Bahai homes attacked in Egypt after media commentary

Cairo, Egypt - According to a joint statement issued by six Egyptian human rights groups, villagers shouted “No God but Allah” and “Bahais are enemies of Allah,” while hurling stones and firebombs at Bahaii homes in the village of Shouraniya, located approximately 350 kilometers outside Cairo.

The attacks on members of the Bahai faith, began on Saturday and lasted for several days, following an episode of the TV show “al-Haqiqa,” where Egyptian media commentator referred to a Bahai activist as an apostate and called for her killing.

The village's 30 Bahai residents were forced to flee and police prevented them from returning to their village, rights groups said.

AFP reported that the assailants threatened the village’s Bahai residents with death.

Egypt's Interior Ministry confirmed the attacks and said that police have made arrests. The ministry, however, denied that police had prevented the Bahai residents from returning to their homes.

“This is just an incident and we are investigating,” ministry spokesman General Hamdi Abdel-Karim was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. Abdel-Karim reportedly refused to provide more details. The rights groups are calling on Egypt’s public prosecutor to launch an immediate investigation into the attacks.

In an interview with MENASSAT, Egyptian Bahai activist Shady Samir said that the recent attacks are a result of people's ignorance towards the faith.

“For years, people have been fed lies about the Bahai faith and the Bahais. This reaction is nothing but a climax of the ignorance they have about the faith. When someone like Gamal Abdel Rahem claims on a TV show that the Bahais have to be killed, someone will decide to carry out this killing by himself,” he said.

The Bahai faith was founded in the 1860s by a Persian nobleman, Baha'u'llah, whom the faithful regard as the most recent in a line of prophets that included Buddha, Abraham, Jesus and Muhammad. Muslims reject the faith because they believe Muhammad was God's final prophet. Bahais have been subject to persecution in the Middle East, particularly in Iran and Iraq.

“This woman should be killed”

The show on Dream TV featured a Bahai guest from Shouraniya, a Bahai activist and dentistry professor Dr. Basma Gamal Musa. Also participating in the episode was prominent Egyptian media commentator and senior member of Egypt’s press syndicate, Gamal Abdel Rahem.

On the show, Abdel-Rahim denounced Dr. Basma, calling her an “apostate” while on air.

He then turned to the viewers and said that “this woman should be killed.”

On Tuesday, Abdel-Rahem also hailed the Shouraniya attackers in an op-ed published in Egypt’s state-run Al-Gomhouria newspaper.

It is believed that a comment made by the second Bahai activist on the TV show on Saturday may have served as a catalyst for the attacks.

“Ahmed,” a Bahai currently living in Cairo after fleeing persecution in Shouraniya, said that his village was "full of Bahais."

In his commentary Ahmed had sought to illustrate that Egypt's 2,000 Bahais are not only living around Cairo.

“Climax of ignorance”

Egypt’s Bahai community has not only faced criticism from commentators like Abdel-Rahem, but also from the religious authorities.

Recently, Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Al-Azhar, the high seat of Egypt’s religious leadership, referred to the Baha’i faith as a “sacrilegious dogma” and a “deviant sect.”

Tantawi also linked the Bahai religion with Zionism, which is a charge that Bahais frequently have to face since the religion's leadership has its headquarters in Haifa, Israel.

The rights groups are asking for the public prosecutor to question Abdel-Rahem over, what they call “his incitement to violence against Bahais in both the television program and his published article”.

They are also appealing to the Egyptian Press Syndicate to take “immediate action” against Abdel-Rahem.

The ID card controversy

The Bahai community has been subject to discrimination as a minority in Egypt. Up until recently, they were fighting a dragged out court battle to get their faith recognized on Egyptian ID cards. Prior to the new law, only one of Egypt’s three officially recognized faiths, Islam, Christianty, and Judaism, could be put as religion on the identity card.

Official papers like identity cards and birth certificates are obligatory in Egypt and not having them can cause immense obstacles. Egyptians cannot enroll in schools or universities, receive medical treatment, or even buy a car without a national ID card.

Four year’s after his death, Samir’s father was still not considered officially dead by the Egyptian state since he couldn’t obtain a death certificate as an adherent of the Bahai faith.

In order for Samir’s father to be granted a death certificate, he would have had to convert to one of Egypt's three official faiths.

Samir previously told MENASSAT that it was his father’s “last will to die as a Bahai.”

In a highly publicized court ruling earlier this year, the Bahais were finally granted the right to put a dash in the field allocated for religion on the ID card or leave the slot blank.

Samir, however, does not believe the recent court ruling in favor of the Bahais has any relation to the attacks.

“This turn has nothing to do with the verdict. And I don't really believe it's an overall public turn. It's simply a reaction to Abdel Rahem’s heated up allegations,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the events of Shoraneya will be repeated elsewhere in Egypt.

Bahais have lived in Egypt for more than a hundred years. In 1924, Egypt became the first Muslim country to recognize the Bahai faith as an independent religion apart from Islam.

But ever since President Nasser shut down the Bahai national assembly in the 1960s, and the government proceeded to confiscate Bahai properties such as libraries and cemeteries, there has been no official record of the group.

Bahai institutions and community activities remain banned under Egyptian law to this day.