The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Attacks on Ba'hais in Egypt

I wanted to mention it yesterday when the story broke, but there has been a nasty attack against a Ba'hai community near Sohag in Upper Egypt. The incident appears to have been sparked by the appearance of a local community leader on TV, where he was attacked by a hack for the state newspaper al-Gomhouriya, who called for him to be killed. The same pathetic hack later praised the attacks on the Ba'hais in an article, showing how deeply xenophobic, sectarian, ultra-Salafist thinking has permeated state institutions. This man should be fired and put on trial for inciting violence (Egypt has no law against religious incitation, something I've long thought they should implement and use against any intolerance and particularly Islamists who advocated takfir). More details in a press release from Egyptian human rights groups below.

Joint Press Release

2 April, 2009

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Hisham Mubarak Law Center

El-Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence

Arabic Network for Human Rights Information

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression

Rights Groups Urge Prosecutions for Assault on Baha'i Egyptians

Six Egyptian human rights organizations today urged the Public Prosecutor to initiate an immediate investigation into assaults committed against Baha'i Egyptians over the past several days in the southern governorate of Sohag. In a complaint filed this morning, the groups called for the investigation to include those responsible for the direct incitement to the assaults and asked that the matter be referred urgently to criminal trial.

"The heinous and unprecedented attacks on Baha'i Egyptians are a crime against all Egyptians,“ the rights organizations said. “We shall never allow the perpetrators of these crimes to benefit from the same climate of impunity that has marred the government's response to sectarian violence against Egyptians Copts over the last four decades.”

Preliminary inquiries carried out by the rights groups found that the attacks began on Saturday evening, 28 March, in the village of al-Shuraniya, located in the Maragha district of Sohag, when dozens of village residents gathered outside of the homes of Baha'i citizens in the village and began chanting, “There is no god but God, Baha'is are the enemies of God.” Those assembled then began pelting the houses with rocks, breaking windows and attempting to break in. Although police forces arrived in the village after being called by the victims of the attack, the police simply dispersed the assembled parties without arresting anyone involved in the crime. Similar, though less intense, attacks occurred on 29 and 30 March.

On 31 March at approximately 7 pm, the attacks escalated when some residents of the village—known by the victims—threw improvised firebombs and Molotov cocktails at the homes of the five Baha'i families living in the village, leading to the partial destruction of the houses. The victims said that the assailants broke or disabled the water connections to their homes to prevent them from putting out the fires. According to the victims, the assailants also broke into the houses, vandalizing property inside and stealing some electrical appliances and livestock. There were no human injuries or losses. The attacks prompted some of the Baha'i families to flee their homes and hide in the fields until the following morning. The police arrived during the attacks and again dispersed the assailants; there was no information that any of the assailants had been arrested.

The next morning, 1 April, the police ordered the remaining Baha'is in the village to leave immediately and did not allow them to return to their homes to collect clothing, medicine, schoolbooks, money, or other necessities. Information gathered indicates that all Baha'is have left the village as of the evening of 1 April.

The assaults on the Baha'is in al-Shuraniya began after an episode of the program “al-Haqiqa,” aired on Dream 2 on 28 March, which discussed the situation of Baha'is in Egypt. The program featured a Baha'i from al-Shuraniya and Baha'i activist and dentistry professor Dr. Basma Gamal Musa. Also participating in the program was Gamal Abd al-Rahim, a journalist at the state-owned al-Gumhouriya newspaper and a member of the board of the Press Syndicate, who, during the program, said referring to Dr. Basma, “This one should be killed.” On 31 March, only hours before the homes of the Baha'is were torched in al-Shuraniya, al-Gomhouriya published an article by Gamal Abd al-Rahim in which he praised the residents of al-Shuraniya for stoning the homes of Baha'is in the village in the preceding days. He considered these crimes to be evidence of al-Shuraniya residents’ “protectiveness of their religion and beliefs.”

The six rights organizations demanded that the Public Prosecutor question Gamal Abd al-Rahim regarding his incitement to violence against Baha'is in both the television program and his published article, pursuant to Articles 171 and 172 of the Penal Code, which address public incitement to felonies and misdemeanors. Consistent with the organizations’ principled opposition to the imprisonment for publication offences, the groups' complaint excluded Article 98(f) of the Penal Code, which stipulates mandatory imprisonment for “anyone who exploits religion to promote extremist ideas with the intent of inciting civil strife and damaging national unity,” and Article 176 of the Penal Code, which also stipulates mandatory imprisonment for anyone who “incites to discrimination against a group of people on the basis of race, origin, language, religion, or belief when such incitement disrupts public peace.”

Moreover, the rights organizations called on the board of Egypt's national Press Syndicate to take immediate action against Gamal Abd al-Rahim, particularly since he occupies a seat on the board, regarding his violation of the Syndicate’s Code of Ethics, which states that journalists have an obligation “to refrain in their writings from joining racist or bigoted advocacy or advocacy that involves contempt or disdain of religions, aspersions cast on the faith of others, or incitement to discrimination against or contempt for any group of society.”

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