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EGYPT: Bahai minority group under attack

April 4, 2009 | 10:46 am

Baha ullah shrine

The homes of some members of Egypt's Bahai minority came under violent attack by Muslims this week in a rural area in southern Egypt.

The attacks erupted in the village of al-Shuraniya in the upper Egyptian province of Sohag where Muslim residents gathered outside the homes of some Bahais and chanted, “There is no god but God" and "Bahais are the enemies of God.” 

Shortly afterward, they threw rocks at the homes, breaking windows. Violence escalated when Muslim residents threw firebombs and Molotov cocktails at the house of five Bahai families, according to a statement released by human rights groups.

"The heinous and unprecedented attacks on Baha'i Egyptians are a crime against all Egyptians,“ said a statement issued on April 2 by six human rights groups. “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.”

The attacks have forced the Bahais to flee their village. Seven people had been reportedly arrested.

Rights groups blamed an Egyptian journalist working for the state-owned daily al-Gomhoureyya for inciting the violence. Shortly before the unrest, journalist Gamal Abdel Rahim appeared on a television talk show with a Bahai woman who, he said, should be killed for being an infidel. 

After the violence began, he praised attacks on Bahai houses as evidence of the religiosity of the residents of al-Shuraniya village, said the rights groups.

Last month, Bahais in Egypt won a major legal battle. Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld an earlier verdict allowing Bahais to receive identification documents. 

Bahais have been complaining for years of being denied the right to ID cards. In Egypt, without identification documents, one is nonexistent. But the verdict did not mark the end of the Bahais' travails.

Egypt's Bahais, numbering about 2,000, are regarded by most Muslim religious leaders as heretics. 

The Bahai faith is believed to have first arrived to Egypt in the 1860s. Bahais had almost complete freedom to practice their religion until 1960 when then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the dissolution of all Bahai institutions and the criminalization of Bahai religious activities. 

Following the decree, Bahais faced waves of mass arrests. Nasser’s regime was very suspicious about Bahais for the reason that their main shrine which they visit on pilgrimage lies in Haifa, in what is now Israel. 

— Noha El-Hennawy in Cairo

Photo: The shrine of Bahaullah, founder of the Bahai faith, in the Israeli city of Haifa. Credit: Nelson Ashberger / Bahai Media Bank

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