Monday, December 13, 2010

US State Department Highlights Need to Improve Status of Baha'is in Egypt

On 17 November 2010, the United States Department of State issued its annual report on International Religious Freedom. The report highlighted clearly the recent developments in the Baha'i community's struggle in its quest to obtain its full rights. The Baha'i community's principal motive in its quest has always been its longing to be integrated as an essential element in the fabric of the Egyptian society so that its members can contribute fully to their society's well-being.

The report is divided into several segments and covers various complex issues related to religious freedom in Egypt that concern the various religious minorities currently existing in Egypt.

As the focus of this blog is the Baha'is of Egypt, the quotes posted below are specific to this religious community.

Before going to these quotes, however, one must read first what the report states about the reaction of the Egyptian government to an attack on Christians by Muslim extremists in the village of Naga Hammadi (described in details in the full report). The reason for bringing up this example first is to provide a glimpse into how Egypt's government is indeed committed to improve the status of religious minorities and the elimination of religious extremism and sectarian violence. Regarding this matter, the report states:
Following the attack on Christians in Naga Hammadi in January 2010, the government quickly arrested and began prosecution of four Muslim men implicated in the attack. They were charged with premeditated murder. As of the end of the reporting period, the court had ruled on motions, heard testimony from numerous witnesses, reviewed crime scene data, and was scheduled to resume in September 2010.

Following the Naga Hammadi attack, government officials spoke out strongly against dangers posed by sectarianism and discrimination. For example, on January 21, 2010, President Mubarak stated that in a modern civil state "there is no place for those who would incite sectarianism, or who would differentiate between its Muslim and Coptic citizens." On January 24, speaking at Police Day, President Mubarak said: "terrorism, extremism, and sectarian incitement represent the major challenges to Egypt’s national security." On February 28, President Mubarak spoke of the urgent need for efforts by clerics, educational and cultural institutions, publishing houses and the media "to confront the dangers of division, extremism and sectarian incitement." In late January, 2010 the minister of religious endowments sent a group to all governorates in Upper Egypt to engage in a religious awareness campaign and to address Islam’s stance on sectarian violence and strife and the dangers they pose to society’s stability.

Now, posted below are the entire quotes taken from the report which concern the Baha'is of Egypt. For the full report, please follow this link....
The status of respect for religious freedom by the government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worship without harassment; however, Christians and members of the Baha'i Faith, which the government does not recognize, face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and their ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship.

In positive steps, the government issued identification documents to some unmarried members of the Baha'i community;

The number of Baha'is is estimated at 2,000 persons.

Law 263 of 1960, still in force, bans Baha'i institutions and community activities and strips Baha'is of legal recognition. Despite the ban, they are able to engage in community activities such as Naw-Ruz, the Baha'i new year's celebration. During the Nasser era, the government confiscated all Baha'i community properties, including Baha'i centers, libraries, and cemeteries.

The government requires all citizens to be categorized as Muslims, Christians, or Jews on national identity cards. The MOI has, on rare occasions, reportedly issued documents that list a citizen's religion as "other," or that do not mention religion; however, it is not clear when these conditions apply. Baha'is and other religious groups not associated with any of the three recognized religions have been compelled either to misrepresent themselves or to live without valid identity documents.

In 2008 the Cairo Administrative Court ruled in three cases brought by Baha'is that the government must issue official identification documents containing a dash or other mark in the religion field. The court noted that a purpose of filling the religion field with a dash or other distinctive mark was to protect members of the "revealed religions" (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) from Baha'i infiltration and to avoid potential dangers from such persons' conduct and relations with them. The ruling stated that anyone who adopts the Baha'i Faith is an apostate and that the religion cannot be recorded in any civil status or other official document, because that would conflict with public order. But in April 2009 the MOI issued Decree 520 describing procedures for members of unrecognized religious groups to obtain national identity cards with dashes in the religious identification field. According to Baha'i community members, throughout the first half of 2010 the government implemented the order and reportedly issued more than 180 birth certificates and 50 to 60 national identification cards to Baha'is, all with dashes in the religious identification field. The government, because it does not recognize Baha'i marriage, and there is no civil mechanism for marriage, refused to issue identification documents to married Baha'is, unless they would agree to specify their marital status as "unmarried." According to the government, it was attempting to find a mechanism to issue identification documents to married Baha'is that would correctly identify marital status.

Those without valid identity cards also encounter difficulty registering their children in school, opening bank accounts, and establishing businesses. Police occasionally conduct random inspections of identity papers and those found without identity cards can be detained until they produce the document.

While the government complied with court rulings by issuing identity documents with a “dash” for religion to unmarried Baha’i, it continued to refuse to issue marriage certificates. This made it impossible for married members of the Baha'i community to obtain identity documents recognizing their marital status. The government cited its nonrecognition of the Baha'i Faith and the country's lack of a civil marriage mechanism as reasons for the denial.

During the reporting period, the government did not investigate or prosecute the perpetrators of a March 2009 attack on the homes of seven Baha'i families in the village of al-Shuraniya in Sohag Governorate. Muslim villagers, some of them related to the Baha'i villagers, attacked Baha'i houses with bricks and rocks until police dispersed them. On March 31, the attacks escalated when attackers returned and set fire to the homes, forcing the Baha'is to flee.

On July 27, 2009, a Cairo family court awarded legal custody of Aser Usama Sabri, whose parents are Baha'is, to the child's Muslim aunt. The ruling, which came in a lawsuit filed by the boy's grandfather, had no immediate practical effect as the boy and his parents live abroad.

On January 26, 2010, Cairo's Administrative Court rejected a legal challenge filed by private citizens challenging the government's authority to issue identification documents to Baha'is. The government issued birth certificates and national identification documents to some unmarried Baha'is throughout the reporting period.

The US government's policy in reaction to its report is stated as follows:
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

Religious freedom is an important part of the bilateral dialogue. The right of religious freedom has been raised with senior government officials by all levels of the U.S. government, including members of Congress, the secretary of state, the assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, the ambassador, and other Department of State and embassy officials. The embassy maintains formal contacts with the Office of Human Rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The embassy also regularly discusses religious freedom matters with other government officials, including governors and members of parliament. The ambassador has made public statements supporting religious freedom, interfaith understanding, and efforts toward harmony and equality among citizens of all religious groups. Specifically, the embassy and other Department of State officials raised concerns with the government about the ongoing discrimination that Christians face in building and maintaining church properties despite Decree 291 of 2005; official discrimination against Baha'is; arrests and harassment of Muslim citizens whose religious views deviate from the majority; and the government's treatment of Muslim citizens who wish to convert. During the UN Human Rights Council periodic review of the government's human rights record in February 2010, the U.S. delegation made a number of interventions regarding religious freedom.

U.S. embassy officials maintain an active dialogue with leaders of the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i religious communities, human rights groups, and other activists. U.S. embassy officials investigate complaints of official religious discrimination brought to its attention. They also discuss religious freedom matters with a range of contacts, including academics, businessmen, and citizens outside the capital area. U.S. officials actively challenge anti-Semitic articles in the media through discussions with editors in chief and journalists.

U.S. programs and activities support initiatives in several areas directly related to religious freedom, including funding for programs of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services that work with Coptic and Muslim community groups, as well as support for NGOs that monitor the country's media for occurrences of sectarian bias.

The U.S. government is working to strengthen civil society, supporting secular channels and the broadening of a civic culture that promotes religious tolerance, and supporting projects that promote tolerance and mutual respect between different religious communities.

The embassy supports the development of educational materials that encourage tolerance, diversity, and understanding of others, in both Arabic-language and English-language curricula.

The embassy facilitated Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI) grant-making efforts, a number of which promoted religious freedom and interfaith dialogue. For instance, MEPI funded a Christian-Muslim dialogue entitled "Accept Me to Accept You" in Assuit, an area known for communal tensions.

Embassy officials also worked with the Supreme Council of Antiquities to promote the conservation of cultural antiquities, including Islamic, Christian, and Jewish historical sites.

It is hoped that future blog posts will address the essential elements of this report, with further clarification of the current challenges.

2 comments:

  1. MY DEAR:
    SHALOM
    HAPPY NEW YEAR
    HAPPY NOW RUZ
    PAECE GREETINGS FROM EGYPT
    THANKS
    DR.MOHAMED SALAH
    EGYPT
    [email protected]

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for your kind greetings.

    ReplyDelete

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