Thursday, January 31, 2008

While Al-Azhar Supports Egypt's Court Ruling on Baha'is, Ministry of Interior Contemplates Appeal!

In a statement published in today's (31 January 2008) edition of Cairo's Rose al-Yousef newspaper, Al-Azhar, represented by its Islamic Research Council, expressed its support of the 29 January court ruling that allowed the two Baha'i litigants to be issued birth certificates and ID cards with no religious classification entered in the required section of these documents.

The statement indicated that the members of the council affirmed that the Administrative Court ruling allowing these Baha'is to leave the religion section vacant or to enter the word "other" does not violate the prior decision of the Islamic Research Council in which it did not recognize the Baha'i Faith.

The article further explains, "Member of the Council, Dr. Muhammad El-Shahaat El-Gendy, clarified that the ruling is in agreement with the decision of the Islamic Research Council because the ruling did not recognize the Baha'i Faith as a congregation, a societal, political or religious entity."

On the other hand, the article also reports that Dr. Hamed Sad'diq, a professor in the National Centre for Research [?], has filed an argument with Cairo's Administrative Court requesting the annulment of the court's verdict based on his opinion that "the Baha'i Faith is not recognized in Egypt as one of the three divine religions." He then went on with the usual falsehood and arguments being propagated by Egypt's extremists regarding their views of the Baha'i Faith. It is neither clear who this person is nor whom, exactly, he speaks for!

Another article in today's edition of Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on the verdict and that it has been welcomed and hailed by Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Baha'i International Community. It also reported that "a responsible security source from Egypt's Ministry of Interior revealed that the Ministry's section on legal affairs is studying the ruling [just] issued by the Court of Administrative Justice in preparation for [the Ministry's] appeal before the Supreme Administrative Court."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Egypt's Court Ruling on Baha'i Rights: Published Verdict Unveils Possible Deception!

According to today's edition of Al-Ahram semiofficial Egyptian newspaper and the government's mouthpiece, yesterday's court ruling allowing the two Baha'i litigants to obtain birth certificates and ID cards without religious classification did state the following:

The Baha'i [Faith] is not a religion, and that divine religions are three [namely] Islam, Judaism and Christianity, and they are the only ones allowed in the religion section [of ID cards/birth certificates]. The court affirmed that only those Baha'is who were wrongly issued ID cards, birth certificates or official documents with "Baha'i" entered in the religion section, are allowed the issue of documents "without" [religion] or with a dash (-) entered [in place of religion]. Any other Baha'is do not have the right to obtain documents "without" [religious classification in place of one of the specified religions] or with a dash (-) [instead of religion].


If this is true, it appears that it would be the first public release of the supposed verdict. It implies that the case of the Baha'is of Egypt continues to face significant obstacles and is nowhere near resolution.

Does it imply that all other Baha'is in Egypt who do not possess ID cards or birth certificates, in addition to those who hold old paper ID cards with no religion written in their documents, might need to sue the Ministry of Interior en masse in order to be allowed the same treatment as those involved in this verdict?

On the other hand, it is hoped that this language could have been a mere misunderstanding of the verdict itself and that a correction of its meaning can be expeditiously confirmed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Victory for Human Rights in Egypt: Baha'is Can Have ID Cards & Birth Certificates

At last...happy faces in the courtroom

Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice has just ruled now in favor of the Egyptian Baha'is, allowing them to obtain identification documents and birth certificates. The verdict opens the door for the Egyptian Baha'is to leave the religious classification section blank (enter dashes or "other") on all identification documents and other official documents including birth certificates, according to the court's ruling. The final choice between these allowed options will be determined later. In effect, the Egyptian Baha'is will now be able to enjoy all their rights of citizenship in their homeland.

This particular verdict involves the case of the 14-year-old twin children, Emad and Nancy Raouf Hindi who, until this date, were without Egyptian birth certificates. It also involves the case of the 18-year-old university student, Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was dismissed from the university consequent to his inability to obtain a military postponement certificate required for the continuation of his education. Since he was not permitted the issue of a national ID number and an ID card because of being a Baha'i, he could not obtain the required military certificate.

These cases suffered six postponements before today's ruling. This verdict illustrates Egypt's willingness to move forward in her path towards progress and tolerance. It is also a testimony to the emerging independence of the judiciary. It upholds Egypt's commitment towards the enforcement of equal rights to all her citizens.

More news and updates to follow....

See BBC Arabic coverage here: مصر: بطاقات هوية للبهائيين بدون ذكر الديانة

See Reuters coverage here: Egypt Baha'is win court fight over identity papers

See IHT's Daily News Egypt coverage here: Favorable verdict a victory for Bahais

"While a written verdict has not yet been issued, Bahgat [of EIPR] told Daily News Egypt that the Administrative Court’s chief judge stated that even though Bahais do not belong to one of the three religions officially recognized by the state, they enjoy the right to refuse to identify himself as one of these religions. He also said that members of the Bahai faith have the right to access state services."

See AFP coverage here: Egypt's Bahais score breakthrough in religious freedom case


See Arabic Blog coverage here: زى ام العروسة

See Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) coverage here: Egypt: Court Prohibits Withholding Documents from Baha’is
Government Should Implement Discrimination Decision Without Delay

See Canada's National Post coverage here: Egypt grants Baha'is access to official ID
Minority Rights;
Members must leave religion box blank

BAHÁ'Í INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

United Nations Office
866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 120, New York, NY 100 17 USA
Telephone: 1-212-803-2500, Fax: 1-212-803-2566, Email: [email protected]

Press Release

For Immediate Release
29 January 2008

For more information, contact Bani Dugal in New York at 212-803-2519 (office) or 914-329-3020 (mobile) or Diane Ala’i in Geneva at +41 (-22)-798-5400 (office) or +41 (-78)-60-40-100 (mobile)

Egypt court upholds Baha’i plea in religious freedom cases

CAIRO (29 January 2008) -- In a victory for religious freedom, a lower administrative court here today ruled in favor of two lawsuits that sought to resolve the government’s contradictory policy on religious affiliation and identification papers.

The Court of Administrative Justice in Cairo upheld arguments made in two cases concerning Baha’is who have sought to restore their full citizenship rights by asking that they be allowed to leave the religious affiliation field blank on official documents.

“Given the degree to which issues of religious freedom stand at the heart of human rights issues in the Middle East, the world should cheer at the decision in these two cases today,” said Bani Dugal, the principal representative of the Baha’i International Community to the United Nations.

“The compromise offered by the Baha’is in these two cases opens the door to a way to reconcile a government policy that was clearly incompatible with international law -- as well as common sense,” said Ms. Dugal.

“Our hope now is that the government will quickly implement the court’s decision and allow Baha’is once again to enjoy the full rights of citizenship to which they are duly entitled,” said Ms. Dugal.

The decisions today concerned two cases, both filed by Baha’is, over the issue of how they are to be identified on government documents.

The first case involves a lawsuit by the father of twin children, who is seeking to obtain proper birth certificates for them. The second concerns a college student, who needs a national identity card to re-enroll in university.

The government requires all identification papers to list religious affiliation but restricts the choice to the three officially recognized religions -- Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Baha’is are thus unable to obtain identification papers because they refuse to lie about their religious affiliation.

Without national identify cards -- or, as in the case of the twin children, birth certificates -- Baha’is and others caught in the law’s contradictory requirements are deprived of a wide range of citizenship rights, such as access to employment, education, and medical and financial services.

These problems were highlighted in a report issued in November by Human Rights Watch and the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

“Employers, both public and private, by law cannot hire someone without an ID, and academic institutions require IDs for admission,” said the report. “Obtaining a marriage license or a passport requires a birth certificate; inheritance, pensions, and death benefits are contingent on death certificates. The Ministry of Health has even refused to provide immunizations to some Baha'i children because the Interior Ministry would not issue them birth certificates accurately listing their Baha'i religion.”

The issuance of birth certificates is at the heart of the first case, which concerns 14-year-old twins Imad and Nancy Rauf Hindi. Their father, Rauf Hindi, obtained birth certificates that recognized their Baha’i affiliation when they were born.

But new policies require computer generated certificates, and the computer system locks out any religious affiliation but the three officially recognized religions. And without birth certificates, the children are unable to enroll in school in Egypt.

The second lawsuit was filed by the EIPR last February on behalf of 18-year-old Hussein Hosni Bakhit Abdel-Massih, who was suspended from the Suez Canal University's Higher Institute of Social Work in January 2006 due to his inability to obtain an identity card because of his refusal to falsely identify himself as either a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.

In both cases, lawyers representing the Baha’is have made it clear that they were willing to settle for cards or documents on which the religious affiliation field is left blank or filled in, perhaps, as “other.”

This solution is what makes these two cases different from the lawsuit that was rejected by the Supreme Administrative Court last year. In that ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court rejected a decision by the lower that upheld the right of Baha’is to be properly identified on government documents.

For more information go to:

http://news.bahai.org/
http://serv04.news.bahai.org/story/595
and/or
http://www.bahai.org/persecution/egypt

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Egypt's Baha'is Mentioned in the British Parliament

Photo by Deryc Sands © Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

Barney Leith posted in his blog "Barnabas quotidianus" on a recent significant debate in the British Parliament. The case of the Egyptian Baha'is was brought-up in relation to the Foreign Affairs Committee's Eighth report of 2006-07 Parliamentary session on global security in the middle east. During the session of 25 January 2008, Bob Spink MP of Castle Point said the following:

Again, I congratulate the Committee on this excellent report on a difficult matter.

I shall speak on a narrow subject. In chapter 5 of the report, on Egypt, I note that the part entitled “Human Rights and Democratisation” does not address a certain issue. I understand the Committee’s difficulty in visiting every point on human rights, but minority rights in Egypt are important, and I wish to flag them up.


The inception of a new system of computerised ID cards in Egypt compelled its citizens to identify themselves as members of one of three constitutionally recognised religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Members of Egypt’s Baha’i minority have been unable to register as citizens of their own country. On 16 December 2006, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the Government’s position that forces Baha’is either to falsely claim to be a member of a religion or go without an ID card. Egyptian Baha’is are therefore unable to register the birth of their children, denying those children access to education, jobs and medical treatment. They are effectively unable to live as citizens in the country of their birth. That is a minority issue, and it is understandable why it is not covered in the report. Other religious groups in Egypt, including the Copts, who have changed their religion, have also faced a problem in getting ID cards.


Denying fundamental freedoms to Egyptian citizens on that basis appears to be a breach of Egypt’s obligations under article 18 of the international covenant on civil and political rights, as was asserted in a recent report by Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. It would be useful for future reports of the Foreign Affairs Committee to examine minority rights, if possible.


To read the rest of the debate, please visit Barney's blog at this link....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Egypt: Court Postopnes Baha'i Cases for Sixth Time

The Baha'i cases in Cairo's Court of Administrative Justice were postponed again today for an anticipated verdict during the 29 January 2008 court session. This is the sixth postponement for these two cases. The last postponement was announced at the 25 December 2007 court session.

Interestingly the court's clerk called the cases this time with the label "El-Baha'eiyyah" [the Baha'i] rather than using the names of the plaintiffs as it had been the case in the past. For background information on these cases, please refer to this previous post.

Also, read about this in IHT's Daily News Egypt.

Friday, January 18, 2008

European Parliament Resolution on Egypt's Human Rights Situation

The European Parliament has just passed a resolution on the situation of human rights in Egypt. The resolution is quite critical of Egypt's record on human rights and cites specific examples such as the one regarding religious minorities, including the Baha'is. It states that they "are still sadly crippled by sectarian isolation."

The resolution also affirms that it "Recognises the role that Egypt plays in the Middle East peace process and the importance that EU-Egypt relations have for the entire Euro-Mediterranean area, but points out that respect for human rights is a fundamental value of the EU-Egypt Association Agreement and reaffirms the importance of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership for promoting the rule of law and fundamental freedoms...."

Furthermore, the European Parliament "Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Egyptian Government and Parliament, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and the Mediterranean countries which are signatories to the Barcelona Declaration and the President of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly."

In order to read the full resolution, please click here....

The reaction in Egypt reflected a strong rejection of the resolution as reported in several news items in the Egyptian press. One of which was published in Cairo today by Al-Masry Al-Youm [Arabic version] daily newspaper. The paper wrote the following in its English version:

The Foreign Ministry yesterday summoned all 27 ambassadors of the European Union countries to officially express Egypt's rejection of a draft resolution presented to the EU Parliament criticizing Egypt's human rights record and calling for the immediate release of former head of the Ghad Party, Ayman Nour.

The official spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry Hossam Zaki told reporters the ministry informed the European side that "Egypt does not accept anyone to comment on its the human rights status, nor will it allow itself to preach other countries on their internal affairs no matter what remarks Egypt has on these countries' performance in the filed of human rights."


In a sign of the mounting EU-Egyptian discord over the latest resolution, Speaker of the Shurra Council Safwat el-Sherif announced a decision to suspend the Upper House of Parliament's participation in the meetings of the political and economic committees of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliament scheduled for next week in Brussels in what was described as a protest measure against the draft resolution, which was expected to be adopted in principle on Wednesday.


The draft resolution calls for the immediate release of Nour; putting an end to what was described as the exercise of torture and ill-treatment; the non-replacement of the declared emergency status with a new anti-terrorism law tailored as a tool to criminalize the civil societies' peaceful activities, their freedom of expression, or the imposition of arbitrary restrictions on these societies and their activities.


The EU Parliament's resolution also described the lifting of the emergency status in Egypt as being of critical importance and called for guaranteeing and corroborating judicial independence through amending and abolishing all articles of the law negating or undermining judicial independence.


On a positive note, one can see this as a wonderful opportunity for Egypt to prove to her citizens first, and the world second, that she can respect human rights and enforce laws that would guarantee her citizens their rightful protection and equality in opportunity and treatment regardless of their creed, gender, thought or religious orientation.

Further links to the story: AFP, Earth Times, Yahoo News, Reuters.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Egypt and ID Cards: Exclusion by Classification!

In its most recent edition, the Cairo weekly "Watany" newspaper published a comprehensive article on the current status of the Baha'is of Egypt. The article is titled "Bahai’s: a case of civic death."

Watany newspaper describes itself as follows: "Watani is an Egyptian weekly Sunday newspaper published in Cairo. The word Watani is Arabic for “My Homeland”. The paper was founded in 1958 by the prominent Copt Antoun Sidhom (1915 – 1995), who strove for the establishment of a civil, democratic society in Egypt, where all Egyptians would enjoy full citizenship rights regardless of their religious denomination. This remains Watani’s objective to this day, leaning neither left nor right on the political level, but following its own clear course in the press field. Those in charge of Watani view this role as a patriotic all-Egyptian vocation, especially following the increasing marginalisation of the Coptic role, issues and culture within the Egyptian society over the past half century. Watani is deeply dedicated to offer its readers high quality, extensive, credible press coverage, with special focus on Coptic issues, culture, heritage, and contribution to Egyptian society."

The article in its entirety is posted below:

Bahai’s: a case of civic death
Nasser Sobhy


Late last month the Cairo administrative court postponed, for the fifth time since 2004, ruling in the case of the Baha’is, who require their religion to be cited in their ID documents. Their case against the Interior Ministry was adjourned to 22 January. The ministry refuses to cite Baha’i as a religion in ID documents on grounds that the Egyptian Constitution acknowledges only three religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Baha’is are thus required either to be officially cited as members of one of these three faiths, or to be left out in the cold with no ID documents and no rights or duties as Egyptian citizens.


The only option

Since 2004, Baha’is have undergone a serious crisis that threatens their very existence in Egypt. Even if they have IDs and birth certificates proving their belonging to the Baha’i religion, and even if their parents are or were Baha’is, they cannot be officially recognised in Egypt as Baha’is. Prior to the 2004 decision Baha’is had every right to be officially registered as such or, if they chose to, to leave the religion box in their ID documents vacant.
The only option thus left to Baha’is was to take their case to court. In April 2006 the administrative court ruled that they had the right to cite their religion in formal papers, but the State appealed the ruling and the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in its favour. The State is thus not obliged to cite Baha’i as a religion in formal papers. Noteworthy is that this ruling contradicts a previous one on the same question issued in 1983.

No education, no life

Meanwhile, the Baha’i Raouf Hindi filed a lawsuit demanding the right to birth certificates for his twin children, Emad and Nancy, citing their religion as Baha’i. The twins were born in a Gulf country and were registered as Bahai’s, but when they came back to Egypt, the Civil Registration Office refused to issue birth certificates proving their religion. To date the court has not had its say on the issue. Another case before the court was filed by the Baha’i university student Hussein Hosni Bekheit Abdel-Messih who was dismissed from college for failing to hand in, among his application documents, a computerised ID and a military service certificate. The Administrative Court issued a ruling obliging the Ministry of Defence to hand him a certificate and the Ministry of Education to allow him to attend the final exam, but the State appealed and a ruling has yet to be issued.
As for infants, if their parents do not register them as Muslim, Christian, or Jew, they can possess no birth certificate, meaning they have to go without the mandatory vaccination required and provided by the Health Ministry and, later in their lives, cannot be enrolled in school. They continue to live with no formal identity, leading to dire results. Males who reach the age of 16 could be sentenced to prison for evading the military service they can only perform if they possess Egyptian ID documents. And Baha’is can have no death certificates; their families cannot collect pensions. The only document they can have is the passport, since it contains no religion box.

Killing identities

Last November Human Rights Watch (HRW) in conjunction with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) issued a report on “Prohibited Identities: State Interference with Religious Freedoms” in which it tackled, among other issues, the question of Baha’i identity. Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of HRW met Ahmed Amr, senior assistant of the Minister of Interior. The latter defended the ministry’s policies and asserted that the insertion of the Baha’i faith in official papers would lead to a disruption of public order. Mr Stork aptly commented that officials in the Egyptian Ministry of Interior believed that they held the right to choose the religion for citizens. “Such intransigent policies are aimed at killing people’s identities, and consequently serve to persecute individuals,” he said.
The EIPR indicates that the Egyptian government uses Islamic sharia or legal code to justify banning people from enjoying the rights they are entitled to by the Egyptian law and international conventions. EIPR manager Hussam Bahgat, explained that sharia had no conclusive position vis-à-vis administrative issues such as the religion box in the formal papers of modern States. “Removal of the religion cell from formal papers would be a proof of the State’s neutrality with respect to people’s religious commitment, he said; the core of the problem lies with the State’s persistence in registering people’s religion in formal papers.”

Friday, January 11, 2008

Current Status of ID Cards in Egypt: Five Million Pending!

The use of old paper ID cards was due to be terminated by the end of December 2007. However, according to an article published on 5 January 2008 in Egypt's semi-official newspaper, Al-Ahram, the use of paper ID cards had to be extended beyond the set deadline for their elimination. The reason given for this postponement is that there remains five million Egyptian citizens without the new national ID number and the computerized ID card.

The article states that 43 million ID cards were issued. The new project also requires that citizens under the age of sixteen must be issued new birth certificates with a national ID number. There were 42 million citizens who were issued the new computerized birth certificates and national number. Additionally, State Security sources indicated that 25 thousand ID cards were issued to Egyptians living abroad.

The article points to the fact that because of the 5 million pending ID cards, the deadline for the use of old paper documents was extended. It explained that the delay involves mostly rural citizens living in remote areas of Upper Egypt who are lacking local resources and who are unable to travel thousands of kilometers to central locations in order to obtain their documents.

The article makes no mention whatsoever of the religious minorities, such as the Baha'is, who are refused the issue of ID cards simply because of their religious affiliation.

The writer--Fatmah El-Desouqy--states that according to her sources, when the decision to stop using old paper ID cards is issued, all those without a national ID number will become "without identity." All official and unofficial transactions in Egypt require the possession of an ID card. This includes employment, education, banking, owning property, health care, traveling, birth & death, marriage & divorce, vaccination of children, etc....

In the 12th of January Al-Ahram edition, Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, president of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, was interviewed regarding the role of the Council in fulfilling its duties during the past year. He was asked several questions regarding the issue of religious classification on ID cards, and in particular the dilemma of the Baha'is of Egypt. Dr. Ghali affirmed his long-standing position that there is no need for including religious classification on ID cards and that inter-religious dialogue and acceptance is necessary. He also pointed to the need for solving this crisis without the fear of being open and progressive.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Egypt: 2008 Begins With Media Enlightenment

On the second of January, Al-Ahaly Egyptian newspaper published an extensive coverage of the struggle of the Baha'is of Egypt. The article, written by Omnia Talal, began with the title: "The Baha'is in Egypt...A Minority Without Identity."

The article introduced the subject by stating that "Al-Ahaly opened the Baha'i dossier." It described the teachings and status of the Baha'i Faith as an independent religion, it spoke of its history in the region, it reviewed previously published articles, it published interviews with Egyptian Baha'is, and it described clearly their dilemma by presenting well their case.

Some of the other titles used in the article include: "The charge is...Baha'i! The judgement is...no birth...no vaccination...no treatment...and even no pension!" Another title states: "A senior Baha'i, Amin Batah, told Al-Ahaly...we will not seek outside influence...and we want our rights calmly."

Other titles, based on the interview with Amin Batah, which were accompanied with photographs, state: "Why does the State practices persecution and discriminates between its own citizens?"..."Our only National Centre was confiscated by the [ruling] 'National Party' that transformed it into its own base!"..."Our relationship with Baha'is abroad is spiritual, and they do not provide us with any financial subsidy."

In another section, in which the article explains the role and functions of the head of the Baha'i Faith, it states in its title: "The Universal House of Justice is the most eminent international authority that organizes their affairs." In a section regarding the Baha'i World Community, it states in the title: "Five million members in the Baha'i International Community."

On the fifth of January, another "opinion" article was published in Al-Ahram, Egypt's semi-official newspaper, addressing the issue of prejudice. This article was written by Dr. Ali Eldeen Helal. In an enlightened analysis, the author examines the question of diversity, whether it is religious, racial, cultural or linguistic. He presents a clear and logical case for the need to eliminate all forms of prejudice from the Egyptian society, particularly when based on religious differences. He concludes by indicating that, based on the world's historical experience, a society can place itself on the road to progress, prosperity and greatness when it is confident that it can eliminate prejudice and when the spirit of loving acceptance is planted in the hearts and minds of its people.

It is heartwarming indeed to observe that the flame of hope is never extinguished in Egypt. This is only because Egyptians, by nature, are known to be generally moderate in their views. It takes a tremendous degree of courage for people to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, particularly when the voice of the extremist minority tends to be much louder and threatening. As a matter of survival, though, the voice of moderation has no alternative but to counteract with promoting acceptance and righteousness.