Six Egyptians Involved in Publishing Magazine Facing Interrogation

Human rights director among those summoned for questioning by Egyptian Authorities

Advocates For The Persecuted

Cairo, October 22 (Advocates For The Persecuted) – The Egyptian government has issued a summons to six people involved in the one-time publication of a magazine, “Egypt First,” to appear in court for questioning on October 23.

Nashaat Nady Nour, owner of El Horreya – a printing company that printed the magazine – and five members of the editing team, Hassan Mohamed Ismail, Adib Ghobrial, Samir Fadel Ibrahim, Gamal Mohamed Abo Zeid, and Mahmoud al-Afifi – are named in the summons.

Ismail is General Executive Secretary of the Egyptian Union Organization for Human Rights and director of Advocates For The Persecuted in Egypt. In 1990, he suffered arrest, torture and other maltreatment when facing charges of disturbing the unity of society in Egypt, but was released after a year when Amnesty International, and 30 members of the United States Congress appealed for his release.

David Joseph, president of Advocates For The Persecuted, is concerned about the welfare of the six who were summoned for questioning. “The right of free speech and the right to express ideas have never been worse in Egypt than it is currently. The world community needs to give more attention to what is going on in Egypt and the other Arabic countries in the Middle East,” said Joseph.

The magazine’s first and only edition, published in February 2007, discussed the issue of the status of religious minorities in Egypt – an item of critical importance to the nation’s Christians – Egypt’s largest religious minority – as well as Bahais and Shiite Muslims.

There are only three officially recognized religions in Egypt, which are Islam, Christianity and Judaism. All citizens, once they reach 16 years of age, must have a religion declared on a national identity card. If the religious identity card identifies Islam as the cardholder’s religion, it is virtually impossible to change the card to reflect a different religion. Adherents to Baha’ism are limited by law to declaring adherence to one of the three official religions.

The English translation of one article published in the magazine, “Religious Minorities as a Preamble to Reform,” describes the basis for the problems faced by religious minorities in Egypt.

“If the state is not a neutral legal personality and has embraced a certain religion or ideology, don’t expect from its constitution [anything] except discrimination, divisions, racism, and sectarianism.”

The article points out the problems for religious minorities that arise from directives in Egypt’s first two Constitutional Articles – one defining Egypt as one member of an Arab Nation that is to work for unity among Arabic states, and the other stating Islam as the religion of the state, and Islamic jurisprudence as the principle source of legislation.

“Thus, the rights and duties of the other religious minorities have become unequal to the religious majority and almost with no citizenship worth mentioning. The legal personality, called the state, has become a personality with a religion, in our beloved Egypt.”

The article’s writer takes issue with the way democracy in Egypt plays out in the real world, observing that the rights of religious minorities are not sufficiently protected from abuse by the majority:

“Non-liberal democracy is a ruling system with democratic elections, where the democratic majority elects the government, but it is not restricted from violating freedom of individuals or minorities … In Egypt, the democratic dream is turned into a nightmare, from a life-saver to a knife stabbed in the back, from a solid ground to a ladder for thieves to climb on towards the seat.”

Human rights workers in Egypt have been under severe pressure in the past few weeks. In September, an Egyptian court extended the jail term of two Christian human rights activists, Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat, who were arrested August 8, 2007.  Both were accused of insulting a heavenly religion. Both men are members of the Middle East Christian Association, a Canadian non-governmental organization. The two men were arrested only one day after they took part in documenting the alleged killing of a Copt by two police officers, according to the Middle East Christian Association’s website.

Also in September, Cairo governor Abd al-Azzem Wazeer issued a decree shutting down the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA), in Cairo, a non-governmental organization that reports on human rights abuses and assists victims in finding legal representation.

According to Human Rights Watch, the governor “appointed an official receiver to take control of the association’s assets.” This occurred on September 16, when over 100 police arrived at the group’s office and carted away the association’s files, following allegations that the group had received foreign funds without prior governmental approval. According to AHRLA officials, the association made every attempt to obtain permission as required by law, but government officials repeatedly delayed giving approval