Bahais in Egypt

In Egypt: yes you can have an ID Card, but!

As posted previously, the US State Department's annual report on religious freedom in Egypt stated:

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,...

The implications of this status quo are far reaching and quite complex. Since the Egyptian government, thus far, has not developed a mechanism by which to officially recognize Baha'i marriage, any Baha'i married couple, a widow/widower, or a divorced person cannot obtain an ID Card. The reason for this is that the application for the national ID number/ID Card requires the individual to state his/her marital status. If the person is single, then an ID can be issued to the applicant without much delay.

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Egyptian activist Hossam Bahgat receives HRW award

Hossam Bahgat

CAIRO: An Egyptian activist has been awarded the Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary activism by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in recognition of his work defending civil rights and personal freedoms in Egypt.

HRW describes Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), as a “leading voice against the prosecution and harassment of individuals based on their religious beliefs or private sexual conduct.”

Established in 2002, EIPR works on the right to privacy, health, violence and bodily integrity.

The Cairo-based NGO has won a number of high-profile cases, including a case against the interior ministry that allowed Egyptian Baha’i citizens to leave the religious denomination field on identification documents blank rather than being forced to incorrectly identify themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

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Also on Sen's Day.

Despite Court Victory, Egypt's Bahais Face Challenges

Copy of Labib Iskandar's ID card, pictured May 18, 2006. Iskandar is an Egyptian Bahai.

Earlier this year, residents of a small town in Egypt burned down four homes that belonged to followers of the Bahai faith. Last month, demonstrations greeted plans to relocate them. Despite gains made by Bahais in a recent court ruling to grant them rights on government identification cards, this small community of Egyptian Bahais is in a greater battle for community acceptance.

While it has never been illegal to be a Bahai in Egypt, it has never been easy. Amm Ahmed, his wife and their six children fled their hometown of Suhag in southern Egypt after hate crimes against them became too much.

Amm Ahmed meets me in a private residence on the outskirts of Cairo away from the public eye and security officials.

It is here, in the privacy of this apartment, that Amm Ahmed can practice his faith. A tall, sturdy man dressed in a traditional Egyptian gallabiya and turban, he reads verses from the Bahai holy book as the Muslim call to evening prayer rings out in the background.

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Hints of Pluralism in Egyptian Religious Debates

Gamal al Banna, 88, an Egyptian writer on Islam, trade unions and the Muslim Brotherhood, in his library in Cairo.

CAIRO — Writing in his weekly newspaper column, Gamal al-Banna said recently that God had created humans as fallible and therefore destined to sin. So even a scantily clad belly dancer, or for that matter a nude dancer, should not automatically be condemned as immoral, but should be judged by weighing that person’s sins against her good deeds.

This view is provocative in Egypt’s conservative society, where many argue that such thinking goes against the hard and fast rules of divine law. Within two hours of the article’s posting last week on the Web site of Al Masry al Youm, readers had left more than 30 comments — none supporting his position.

“So a woman can dance at night and pray in the morning; this is duplicity and ignorance,” wrote a reader who identified himself as Hany. “Fear God and do not preach impiety.”

Still, Mr. Banna was pleased because at least his ideas were being circulated. Mr. Banna, who is 88 years old and is the brother of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been preaching liberal Islamic views for decades.

But only now, he said, does he have the chance to be heard widely. It is not that a majority agrees with him; it is not that the tide is shifting to a more moderate interpretative view of religion; it is just that the rise of relatively independent media — like privately owned newspapers, satellite television channels and the Internet — has given him access to a broader audience.

And there is another reason: The most radical and least flexible thinkers no longer intimidate everyone with differing views into silence.

“Everything has its time,” Mr. Banna said, seated in his dusty office crammed with bookshelves that stretch from floor to ceiling.

{josquote}An independent group, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, won a court order on behalf of the Bahais that forced the government to issue records leaving the religious identification blank.{/josquote}

It is a testament to how little public debate there has been over the value of pluralism, or more specifically of the role of religion in society, that so many see the mere chance to provoke as progress. But now, more than any time in many years, there are people willing to risk challenging conventional thinking, said writers, academics and religious thinkers like Mr. Banna.

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Egypt Protects the Rights of Displaced Baha'is

{josquote}This development illustrates the seriousness of Egypt's commitment to maintain law and order and its determination to protect its persecuted Baha'i minority, who have been facing unjustified persecution by the ill-informed and the misguided.{/josquote}

We vividly recall the events leading to the burning of the homes of the Baha'is in the southern Egyptian village of Showraniyah near the end of last March.

Even though there have been efforts directed at resolving the matter by the Egyptian authorities, these families have been displaced since that incident and have been temporarily housed in Northern Egypt. A couple of days ago Reuters news agency reported "Egyptian police arrested 70 villagers on Thursday who were protesting against the relocation of Baha'i families to their area after they were chased out of another village in southern Egypt, security sources said."

The story goes on to state the following:

About 150 people from Ezba and surrounding villages in Sohag province gathered outside regional government offices to voice opposition to the relocation of 25 Baha'i families to government-sponsored housing near their homes, the sources said.


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