id cards: egypt tightens noose on baha’is

Baha’i blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt reminds us that time is swiftly running out for the Baha’is of Egypt: the new computerized Egyptian identification cards—which allow access to all forms of official government transactions, and which, coincidentally, are impossible for Baha’is to obtain—will soon be mandatory for all Egyptian citizens; inability to produce such an identification card entails a five-year prison sentence. That’s right—soon, every Baha’i in Egypt, whether their families have lived there for five, ten, fifty or a hundred years, will become non-citizens, illegal aliens in their own land. Never mind the property they own, or even the fact that they will still be expected to continue paying taxes to a state that will refuse to grant them the rights of citizenship!

So far, official rationales for this illogical policy have been based not on facts and arguments, but on prejudice, intolerance and slander. An article published in Al-Ahram Weekly, noted that the 16 December 2006 ruling of Egypt’s Supreme Court (blogged here) was “prejudiced by religious scholars and [institutions]”, and that the court “didn’t respond to a single legal argument by the defence”, instead basing its ruling “solely on a public rejection of the Baha’i faith”. The Egyptian government, backed by the Supreme Court ruling, has actively pursued a policy of religious discrimination akin to the campaign of “cultural cleansing” applied against the Baha’is of Iran. Without intervention, Egyptian Baha’is will soon be regarded as non-persons, ineligible for basic rights such as health care, education, financial security (including pensions and bank accounts), and recognition of marriages, births and deaths.

If you’re interested in contacting the Egyptian Embassy in Canada to express yourself about the cultural cleansing of Baha’is in Egypt, here’s some useful contact information:

Egyptian Embassy in Canada
454 Laurier Avenue East
Ottawa, Ontario KIN 6R3
Tel: (613) 234-4931 / (613) 234-4935
Embassy email: egyptemb@sympatico.ca
Ambassador’s email: egypt4931@rogers.com

Egyptian Consulate, Montreal
3754 Cote des Neiges
Montreal, Quebec H3H 7V6
Tel: (514) 937-7781 / (514) 937-7782

You can also find international embassy and consulate information online.

muslim network for baha’i rights featured on bbc persian

As noted on Barney Leith’s blog Barnabas Quotidianus—and passed along by countless email groups so far—the fledgling Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights has been featured on BBC Persian (Farsi; check out the English translation). This is well-deserved good news for this collection of brave souls who are selflessly striving to defend the interests of the members of a beleaguered and long-suffering religious community.

For the first time on the internet, a group of Muslim youth has established a site called “the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights.” This site closely monitors the conditions of Baha’is in Egypt and Iran.

That a group of Muslims—made up social activists and liberal students from Arab countries—has exposed the plight of Baha’is is seen as a significant development by human rights advocates. […]

The founder of “the Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights” believes that most people in the Arab world know very little about the Baha’is: “When I talk to my friends about the Baha’i faith, they tell me that it is a satanic religion. I ask them to provide me with one of the principles of this religion, but they have no answer. Some think that the Baha’is are a sect of Shi’i Islam which is also a mistake. They don’t know anything about it, but they are nonetheless suspicious of its followers.”

muslims defend baha’i rights

In a remarkable and laudable display of interfaith solidarity, Muslim bloggers and interfaith activists have banded together to create The Muslim Network for Baha’i Rights, a website supporting the right of Baha’is across the world to freedom of religious practice, and expressing their concern at the treatment of Baha’is throughout the Middle East. Recent blog posts have examined the worrying situation of the Baha’is of Egypt and the Baha’is of Iran. You should definitely give the website a visit—and if you’re interested in the subject of interfaith blogging, you should also discover the Middle East Interfaith Blogger Network, which covers interfaith issues throughout the Middle East.

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.

Continue reading

toronto star: baha’i blogger defends egypt’s baha’is

Turning our eyes back to the situation of the Baha’is of Egypt: Ground-breaking Baha’i blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt is carrying a story from the Toronto Star which profiles an Egyptian Bahá’í blogger living in Canada, Samandary Hindawi. Hindawi maintains a mainly arabic-language blog (including some English posts) examining Egyptian media reports about the Baha’is and offering point-by-point refutations of the many accusations made towards Egyptian Baha’is. From the article:

When filling out a form for government identification, Egyptians are required to specify their religion. Hindawi said the Baha’is of Egypt have no problem with this, except that they are not allowed to state on the forms that they are Baha’i. Only Islam, Christianity and Judaism are recognized.

Baha’is in Iran also face discrimination, where denial of government identification cards has kept people from opening bank accounts, going to school or even accessing health care. Hindawi says similar problems are developing in Egypt as old identity cards expire and Baha’is are not able to replace them.

As well, he says, media outlets in the country have been unsympathetic, and even hostile, to the plight of the Baha’is, so Hindawi has begun to use his computer skills to do what he can from Toronto.

He has set up a blog to counter the accusations made against Baha’i in the country, regularly picking apart stories that appear in newspapers, magazines and television, where Baha’is are regularly accused of everything from immorality to spying.

“If you really want to hurt somebody in the Middle East, this is what you do—you smear them with treason and immorality,” he says as he attaches an Arabic language keyboard to his laptop computer.

As a Baha’i, he says, he can’t engage is a similar mud-slinging campaign against his faith’s critics, so instead offers counterpoints to the often skewed reporting in his native country. He keeps tabs on the reporting through a Baha’i friend in the U.S., who posts copies of stories own his own blog.

“I go specifically through the charges, one after another,” Hindawi says, describing how he counters the allegations made against Baha’i followers in the Egyptian press. “I correct the facts, historically, factually, systematically.”

Read the entire article at TheStar.com, or visit Samandary Hindawi’s blog, Truth Examiner.

Update: The Canadian Baha’i News Service mentions the Toronto Star article and many more in an overview of media impressions about the Egyptian crisis.