Monday, December 27, 2010

Proposed Egyptian law allowing marriage certification for Baha'is

Egypt's Al-Shorouq newspaper reported today that a law is being put forward by Egypt's government-sponsored National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) that would allow the official registration of Baha'i marriages in the State's Authority that deals with certifying all official transactions and registrations. The Authority is named "al-Shahr al-Aqqary."

This proposed law was just announced by Counselor Muqbel Shaker, Deputy President of the NCHR. The law will require an amendment to Article-V [No. 143, 1994] of the Civil Status/Affairs Law which currently does not allow the certification of Baha'i marriages. Presently, Civil [Personal Affairs] Courts certify marriages between couples belonging to the same "recognized religion."

The amendment would require the use of the word "belief" rather than "religion" when referring to the registration of a married couple, using the words "united in belief" rather than "united in religion."

Current official marriage registration with "al-Shahr al-Aqqary" Authority is restricted to only three types of cases, namely, when the couple belong to two separate recognized religions, or to separate denominations/sects within the same recognized religion, or used for registering marriages between Egyptian nationals and foreign nationals. The proposed law would require this "Authority" to eliminate Article-134 which forbids the registration of any marriages where Baha'is are a party to.

The proposed law clearly points out that this step is not a recognition of the Baha'i Faith, but rather a procedural maneuver and an amendment that would allow Baha'is--according to Islam's teachings and laws of non-discrimination & equality--obtain their civil rights by, subsequently, allowing married Baha'is to be granted ID cards (see previous post for details). The NCHR also bases its proposed law on a statement by the leading Muslim clergy, the late Sheikh al-Azhar, Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, when he said that "there is no harm and no objection to documenting Baha'is as belonging to a 'belief' [rather than a 'religion']."

This development is surely seen as a positive step forward in the government's efforts to correct the civil status of the Baha'i community in Egypt. Thus, ultimately, providing them with their deserved civil rights that will allow them to be integrated in their society and be of service to their fellow citizens and to their nation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

In Egypt: yes you can have an ID Card, but!

As posted previously, the US State Department's annual report on religious freedom in Egypt stated:
According to Baha'i community members, throughout the first half of 2010 the government implemented the order and reportedly issued more than 180 birth certificates and 50 to 60 national identification cards to Baha'is, all with dashes in the religious identification field. The government, because it does not recognize Baha'i marriage, and there is no civil mechanism for marriage, refused to issue identification documents to married Baha'is, unless they would agree to specify their marital status as "unmarried." According to the government,...

The implications of this status quo are far reaching and quite complex. Since the Egyptian government, thus far, has not developed a mechanism by which to officially recognize Baha'i marriage, any Baha'i married couple, a widow/widower, or a divorced person cannot obtain an ID Card. The reason for this is that the application for the national ID number/ID Card requires the individual to state his/her marital status. If the person is single, then an ID can be issued to the applicant without much delay.

If the person, however, is married or is a widow/widower or divorced, he/she must produce a proof of his/her status. And since the government does not recognize Baha'i marriage certificates, such documents presented by the applicants to the authorities have been systematically refused, declared as non-valid, and the issue of IDs have been denied. Meanwhile, such applicants have been told by the officials that if they wanted an ID, they can, then, lie and state that they are single. On the other hand, the application clearly states that any false statements entered can result in a prison sentence and a fine. Thus, Baha'is have been refusing to misrepresent their marital status on these documents.

Consequently--a year and 8 months past the order of the Minister of Interior to issue ID cards with a dash (-) to those not belonging to the official three religions--an overwhelming majority of the members of the Baha'i community in Egypt precariously continue to struggle in Egypt without identification documents.

One would think that the solution to this issue should be quite simple. There is really no reason to prolong such agony. Just as Baha'is long for an end to their suffering so that they can go on with their daily life, the authorities must also want to put an end to such injustice and rid themselves of the frustrations of having to deal with such convoluted and embarrassing state of affairs.

The Egyptian authorities must find a way to provide the Baha'is with a legitimate documentation of their marital status in Egypt, whether by a civil or by any other method of certification at their disposal. By doing so, Egypt can be seen, again, as a promoter of justice and a champion for human rights. With this outcome, Baha'is can, then, fully participate in the advancement and success of their beloved homeland.

Monday, December 13, 2010

US State Department Highlights Need to Improve Status of Baha'is in Egypt

On 17 November 2010, the United States Department of State issued its annual report on International Religious Freedom. The report highlighted clearly the recent developments in the Baha'i community's struggle in its quest to obtain its full rights. The Baha'i community's principal motive in its quest has always been its longing to be integrated as an essential element in the fabric of the Egyptian society so that its members can contribute fully to their society's well-being.

The report is divided into several segments and covers various complex issues related to religious freedom in Egypt that concern the various religious minorities currently existing in Egypt.

As the focus of this blog is the Baha'is of Egypt, the quotes posted below are specific to this religious community.

Before going to these quotes, however, one must read first what the report states about the reaction of the Egyptian government to an attack on Christians by Muslim extremists in the village of Naga Hammadi (described in details in the full report). The reason for bringing up this example first is to provide a glimpse into how Egypt's government is indeed committed to improve the status of religious minorities and the elimination of religious extremism and sectarian violence. Regarding this matter, the report states:
Following the attack on Christians in Naga Hammadi in January 2010, the government quickly arrested and began prosecution of four Muslim men implicated in the attack. They were charged with premeditated murder. As of the end of the reporting period, the court had ruled on motions, heard testimony from numerous witnesses, reviewed crime scene data, and was scheduled to resume in September 2010.

Following the Naga Hammadi attack, government officials spoke out strongly against dangers posed by sectarianism and discrimination. For example, on January 21, 2010, President Mubarak stated that in a modern civil state "there is no place for those who would incite sectarianism, or who would differentiate between its Muslim and Coptic citizens." On January 24, speaking at Police Day, President Mubarak said: "terrorism, extremism, and sectarian incitement represent the major challenges to Egypt’s national security." On February 28, President Mubarak spoke of the urgent need for efforts by clerics, educational and cultural institutions, publishing houses and the media "to confront the dangers of division, extremism and sectarian incitement." In late January, 2010 the minister of religious endowments sent a group to all governorates in Upper Egypt to engage in a religious awareness campaign and to address Islam’s stance on sectarian violence and strife and the dangers they pose to society’s stability.

Now, posted below are the entire quotes taken from the report which concern the Baha'is of Egypt. For the full report, please follow this link....
The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worship without harassment; however, Christians and members of the Baha'i Faith, which the government does not recognize, face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship.

In positive steps, the government issued identification documents to some unmarried members of the Baha'i community;

The number of Baha'is is estimated at 2,000 persons.

Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities and strips Baha'is of legal recognition. Despite the ban, they are able to engage in community activities such as Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i new year's celebration. During the Nasser era, the government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries.

The government requires all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews on national identity cards. The MOI has, on rare occasions, reportedly issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other," or that do not mention religion; however, it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups not associated with any of the three recognized religions have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or to live without valid identity documents.

In 2008 the Cairo Administrative Court ruled in three cases brought by Baha'is that the government must issue official identification documents containing a dash or other mark in the religion field. The court noted that a purpose of filling the religion field with a dash or other distinctive mark was to protect members of the "revealed religions" (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) from Baha'i infiltration and to avoid potential dangers from such persons' conduct and relations with them. The ruling stated that anyone who adopts the Baha'i Faith is an apostate and that the religion cannot be recorded in any civil status or other official document, because that would conflict with public order. But in April 2009 the MOI issued Decree 520 describing procedures for members of unrecognized religious groups to obtain national identity cards with dashes in the religious identification field. According to Baha'i community members, throughout the first half of 2010 the government implemented the order and reportedly issued more than 180 birth certificates and 50 to 60 national identification cards to Baha'is, all with dashes in the religious identification field. The government, because it does not recognize Baha'i marriage, and there is no civil mechanism for marriage, refused to issue identification documents to married Baha'is, unless they would agree to specify their marital status as "unmarried." According to the government, it was attempting to find a mechanism to issue identification documents to married Baha'is that would correctly identify marital status.

Those without valid identity cards also encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Police occasionally conduct random inspections of identity papers and those found without identity cards can be detained until they produce the document.

While the government complied with court rulings by issuing identity documents with a “dash” for religion to unmarried Baha’i, it continued to refuse to issue marriage certificates. This made it impossible for married members of the Baha'i community to obtain identity documents recognizing their marital status. The government cited its nonrecognition of the Baha'i Faith and the country's lack of a civil marriage mechanism as reasons for the denial.

During the reporting period, the government did not investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of a March 2009 attack on the homes of seven Baha'i families in the village of al-Shuraniya in Sohag Governorate. Muslim villagers, some of them related to the Baha'i villagers, attacked Baha'i houses with bricks and rocks until police dispersed them. On March 31, the attacks escalated when attackers returned and set fire to the homes, forcing the Baha'is to flee.

On July 27, 2009, a Cairo family court awarded legal custody of Aser Usama Sabri, whose parents are Baha'is, to the child's Muslim aunt. The ruling, which came in a lawsuit filed by the boy's grandfather, had no immediate practical effect as the boy and his parents live abroad.

On January 26, 2010, Cairo's Administrative Court rejected a legal challenge filed by private citizens challenging the government's authority to issue identification documents to Baha'is. The government issued birth certificates and national identification documents to some unmarried Baha'is throughout the reporting period.

The US government's policy in reaction to its report is stated as follows:
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialogue. The right of religious freedom has been raised with senior government officials by all levels of the U.S. government, including members of Congress, the secretary of state, the assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, the ambassador, and other Department of State and embassy officials. The embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The embassy also regularly discusses religious freedom matters with other government officials, including governors and members of parliament. The ambassador has made public statements supporting religious freedom, interfaith understanding, and efforts toward harmony and equality among citizens of all religious groups. Specifically, the embassy and other Department of State officials raised concerns with the government about the ongoing discrimination that Christians face in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005; official discrimination against Baha'is; arrests and harassment of Muslim citizens whose religious views deviate from the majority; and the government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert. During the UN Human Rights Council periodic review of the government's human rights record in February 2010, the U.S. delegation made a number of interventions regarding religious freedom.

U.S. embassy officials maintain an active dialogue with leaders of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i religious communities, human rights groups, and other activists. U.S. embassy officials investigate complaints of official religious discrimination brought to its attention. They also discuss religious freedom matters with a range of contacts, including academics, businessmen, and citizens outside the capital area. U.S. officials actively challenge anti-Semitic articles in the media through discussions with editors in chief and journalists.

U.S. programs and activities support initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom, including funding for programs of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services that work with Coptic and Muslim community groups, as well as support for NGOs that monitor the country's media for occurrences of sectarian bias.

The U.S. government is working to strengthen civil society, supporting secular channels and the broadening of a civic culture that promotes religious tolerance, and supporting projects that promote tolerance and mutual respect between different religious communities.

The embassy supports the development of educational materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language curricula.

The embassy facilitated Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) grant-making efforts, a number of which promoted religious freedom and interfaith dialogue. For instance, MEPI funded a Christian-Muslim dialogue entitled "Accept Me to Accept You" in Assuit, an area known for communal tensions.

Embassy officials also worked with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.

It is hoped that future blog posts will address the essential elements of this report, with further clarification of the current challenges.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Baha'is of Egypt: Entire Story Researched

If any reader or interested party wants to be fully appraised and well-informed of the whole story of the Egyptian Baha'i struggle, this is the essay to read....

Daniel Perell, then a third year law student from the University of Virginia School of Law, visited Egypt in December 2009/January 2010 as a Cowan Fellow under the auspices of Human Rights Study Project (HRSP). His area of interest was the status of the Baha'is of Egypt and their struggle to obtain their citizenship rights so that they can continue to serve their beloved homeland and contribute to its progress and prosperity.

The Human Rights Study Project met with former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali during their trip to Egypt. Pictured from left to right are Kristen Voorhees, Jennifer Nelson, Patrick Mott, Ghali (now president of the National Council for Human Rights), Daniel Perell, Lauren Willard, Robert Sherman and Emily Higgs.

All students selected to participate in this project have been required to conduct research on their specific subject and subsequently produce a scholarly paper for possible publication. Daniel Perell's 58 page paper was submitted on 14 May 2010 under the title: The Baha'is in Egypt Fighting for Their Identity.

This paper is so well researched and so professionally written that, to date, one can hardly find any scholarly work on this specific subject that can get any close to this article's superior scientific quality and its comprehensive content. It is a must read!

As this article is no longer available online, its author will provide a hard copy to those who wish to read it. For a copy, you may contact Mr. Perell at: .

The Baha'is in Egypt
Fighting for Their Identity

Table of Contents


Part I: The Actors; Egypt and the Baha'is
Egyptian Law and Freedom of Religion
Civil Law
Islamic Law
International Law
The Baha'i Faith
The Baha'i Faith in Egypt
Part II: The Legal Disputes
'Izzat Case
Hindi Case
Part III: Observer Commentary
Egyptian Press
The NGO Community
International Community
Part IV: The Baha'i Perspective
Positive Practical Effects
Remaining Legal Questions
Family Law
Social Struggles
Part V: Expanding the Effects
Legal Authority

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

More Scholarly Work on the Baha'is of Egypt

The University of Virginia School of Law conducts a program named Human Rights Study Project (HRSP) which it describes as follows:
The students who participate in HRSP, called Cowan Fellows, journey abroad to study human rights issues in foreign countries. Now in its eighth year, HRSP has sent past members to Cuba, China, Sierra Leone, Syria and Lebanon, India, Uganda and Cambodia. The final results of their work are compiled into research papers that may be submitted for publication. This year’s team traveled to Egypt for three weeks in late December and January, where they studied issues ranging from the right to water to corruption. With a population of 80 million people, Egypt is the largest Arab nation. In some ways, the fellows said, Egypt serves as a model for other Arab countries, which makes examining how they handle human rights all the more important.

The report, posted in May 2010, covered the various human rights issues examined during the group's visit to Egypt last spring. The report also comments on Daniel Perell's work, who was then a third year law student, and who was one of the project's participants that examined the status of the Baha'is of Egypt. It writes:
Third-year law student Daniel Perell examined the rights of Bahai residents of Egypt. People of the Bahai faith prospered in Egypt until 1960, when the government dissolved the religion’s institutions in the nation.

Bahais were not allowed to carry national identification cards, which give citizens access to health care, the right to marriage and even bank accounts. Only three religions were allowed to be listed on the card — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
In 2006, the Bahais took the matter to the courts, which ruled in 2009 that citizens could have a dash on the card where the religious affiliation was listed.

“This ruling in favor of the Bahais will not only permit them to start their lives, but it will also contribute to the betterment of Egypt as a whole,” Perell said.

Consequent to his work in Egypt, Daniel Perell submitted an elaborate 58 page scholarly article titled, "The Baha'is in Egypt Fighting for their Identity."

This article will be the subject of next post....

Monday, December 06, 2010

Back to Egypt and Back to Blogging

Because of certain unexpected circumstances I have not been able to write in this blog recently. My apologies are sincerely submitted here to the readers of this blog, to those who continue to endure hardships in Egypt, and to all those who have vested interest in the status of the Baha'is of Egypt. I am hoping to be able to write more regularly now and to provide updates on the subject matter of this blog.

Obviously there have been significant developments during the past few months which will be gradually explored during the following few posts, but in order to focus the readers' attention on the matter at hand, without bias, I would like to introduce a recently published scholarly work on the Baha'is of Egypt.

This extensively researched work was done by an independent Italian Scholar (not a Baha'i), named Daniele Cantini, and was recently published in Anthropology of the Middle East, vol. 4: 2 (Winter 2009): 34–51. The article is titled "Being Baha’i in Contemporary Egypt: An Ethnographic Analysis of Everyday Challenges."

Being Baha’i in Contemporary Egypt

An Ethnographic Analysis of Everyday Challenges

Daniele Cantini

Abstract: Following the 2003 reform and the Supreme Court ruling of 16 December 2006, Baha’is of Egypt find it increasingly difficult to have their citizenship rights recognised. This article draws on personal observation and analysis carried out in the context of broader research on Egyptian citizenship. I will introduce the condition of Baha’is in this country, from a historical and legal perspective, before starting an overall analysis of what being an oppressed minority means, in concrete terms, in the practice of everyday living. The article will then delineate how the ambiguities of state policies towards Baha’is are reflected in their daily lives.

Baha’i, citizenship, Egypt, minority, religion, state policies

In order to read the entire article, please go to this link....