Monday, December 25, 2006


After the heady days of the Masters degree, intellectual stimulation these days is largely confined to:

1. Contemplation of what the point of Robin on Dr Phil actually is (can the man not find his way out of the studio unaided?);
2. Contemplation of reasons to get out of bed
3. Seminars

The seminars I have attended so far have on the whole been excellent, informative and fun, with the exception of a meeting on ‘safety on Egypt’ which was mostly bonkers. The flyer promised to provide ladies with tips on defending themselves against pervs, but we ended up listening to tips by an ebullient Texan on which type of fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen, and the best course of action when stampeded by a crowd of 5,000 furious Somalis, amongst other things.

Yesterday’s seminar dealt with the situation of the Baha’is in Egypt and, in particular, the recent court decision overturning an earlier decision in their favour which forces them to write ‘Muslim’ or ‘Christian’ on official documents, or forego them altogether. This is tantamount to renouncing their citizenship and effectively paralyses them; attempting to navigate the formidable labyrinth of Egyptian bureaucracy without an ID card or birth certificate is like being lost in the desert with neither stars nor compass to guide you. The Bah’ai without official papers cannot receive inoculations, cannot apply to university, cannot delay military service in order to go to university, cannot receive state benefits, and does not even escape this absurdity once he dies; one speaker described a case where a Bah’ai man was forced to keep the body of a deceased female relative in his house for days because he refused to write ‘Muslim’ on her death certificate and was therefore not allowed to bury her. The authorities were apparently insistent that she convert posthumously.

Similarly Orwellian machinations underlie the origins of the ID card case; until 2004 the Bah’ais were allowed to write ‘other’ in the religious field in ID cards, leave it blank, or write a dash. This changed after a mysterious internal decree was passed within the Interior Ministry banning this, just as ID cards were being computerised. Note that none of the Bah’ais at the seminar yesterday nor the legal group representing them, have succeeded in obtaining a copy of the decree, or even seeing it. The result was that when 3rd or 4th generation Bah’ais attempted to procure official documentation for themselves and their children, they were informed that the computer no longer accepted ‘other’ and that they would have to record themselves as Muslims. And yes Mr Boutros Fanous Girgis Milaad, that includes you, despite the fact that neither you nor your ancestors were ever Muslim

And the tragedy is that despite the extensive press coverage generated by the issue (some 400 articles according to one of the speakers), the general public seem unaware of what Bah’aism actually is. There seems to be a widespread misperception that Bah’aism is some heretical branch of Islam, specifically Shia Islam, and that it has a sinister Zionist agenda. In fact the Bah’ais at the seminar last night were some of the most chill people I’ve ever met, given their circumstances. Upbeat and positive, they explained that they are Egyptian citizens whose beliefs forbid them from opposing the government (except where the government interferes in their relationship with God), that they are not seeking recognition of the validity or otherwise of Bah’aism (which the speaker explained can only be judged by God), and that all they want is the right to official papers without being forced to lie about their beliefs. That this right (to freedom of belief) is recognised in the Egyptian Constitution, Islamic Sharia, international human rights treaties ratified by Egypt, and previous court decisions seems to have escaped the State Council whose decision will force thousands of citizens to lie in their official papers or face bureaucratical paralysis.

But hey-hum...God forbid that the giant fist of religious and cultural homogeniety should release its grip even fractionally to accommodate the basic rights and welfare of Egypt's citizens.

No comments: