canadian media tune in to the plight of egypt’s baha’is

Bilo, the author of the blog Baha’i Faith in Egypt, posted the following news from the Canadian Baha’i News Service—which I hadn’t even noticed until now. I guess I was too busy posting other stories that it never grabbed my attention. Thankfully, that’s not the case for everyone. Briefly put, the case of the Egyptian Supreme Court’s ruling against the right of Baha’is to obtain valid identification cards has caught the attention of the Canadian media. For example, Gerald Filson, the Canadian Baha’i community’s Director of External Affairs, was featured in an interview on Radio-Canada International, giving a summary of the plight of Egypt’s Baha’is. See below for more details.

Egyptian court ruling against Bahá’ís attracts Canadian media attention

TORONTO, ON, 24 January 2007 (CBNS) — The outcry in the Middle East over an Egyptian court ruling against a Bahá’í couple has drawn the attention of several media outlets in Canada, including two Arab-language newspapers.

In a decision delivered this past December, the Egyptian Supreme Administrative Court upheld a government policy that prohibits citizens from identifying themselves as members of any religion other than the three officially recognized ones (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) on government-issued identity cards. The policy makes it impossible for Bahá’ís and other religious minorities in Egypt to obtain identity cards without falsifying their religion. The identity cards are required for access to most essential services, including education, financial services, and medical care.

Two Canadian Arab-language newspapers included coverage of the case in its pages. The Montreal-based weeklies El-Masri and El Ressala printed articles highlighting the denial of citizenship rights to the Bahá’ís in their 19 and 21 December 2006 editions, respectively. Another Montreal-based newspaper, the Persian-language Payvand, ran its own article about the case.

English-language media outlets have taken an interest in the story as well. Shortly after the verdict was delivered, CBC Radio Canada International interviewed Gerald Filson, Director of External Affairs for the Bahá’í Community of Canada, about what the decision means for the Bahá’ís in Egypt and about the deteriorating state of human rights in the region.

“Persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran continues, unfortunately,” says Filson. “And now the Bahá’í community in Egypt, whose rights have also been suppressed for many years, is facing even more severe problems.”

Listen to the interview on CBC radio. (Select “Listen to the second part of the program,” and then cue the audio feed to 27:40.)

Read the entire press release.

message to the baha’is of egypt

The Universal House of Justice recently sent a letter to the Baha’is of Egypt regarding the 16 December 2006 judgment of the Egyptian Supreme Court upon their citizenship rights. Read the news release on the Baha’i World News Service website. You can read the letter yourself in English or Arabic.

egyptian court rules against baha’is

From the Baha’i World News Service (BWNS):

Egyptian court rules against Baha’is, upholding government policy of discrimination

CAIRO, 16 December 2006 (BWNS) — In a closely watched case that has become the focus of a national debate on religious freedom, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court today ruled against the right of Baha’is to be properly identified on government documents.

The decision upholds current government policy, a policy which forces the Baha’is either to lie about their religious beliefs or give up their state identification cards. The policy effectively deprives Egyptian Baha’is of access to most rights of citizenship, including education, financial services, and even medical care.

“We deplore the Court’s ruling in this case, which violates an extensive body of international law on human rights and religious freedom to which Egypt has long been a party,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“Since this was the last avenue of appeal in this particular case, the Court’s decision threatens to make non-citizens of an entire religious community, solely on the basis of religious belief,” said Ms. Dugal. “Our hope now is that the public debate over this issue will cause the Egyptian government to rectify its discriminatory policies.”

Read the Baha’i World News Service story.

Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera (yes, that Al-Jazeera!) also covers the story.

Bahais lose Egypt recognition fight

An Egyptian court has denied Bahais the right to state their religion on official documents and described them as pro-Israeli apostates, in a landmark case condemned by human rights organisations.

The case, seen as a test of religious freedom in Egypt, left the country’s 2,000-strong Bahai community suspended in a constitutional vacuum.

Sayed Nofal, the judge in the case, said: “The constitution promotes freedom of belief for the three recognised heavenly religions and they are Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

“As for the Bahais, Islamic jurists have all agreed that the Bahai faith is not one of the three recognised religions.”

The supreme administrative court ruled against the right of Hossam Ezzat Mussa and his wife, Rania Enayat, to state their religion on official documents.

The couple had filed their case in 2004 and a lower court ruled in their favour in April this year. In May, however, the decision was suspended by the supreme administrative court pending an appeal by the interior ministry, and the couple’s identity cards were confiscated.

Enayat said: “Those who belong to this religion are apostates of Islam, because the faith’s principles contradict the Islamic religion and all other religions.”

Saturday’s verdict throws the status of Egypt’s Bahai community into limbo, in a country where carrying identity papers at all times is required by law and essential for access to employment, education, medical and financial services.

Without official identity cards, Bahais cannot apply for jobs, buy property, open bank accounts or register their children in schools.

Read the Al-Jazeera story.

You can also find this story blogged (along with many more great sources of information) at the legendary Baha’i Blog.

baha’is of egypt denied their identity

Want a snapshot of the situation of the Bahá’í community over in the Middle East? Baha’i Blog has been faithfully watching not only the situation of the Baha’is of Iran [1] [2], but also that of the Baha’is of Egypt [1] [2]. The Baha’i Faith not being recognized as a religion in Egypt, Egyptian believers are asked to choose either “Muslim” or “Christian” for printing on official government documents. Of course, most (if not all) refuse, which means Baha’is living in Egypt can’t be issued identification such as birth certificates – which means they can’t legally marry, obtain passports, collect pensions, benefit from public health care, and so on. A group of Baha’is initiated a lawsuit to attempt to correct this injustice, in the hopes of gaining some official recognition of the Faith.

At last glance, the situation was this: Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court suspended a ruling by a lower court that would have allowed Baha’is to identify themselves as such on their official documents. This isn’t entirely surprising, seeing as rampant rumours, misinformation and outright lies have led many in Egypt (and elsewhere in the Middle East, including Iran) to believe that the Bahá’í Faith is either: (a) a Zionist political group or (b) spies for colonial and/or imperialist powers or (c) a danger to Islam or (d) all of the above. Sad.

Once you’re done scanning through Baha’i Blog, visit Marco Oliveira’s response to an Egyptian blogger who posted a fair bit about the Egyptian Supreme Court ruling. A subsequent set of emails from an anonymous Egyptian Baha’i hints at the seriousness of the clamour currently surrounding the Baha’is in Egypt.

Read more about the persecution of Baha’is in Egypt, or about the persecution of the Baha’is of Iran.