residents’ “protectiveness of their religion and beliefs.”

The six rights organizations demanded that the Public Prosecutor question Gamal Abd al-Rahim regarding his incitement to violence against Baha'is in both the television program and his published article, pursuant to Articles 171 and 172 of the Penal Code, which address public incitement to felonies and misdemeanors. Consistent with the organizations’ principled opposition to the imprisonment for publication offences, the groups' complaint excluded Article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which stipulates mandatory imprisonment for “anyone who exploits religion to promote extremist ideas with the intent of inciting civil strife and damaging national unity,” and Article 176 of the Penal Code, which also stipulates mandatory imprisonment for anyone who “incites to discrimination against a group of people on the basis of race, origin, language, religion, or belief when such incitement disrupts public peace.”

Moreover, the rights organizations called on the board of Egypt's national Press Syndicate to take immediate action against Gamal Abd al-Rahim, particularly since he occupies a seat on the board, regarding his violation of the Syndicate’s Code of Ethics, which states that journalists have an obligation “to refrain in their writings from joining racist or bigoted advocacy or advocacy that involves contempt or disdain of religions, aspersions cast on the faith of others, or incitement to discrimination against or contempt for any group of society.”

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Mob Burns Baha'i Homes in a Southern Egyptian Village

al-Ahram article (burning of 5 homes), dated 1 April 2009

Even though there have been glimpses of hope for peaceful resolution to the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt, supported by the judiciary as well as the government, a sickening undercurrent of activity is being propagated and stirred by an Egyptian journalist, named Gamal Abdel Rahim, who writes for Egypt's Al-Gomhoryiah [the Republic] newspaper. His activities can easily be regarded as plots that are leading to sedition, intended to entice public unrest and disrupt "public order."

This journalist has been one of the most vocal opponents of the Baha'is in Egypt. His rhetoric is cloaked with hatred and disgust. He advocates pronouncing all Baha'is as apostates and urges their killing. As a consequence to his urging, during a recent television program (posted below), a mob attacked and assaulted the Baha'is in the village of Showranyiah (island in the center of the Nile) in the southern Egyptian province of Sohag on 31 March 2009 at 8 PM. The mob, reportedly, burned their homes and expelled the Baha'i families from the village.

This story was reported in a comment by the leader of that mob on Gamal Abdel Rahim's blog, which has been dedicated to attacks on Baha'is. This mob leader, who claimed responsibility for the attack, is named Mohammad Youssry Mohammad. He identifies himself as the secretary of the youth committee of the village's National Party (al- Hezb al-Watany) and a teacher in the religious institute of the village. He describes the village to have a population of 16,751 with a surface area of approximately 1,567 feddans [acres]. It has 17 mosques, 3 churches, 16 elementary schools, 2 preparatory schools and 1 secondary "commerce" school. He also reports that the Baha'is, who were expelled from the village following the burning of their homes, consist of 15 individuals from three families, among them children and nursing babies.

Latest developments on Copts United

A television program, aired on 28 March 2009, provided a forum for discussion between a representative of the Baha'i community of Egypt, Dr. Basma Moussa, the journalist Gamal Abdel Rahim and a Baha'i from the village of Showranyiah, Ahmad El-Sayyid. The host was Wael El-Ebrashy of Dream Channel. This recent attack was triggered by the hateful comments made by the journalist Gamal Abdel Rahim against the Baha'is during the TV program (see videos below).

Although this is regarded as an outrageous and heinous act against an innocent Baha'i population of an Egyptian village, it should be emphasized that this is not a normal occurrence in Egypt and does only represent the reaction of an ill-informed number of individuals who are driven by hatred and ignorance. There are many Egyptians who have been supportive of the Baha'is and of their rights. Among them are leaders of society, such as journalists, academics, politicians, artists, human rights activists and jurists.

The Egyptian authorities must take action against the perpetrators of these acts and must hold responsible those who have caused them. The rule of law has to prevail over such irresponsible terror and has to halt this state of unbridled anarchy. Egypt cannot afford to tolerate such a state of lawlessness.

Update (2 April 2009 Egypt-time):
Human rights activists and Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination are holding a demonstration at the office of Egypt's Attorney-General and are requesting that Gamal Abdel Rahim be charged and prosecuted (see report here).

Below is the TV program that apparently has triggered the current violence. The program was intended to discuss the Nowruz feast celebrated by the Baha'is in a Cairo public park on the 21st of March: