Saturday, January 29, 2011

Live Coverage of Current Events in Egypt

Around the clock live coverage of current events in Egypt on Al Jazeera can be seen in English at this link, and in Arabic at this link.

Live Updates and Live Video on BBC (English).

State -run Nile TV (Arabic).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Memorandum to Egypt's Prime Minister from HRO

The following press release is in regards to a memorandum submitted by a forum of independent human rights organizations in Egypt to the Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif, requesting constitutional guarantees for equality in Egypt.

19 January 2011

Memo to the Prime Minister

Strengthening the pillars of the civil state and achieving equality requires the formation of a commission to include representatives from social sectors denied equality

Press Release

Yesterday the Forum for Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations submitted a memo to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif asking that he form a commission under the cabinet to assume the mission of activating constitutional guarantees for citizenship, equality, and equal opportunity for all Egyptians, regardless of religion, belief, ethnicity, or place of birth.

In its memo, the Forum stressed the need for the commission to include independent figures among its members to represent those segments of society that face discrimination or marginalization, such as Copts, Shiites, Baha'is, Nubians, and Sinai Bedouins, as well as representatives of human rights organizations.

The memo, signed by 14 rights groups, aims to encourage official state efforts to address the sectarian crises that pose a real threat to the coexistence of Muslims and Copts within the framework of respect for equality, the repudiation of discrimination and exclusion, and respect for religious liberties. A clear departure must be made from the current sectarian climate, which is increasingly stoking hatred, bigotry, and religious extremism.

In the memo, the Forum noted that the commission’s mandate should include drafting legal proposals to entrench equality and prevent discrimination, advising on problems resulting from discrimination, and monitoring state institution’s observance of the equal right to build and restore houses of worship and occupy senior positions in state and public institutions, including the security establishment.

The commission should also assess and monitor the performance of investigating and security authorities as they deal with incidents of sectarian tension and violence and their compliance with a single standard of law in handling these cases. In addition, it will monitor and evaluate the performance of the media in confronting religious hatred, and assess and monitor the state as it undertakes a thorough review of academic curricula aimed at elevating the humanistic values common to all religions and faiths and strengthening the values of tolerance and mutual respect between adherents of different religions, faiths, and ideas.

The memo stated that there must an end to arbitrary security interference in the freedom of religious belief, stressing the state’s duty to ensure protection for all individuals to worship and deal transparently with cases of conversion. All forms of harassment and pressure brought to bear on people because of their religion or belief must end.

The memo added that the ability of the state to contain sectarianism and put an end to sectarian violence and tension depends to a large extent on restoring the pillars of the civil state that have been eroded over the past decades as a result of the increasing use and abuse of religion and religious institutions in politics and the public sphere. The Forum urged the state to stop deploying religion in the public and political sphere, which is better occupied in a democratic society by political parties and civil society institutions. The state must also stop using religious institutions to play political roles that go beyond their mandates. Similarly, religious institutions should produce modern religious discourses that reject religious exclusion, extremism, and hatred and promote enlightenment and moderation. The memo encouraged religious institutions to enlist one of their own qualified members to monitor publications they release or any speech for its incompatible with the values of citizenship or incites to religious hatred.

To read the entire memo, see:
To read the entire press release, see:

1. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
2. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
3. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
5. Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services
6. Group for Human Rights Legal Aid
7. Hesham Mubarak Law Center
8. Land Center for Human Rights
9. New Woman Research Center
10. The Arab Penal Reform Organization
11. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
12. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
13. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
14. The Human Rights Association for the Assistance for the Prisoners

Monday, January 17, 2011

Is religious designation on ID cards really necessary?

Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm newspaper has recently reported on a prominent Egyptian poet who is leading a campaign to abolish religious designations on ID cards.

Since the introduction of official ID cards in Egypt in 1960, holders of these cards have always been required to state their religion on these documents. A number of excuses for this practice have been propagated by the enforcers of the law, but none of them could be construed as legitimate, particularly in today's society.

To make matters worse, religious designation has led to discrimination in employment and in obtaining basic civil rights, and of course has created a crisis for those who do not belong to the three "recognized" religions in Egypt, many of whom have been left without any identification and have been self-labeled as being in a state of "civil and societal death."

Finally, however, through multiple legal challenges, Baha'is, for example, are currently in the process of obtaining ID cards by having their religion identified with (--) dashes. There still remain barriers to obtaining ID cards for the majority of the adults in the Baha'i community as was described earlier in this blog. Recently, those individuals holding ID cards with (--) dashes designation are beginning to face a new ominous wave of discrimination, having been already "marked" and considered as "undesirables."

Ultimately, Egypt will need to abide by the tenets of international law and civil liberties by eliminating this requirement of religious designation which has always led to conflict and contention. One's religion, when necessary, can always be identified and documented through one's own religious administration and authorities, and not by the State.

This grassroots movement, reported on by the Egyptian media, should be regarded as a very significant development which illustrates the will of the common man of today's Egypt. The authorities must take notice....

Here is the article:

Poet leads campaign against religious designations on national IDs

Mahmoud Ramzy
[Thursday, 6 January 2011

Representatives of various Egyptian political movements have agreed to launch a campaign aimed at collecting one million signatures in support of the abolition of religious designations on national identification cards.

The idea was first proposed by renowned Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm in a recent letter to President Hosni Mubarak.

In his letter, Negm also urged the president to expedite a new law governing construction of churches and mosques in an effort to avert sectarian unrest and religious discrimination.

“We're now in the process of choosing the areas in which we'll launch the campaign,” said 6 April opposition movement coordinator Ahmed Maher.

National Association for Change (NAC) member George Isac, meanwhile, said that Negm’s idea had "come at the right time," in reference to the New Year's Eve bombing of a church in Alexandria. “We hope that all opposition movements sign on to the campaign," he added.

NAC coordinator Abdel Gelil Mostafa, for his part, expressed anxiety that the ruling regime might "attempt to thwart the initiative."

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination

Dr. Muhhamad Munir Mugahed, the Executive Director of a registered NGO in Egypt, called Egyptians [Misryioun] Against Religious Discrimination, has recently posted a rebuttal of an article published on 22 December 2010 in Egypt's semi-official newspaper "Al-Ahram" that was intended to belittle the Egyptian Baha'is in their quest for their rights.

The rebuttal was published on 31 December 2010 in an independent daily Arabic news site, promoting equality, justice and progressive human values, named "Modern Discussion."

Because of the vast differences between Arabic and English grammar and vocabulary, the English translation posted below does not do the article justice, but it will provide the reader with the gist of this well thought-out and articulate rebuttal. The original article in Arabic is also linked here....

Religion is for God and Country is for All [a translation]

Al-Ahram newspaper published a strange article by Mr. Ahmed Moussa in his weekly column named "On my own Responsibility" on 22 December 2010, titled "Baha'i is not a religion...!" [The article] stating that “freedom is only for the three heavenly religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and anything else cannot be regarded as a religion.”

With the exception of the point of view of the Ministry of Interior, I do not understand what he based his strange judgment on.

The word religion from a linguistic perspective means "belief" or "path" as in the [Quranic] verse [referring to unbelievers]: "Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion" (The Unbelievers: 6). Accordingly, disbelief is a religion, the worship of idols is a religion, and any vision related to God is a religion. Of course, people differ in what they consider as a true religion, and even differ within the same religion about what they see as true faith, but this is a personal issue, and it is up to every one of us to resolve this matter for himself and decide what religion is right for him, and what is the true faith for him. No one of us can impose his vision [belief or understanding] on others. And for us, Muslims, God the Almighty has revealed to us "Allah will judge amongst you on the Day of Resurrection concerning that wherein ye used to differ." (Hajj: 69).

Differences in religious beliefs—whether legitimate religions or doctrines—is found among human beings since time immemorial and will continue, but we should not turn this difference into disagreement, discord, and enmity. I am a Muslim, I believe strongly that the religion for Allah is Islam and that who seeks religion other than Islam will not be accepted. But at the same time I realize that there are others in this country and in the world who have contrary religious beliefs that they hold with the same conviction as I do with my own beliefs, and I acknowledge their right to uphold their convictions, and that should not constitute a hindrance in the enjoyment of their rights and personal freedoms, and their full equality with other citizens.

Mr. Ahmed Moussa criticizes Counselor Muqbel Shaker for meeting with a group of Egyptian Baha’is to discuss their grievances and their problems. He says, “these are issues that need the clergy and not civil legislators. This is the foundation of the religious State, because the clergy are the ones who will determine the legitimacy of beliefs of other religions and their rights.” I do not see here a difference between religions, "heavenly" or not. Because all religions do not recognize each other, and the followers of each religion see that the only way to Heaven is their religion or beliefs. Thus, a cleric should not be a judge and jury for other religions. On the other hand, the State has a well-defined role that does not include the admission of citizens into Paradise. Its duty is to protect the rights of all citizens on an equal footing when it comes to belief, manifestation of belief in worship whether secretly or openly, and proclamation—without restrictions or harassment—in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mr. Ahmed Moussa also criticizes the Baha'is for demanding their rights, including the declaration of their religion in official documents, and the recognition of Baha'i marriage contracts and divorce since the State has no system of civil personal status like in most countries of the world. He advises them "not to be the fork [the instrument] that foreign powers can manipulate to intervene in the matters of our country." This is blaming the victim for crying out about injustice.

If there is a genuine interest in the country's security, Mr. Ahmed Moussa and those who support him in discriminating against citizens because of their differing religions, should have cared to promote the principle of citizenship provided for in the heart of the Egyptian constitution, so that they block any gaps that predators could pass through in their attempts to attack this country, taking advantage of our mistakes which led to violating the rights of our citizens that differ in religion, race, national origin, or political affiliation. Simply to make Egypt for all Egyptians.