human rights in egypt: the drama continues

Egypt, a country with a long and glorious history dating back to the beginnings of civilization, has been in a very poor state of late, especially with respect to the treatment of its own citizens. Remember last December, when the Egyptian Supreme Court denied Egyptian Baha’is their fundamental citizenship rights by refusing to allow them official ID cards with the mandatory “Religion” field correctly filled out? Well, things just went downhill from there. Hard-hitting Baha’i blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt reports on an Egyptian newspaper interview with Dr. Basma Moussa, an Egyptian Baha’i, who, among other things, discussed the fact that Egyptian Baha’is must pay taxes like any other Egyptian citizen—but are nevertheless deprived of the civil rights granted to other tax-paying citizens. From the blog post:

There must be separation between citizenship and belief—they cannot be interconnected. Each Egyptian citizen must be entitled to ALL citizenship rights. Presently, all Egyptian Bahá’ís are deprived of their citizenship rights simply because of their belief. They are denied government-issued ID cards which are a necessity in order to continue to live in Egypt as a human being. Nothing in normal daily living can be accomplished without these ID cards. […]

In Egypt, it appears to be perfectly acceptable for the government to force the Bahá’ís to pay taxes like all other citizens, but seems to have no hesitation in depriving them of all their civil rights and all services due to them. The authorities cannot demand taxation from Bahá’ís with nothing in return. Is there any justice in this? This fact alone raises a very big question! One would expect that ID cards (and the national ID number) must be used in order to pay taxes!

This atrocious (not to mention ridiculous) treatment of Egypt’s own law-abiding citizens is all the more poignant in light of the news that appeared today about Egypt’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council. From the Toronto Star:

Despite abuse, Egypt joins rights council: History of torture in African nation makes a mockery of UN, critics say
Olivia Ward, Foreign Affairs Writer

In Egypt, Canadian bank teller Mohamed el-Attar is facing 15 years in jail on spy charges he says he confessed to under torture. Human rights groups say prisoner abuse is routine in the North African country.

In New York yesterday, Egypt won an uncontested seat on the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council, which is meant to defend the rights of the vulnerable worldwide.

What part of this equation doesn’t compute?

“Things like this leave one worried that all the fine things said last year when the council was created aren’t being played out in practice,” says Alex Neve, who heads Amnesty International’s Canadian office.

More than a dozen human rights groups asked the 192-country General Assembly not to vote for Egypt in yesterday’s election to fill 14 seats on the Geneva-based council, charging that the country’s record “is full of serious human rights violations that have been practised widely for long years.”

They named torture, arbitrary detention, election rigging and the use of military courts for trying civilians as reasons not to back Cairo’s bid.

Critics cite Egypt’s win—along with Qatar and Angola, with similarly dubious human rights records—as a sign that the council, created last year to replace the politically charged UN Human Rights Commission which had become known as “the abuser’s club,” is already irrelevant.

Really. Can’t we all, as supporters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respect the rights proclaimed within? And if that’s not good enough, then how about we take a look at the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which states that “[a]ll men are equal in terms of basic human dignity and basic obligations and responsibilities, without any discrimination on the basis of race, colour, language, belief, sex, religion, political affiliation, social status or other considerations”, and particularly declares that “Woman is equal to man in human dignity”? And if non-binding declarations aren’t enough, then will we respect those laws laid down in the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights? Egypt supported both Declarations mentioned above and is a full signatory to both Covenants (Iran too—golly gee), which guarantee universal application of human rights regardless of any classification, including religious.

It’s unfortunate that the issue of “human rights” has become so politically charged, and that the nations can’t seem to set it before their eyes and engage in rational dialogue about it. Canada’s no stranger to this—Residential schools, which in essence sought to forcibly assimilate Aboriginal peoples into Canadian society and rob them of their culture, language, religion, dignity and self-respect, come up every time Canada tries to reason with anyone about human rights. But will we continue with fruitless, immature bickering forever, while innocent people everywhere continue living in fear for their lives? When we speak of human rights, we’re not just talking about some airy-fairy thing that’s nice to have. We’re talking about one of the most beloved things in God’s sight: the observance of justice. Bahá’u’lláh made this quite clear for us in His Hidden Words:

O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest 4 Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.

If you’re interested in the subject of international human rights law—and particularly in the plight of Egypt’s Baha’is—I’d suggest you check out another blog called Seeking Justice. The authors take a legal perspective on the situation of Egypt’s Baha’is, taking apart and categorically refuting the foundations of the Egyptian Supreme Court ruling that continues to deny its own citizens the fundamental rights associated with that citizenship. I’ve read it. I’m impressed. Go read it. You will be, too.

One thought on “human rights in egypt: the drama continues

  1. So sad and stupid to discriminate this way just because of a different religion. We really need a fair international system that really grants human rights, not double-speak human rights councils that reward transgressors like this.

    I’m grateful to the Bahai faith for it’s hopeful message, which while I’m not a Baha’i as such, I get a lot from reading. Really, there seems to be no good reason to discriminate against such a peace-loving message. If people don’t want to believe it is true, that’s one thing, but to maltreat even in a small way is utterly unacceptable. It is shocking to see such things happening today and even more so from a ‘Western-friendly’ government. I’m just lucky to be in a country that believes in religious freedom for all.

    I look forward to hearing more about your faith, which interests me greatly as it does seem to have many answers to today’s problems which many are merely ‘bickering’ over, like you say. Godspeed!

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