Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, state authorities continued to impose their interpretations of religious laws and to repress religious minorities. An armed attack threatened to reignite tensions between Israelis and Palestinians at a shared religious site in East Jerusalem. In Iran, the Supreme Court reached a milestone decision possibly signaling increased rights for converts to Christianity from Islam, while state forces continued their harassment of Baha’i minorities. In Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities arrested merchants who refused to pay a religious tax and penalized others who refused to chant the Houthi slogan during prayers. In Egypt, the Supreme Administrative Court upheld an earlier decision allowing the removal of lawyers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) from the membership list of the Egyptian Lawyers Syndicate.
Last week in Israel and Palestine, an armed Palestinian man affiliated with Hamas, who worked as an Islamic teacher and preacher, opened fire at Israelis by the Western Wall in Al Aqsa compound, killing one Israeli and injuring four others. The assailant was killed by Israeli forces. Following the attack, Hamas released a statement saying that the gunman was a senior member of its movement in East Jerusalem (NYT, 21 November 2021). The attack comes only days after an earlier attack in East Jerusalem’s Old City, in which a Palestinian teenager stabbed two Israeli border police officers before being shot dead by Israeli forces. These incidents are expected to intensify tensions over the flashpoint site, which had played a major role in instigating the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021.
Last week in Iran, the Supreme Court reached a landmark decision last week, ruling in favor of nine Christians serving five-year sentences each for charges of “acting against national security by establishing a house church” (Article18, 25 November 2021). The court found that they should not have been charged with national security offenses as neither establishing house churches nor “propagating an Evangelical Zionist sect,” another charge leveled at the converts, constitute threats to national security (Article18, 25 November 2021). Although Iranian law does not recognize legal precedents, this ruling has the potential to deprive the Iranian regime of one of its most utilized charges against Christian converts from Islam. The Iranian government forbids Iranians born to Muslim parents to convert to other religions, denying converts the right to build houses of worship or to engage in religious rituals that are proscribed by Islam, such as drinking wine during communion (IranWire, 4 August 2021).
Also in Iran, state forces continued to systematically harass Baha’is and impose Islamic morality on Iranians last week. Security forces arrested a Baha’i man without pressing charges as he traveled to Bushehr, and confiscated his personal belongings during raids on his residence in Tehran and his father’s residence in Shiraz. Meanwhile, in Mashhad, two men assaulted another man after he gave a “verbal warning” to two women over their style of dress (HRANA, 22 November 2021). Police forces later arrested eight individuals in relation to the case . The man reportedly accosted the women, who were riding in the same car as the two men who beat him, under the pretext of applying the Islamic principle of ‘commanding right and forbidding wrong,’ by which Muslims are encouraged to impose standards of Islamic morality onto others. The Iranian regime officially espouses this principle and incidents in which civilians try to apply it onto others have led to violence in the recent past.
In Yemen, pro-Houthi authorities continued to impose the Houthi ideology and interpretations of Islamic law on Yemenis last week. In Damt district, local pro-Houthi police forces arrested four merchants because they refused to pay the Khums tax.1Khums (“one-fifth” in Arabic) is a special type of tax sanctioned by orthodox Islamic law, both Sunni and Shiite, that is supposed to be paid to the ruler of a Muslim society. In the Shiite interpretation espoused by the Houthi Movement, the Khums is applied to a wide range of financial assets, including business profits, and must be paid to the Shiite Imam and the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Pro-Houthi authorities officially introduced the Khums tax last year to recuperate financial losses incurred in their campaign to conquer Marib and it amounts to 20% of an individual’s income. Meanwhile, in Sana’a governorate, pro-Houthi forces carried out an unspecified “military campaign” against Yemenis who refused to chant the Sarkhah — the Houthi slogan — while performing Friday prayers (Al Mashhad Al Yemeni, 20 November 2021).
Finally, last week in Egypt, the Supreme Administrative Court dismissed an appeal to a first degree court decision allowing the removal of MB-affiliated lawyers, whose names are on the “terrorist list,” from the membership list of the Egyptian lawyers syndicate (Masrawy, 20 November 2021). The list includes the son of the former president, Osama Muhammed Morsi, and the MB group lawyer Abd Al Meneam Abd Al Maksoud. Human rights groups have described the ruling, which affects the ability of these lawyers to practice law in Egypt, as “unprecedented” (Madamasr, 20 November, 2021).
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