Last week, a TV row on Egyptian television between a columnist for the state-run Al Gomhouriya newspaper and a leader of Egypt’s Baha’i movement turned ugly, after the columnist apparently said the leader “should be killed”. Several residents at the village of Al Shuraniya, which was dubbed by one of the show’s guests as being “full of Baha’is”, burned down several Baha’i houses in the area.
One resident’s account:
“It was so painful to see all the children scared. It would have been better to have died than to have watched that,” said Abdul Bassit, Mr Ela’s brother, whose house was destroyed during the riots last Sunday night. “The police were there, but they were just watching. They didn’t take any of the kind of action that you would expect from police. This incident was such proof of ignorance and barbarism I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
The development is alarming but hardly surprising. It’s the result of the indifference of a government that allows the promotion of hate crime on television without repercussions, and which has considerably worsened the conditions of a minority that leaving religious affiliation “blank” on identification documents is hailed as progress.
Hatred of Baha’is is widespread because of poorly informed conspiracy theories alleging that they receive funding from Zionist entities, in addition to the fact that many Muslims consider them apostates because of their religious beliefs. Comments on an article about the fires on the website of Egypt’s Al Dostor opposition paper betrayed a lack of sympathy for the Baha’is, with one commenter likening the struggle to Islamic battles after the death of the Prophet launched against tribes that rescinded Islam.
Another commenter, claiming to be a moderate, said:
I’m against extremism in everything, but this Baha’i ideology is against all religious teachings and it’s essential to remove this destructive ideology from Egyptian society.
The xenophobia is palpable.
On another level, the Muslim Brotherhood ought to denounce hate incitement against the Baha’is to make the point that they’re capable of governing minorities while protecting freedom of religion for all.