Last week in the Middle East and North Africa, authorities continued to impose state-sanctioned morality on their citizens, and to harass religious minorities and restrict their activities. In Yemen, both pro-Houthi and pro-Hadi authorities targeted the local alcohol manufacturing trade, arresting civilians for making and selling alcohol. In Egypt, the administrative court dismissed a case on the illegality of banning unaccompanied women under 40 from staying at hotels, after stressing that no such ban exists. Also, in Egypt, Coptic Christians protested against the government’s perceived slow response to rebuilding a church, which was demolished after it suffered damage from a fire. In Israel, the Haredi community’s ongoing fight against the sale of non-kosher phones escalated with riots and harassment against cell phone store owners. In Iran, state authorities continued their systematic persecution of Baha’i citizens.
In Yemen, authorities imposed state-sanctioned morality last week. In Yemen, pro-Hadi police forces raided a local liquor manufacturing workshop in Ghayl Ba Wazir city and arrested two people believed to be the owners of the workshop. In Ibb city, pro-Houthi police forces also arrested people believed to be part of a large “gang” working in the alcohol manufacturing and promotion business (Al Mashhad Al Yemeni, 25 January 2022). Police forces also seized 25 barrels of alcohol from the alcohol production workshop in Ibb city. Since the adoption of a constitution based on Sharia law in 1990, the consumption and sale of alcohol have been prohibited in Yemen (Middle East Eye, 1 November 2018).
In Egypt, the administrative court dismissed a case raised by an Egyptian lawyer, contesting the legality of Egyptian women under 40 years being prevented from checking into hotels without a male guardian. The court dismissed the case after the Ministry of Interior Affairs and the Ministry of Tourism confirmed that “all hotels affiliated with the ministry cannot refrain from housing any frequent visitors and tourists” (Egypt Independent, 25 January 2022). In dismissing the case, the court instructed the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, and the Ministry of Tourism to issue instructions for all hotels to accept Egyptian women guests without discrimination. Despite both ministries confirming that no such law exists, the Egyptian Lawyers Initiative for Women’s Rights has argued that many hotels still refuse women guests based on their private policies (Vice, 17 February 2021).
Also in Egypt, dozens of Coptic Christians protested for two days in Izbet Farag Allah village in Samalut, Menia, demanding the rebuilding of Saint Youssef and Abo Saifain church (Watani Net, 23 January 2022). The church was demolished in 2021, having been damaged by a fire in 2016. Church authorities have yet to receive a response from the administrative and security authorities, despite having submitted a request for reconstruction following the demolition. The delay is in violation of Church Building Law No. 60 of 2016, which specifies a maximum period of four months to respond to requests submitted to authorities (EIPR, 24 January 2022).
In Israel, an ongoing dispute over the sale of non-kosher cell phones in the Haredi community escalated last week with two separate harassment and riotous incidents taking place. In Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, the situation turned violent when hundreds of Haredi civilians and rabbis rioted near a cell phone store selling non-kosher phones. Cell phones are deemed to be non-kosher when they are not sold under the supervision of the Rabbinical Committee for Communication Affairs (BBC, 6 October 2008). Demonstrators attempted to break into the store and blocked a nearby road. Israeli border police forces dispersed the demonstration, which left the store damaged and two police officers injured. Meanwhile, in Bnei Brak city in Tel Aviv, a group of Haredi civilians installed a security camera in front of a cell phone store that refused to obtain a kosher certificate in order to deter Haredi clients. Finally, in Bet Shemesh in Jerusalem, dozens of Haredi protesters demonstrated outside the house of Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel against a cellular reform bill that he supports. Protesters claim that the reform would impair special cellular services that filter “immodest content” and are used by the Haredi population (Kikar HaShabbat, 25 January 2022).
Also, in Israel, the regional Rabbinical Court of Jerusalem issued a ruling last week, forbidding a landlord from renting an apartment to a man who had refused to divorce his wife, despite her request for a divorce four years ago. The judges ruled that the landlord — and possibly other landlords — should prevent any person who refuses a court-sanctioned divorce from leasing their property. This is the first time that a rabbinical court has taken such a sanction in the context of a divorce case (Haderi Ha Haredeem, 27 January 2022).
In Iran, the religious repression of Baha’is continued last week, with incidents reported in Tabriz, Shiraz, and Zahedan. In the city of Tabriz, Iranian Ministry of Intelligence forces summoned and interrogated a Baha’i citizen for unspecified reasons, a week after they arrested her husband. Meanwhile, in Shiraz city, Iranian security forces arrested two Baha’i citizens and transferred them to prison to serve two-year sentences on the charge of “propaganda against the state” and “membership in an opposition group” (HRANA, 23 January 2022). Finally, in Zahedan city, a Baha’i student was denied entrance to the University of Applied Science and Technology after passing the entrance exam. Iranian authorities cited the reason for the disqualification as “general disqualification,” which is an umbrella term used by authorities to prohibit Baha’i students from accessing higher education (HRANA, 27 January 2022). According to Iran’s Supreme Cultural Revolution Council’s Student Qualification Regulations, university students must belong to a state-sanctioned religion and are liable to expulsion if found to practice the Baha’i faith (Iran HRM, 16 September 2018).
Iranian authorities also targeted a Muslim cleric last week, after some of his followers criticized the head of the Endowment Organization in the comments section of his account on social media. The cleric received a fine and was permanently defrocked by the Special Clerical Court in Tehran. The cleric is a prominent government critic who was previously sentenced to imprisonment by the Special Clerical Court in 1997 for his “methods in fighting corruption” and was released on bail a day later (HRANA, 25 January 2022).
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