In April 2004 my wife and I traveled to Egypt on our honeymoon, we stayed in Cairo and Luxor visiting ancient sites. We took a bare minimum of Baha’i literature with us, a couple of prayer books and a selection of Baha’i Writings, and we didn’t mention our religion to anybody.
While the historical treasures of Egypt are intriguing we were quite surprised at the widespread lack of respect that people had for us and for the name of Islam. Men often pushed Ladan with their shoulders in disgust, she felt, of her western dress as they walked past her. People tried to solicit extortionate amounts of money from us at every turn, even at mosques, often using trickery and lies. I will never forget the man who insisted he knew a short cut to the Egyptian museum and walked us on a long detour repeating continuously that because of his Muslim Faith he loved to help out visitors. Having walked us half a mile to a point 20 meters further down the road from where we had started he pointed in the direction of the museum and wanted payment for his “Muslim” act of kindness.
Although we returned from Egypt with some amazing memories and photos the enjoyment was somewhat dampened by the fact that we felt we had not been treated so much as humans but rather as some sort of third class citizens unworthy of being treated with honesty or respect. This is not to say that we did not meet some very nice people too, but it was clear that the demeaning treatment we received was seen as acceptable treatment of outsiders visiting the country. I was unsure if the lack of respect we received was down to us being tourists or non-Muslims, but something seemed to give people the feeling that they had a genuine right to treat us as lesser people.
With this experience in our past I have been somewhat glued to the “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” blog for many months (authored by Bilo, pictured right as a younger man). It is the first blog I check in the mornings for updates. In Egypt there is actually a debate over whether or not followers of the Baha’i Faith should have the same rights as citizens who follow Islam or a religion that preceded Islam. While the idea that Baha’is should not have equal rights may be prevalent in many other Islamic countries, the debate in Egypt is very open and can be read about in public newspapers or even seen on television.
The bulk of the debate centres around the Egyptian ID card, a central element to the rights of Egyptian citizens, which includes on it the religion of the holder. Baha’is cannot have an ID card with “Baha’i” listed on it as The Baha’i Faith is not recognised as a religion in Egypt.
The debate started becoming more public when a Baha’i couple in Egypt won the rights in a court to have their religion correctly identified on their ID cards. The government appealed against the decision and the Supreme Administrative Court were set to hear the case on 19th June. The case has been repeatedly postponed as the government have not managed to prepare a required report on the matter before any of the dates set for the case. The hearing is now set to be re-convened on 20th November this year.
Since that first hearing there have been newspaper articles published against the Baha’is, there was a book published in June which called for action against the Baha’i Faith and even appeared to call for the killing of Baha’is. A conference was held in Cairo at the start of August to look at the possibility of removing religion from ID cards which gave rise to some further tv and newspaper coverage of the Baha’i human rights issue. The articles in the media seem to have become clearer that the choice for Egypt is between accepting the universally accepted stand-point that all human beings should have the same basic rights, or being seen as a sectarian society where a person’s religion can cause them to lose their human rights.
Recently the author of the book published against the Baha’is in June filed a formal complaint to Egypt’s Attorney General suggesting that the Baha’is were defaming him by stating what they had read in his book. In response Egypt’s Baha’is have now issued a formal complaint to President Mubarak accusing the author of fabrication and forgery.
The “Baha’i Faith in Egypt” blog makes this whole story accessible to non-Arabic speakers outside Egypt who are concerned for the Baha’is and/or human rights. While relatively small in number, the Egyptian Baha’is appear to have brought serious deep-seated beliefs and values into the spotlight for analysis. One can only hope and pray that humanity wins over fanaticism in this debate which lies so close to the hearts of many on both sides of the argument.
Link: The Baha’i Faith in Egypt (blog)
Link: Situation of the Baha’is in Egypt