Calls returned to omit religion from national ID Card in Egypt

Sarah El-Sheikh
8 Min Read

One year after the parliament has rejected a draft law to omit the religion field from the Egyptian national ID card, another parliament member, Ismail Nasr El Din, renewed the call to enforce the draft law to fight societal discrimination.

Two days ago, Nasr El-Din submitted a draft law calling on the government to omit the religion field from the national ID card and from all official state documents.

The move reflects the insistence of the parliament members to pass the law to the legislative and constitutional affairs committee, for referral to the government in order to be applied within the state institutions.

In 2016, about 63% parliamentarians rejected the proposal dubbed ‘citizenship’ that was submitted at the time by MP Alaa Abdel Moneim, member of the legislative and constitutional affairs committee. The proposal stirred a controversial debate among parliament members, some of whom supported it in the belief that identifying religion creates a discriminatory state between citizens while other saw it as important to mention it to determine the civic situation.

Nasr El-Din said that the constitution stipulates that there should be no discrimination among citizens and that all Egyptians have the same rights and duties.

“The constitution is set up to respect its provisions, and if we disagreed with it, there is a constitutional path that determines how to amend them, but as long as we deal with the current constitution, we must respect its provisions and apply them,” said Nasr El-Din.

The member continued that: “If we want to establish a genuine civil state with the values of citizenship, we must start with official papers. Just as we have eliminated the divorced title from the national ID, we must apply the same with the religion.”

Nasr El-Din asserted that he will insist on the bill and will submit it to parliament next week, and after the committee finishes reviewing the draft law, he will collect members’ signatures.

He pointed out that his move came after President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi spoke before the entire world about the freedom of worship during the second World Youth Forum,  where believed that it is a sign for him to suggest the law one more time.

Al-Sisi said during the forum which took place in Sharm El-Sheikh last week, that each citizen has the right to worship or not worship, and that the state does not interfere in this matter. His statements came to justify that there exists no discrimination between Muslims and Christians in Egypt.

Members and activists praised the proposal and called for its swift application starting from the beginning of 2019 in order to limit discrimination and enhance citizenship and its achievement among people, while others criticised it.

A group of people view the issue as a symbolic one since people’s names can indicate one’s religious identity, while others believe that every citizen has right to feel safe and should not be treated with any form of discrimination.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) believes that omitting the religion field from the National ID card is a positive step which will send an important message to citizens that the state is neutral towards religious beliefs, and that it’s not necessary to disclose your religion during one’s daily dealings.

Moreover, parliament member Mohamed Abo Hamed said that the constitution confirmed citizenship rights and the development of anti-discriminatory behaviours, and that abolishing the religion field entails details in social matters such as marriage and work, and that he supports the abolition of the religion field if it will not result in any legal default.

The head of the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Naguib Gabriel said the existence of religion field in the card is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights signed by Egypt and the international covenants that the Egyptian Constitution requires respect and commitment to.

Gabriel added that existence of religion field in the national ID card is a form of discrimination between citizens on the basis of religion, which violates Article 53 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that citizens are equal according to the law and the rights, freedoms and public duties, and that there is no distinction between them for any reason.

He suggested that the existence of religion field in the national ID led to sectarian congestion because some people have exploited the religion disclosure in acts which promoted discrimination, citing that businesspersons, and decision-makers can put regulations to not hire Christians in their vacant job announcements.

Meanwhile Hafez Abu Saada, member of the National Council for Human Rights, rejected in a televised interview the calls to remove the religion field from the ID at the current time, believing that it will stir social issues that will not help to solve the discrimination crisis.

In response to fears of marriage problems, Gabriel said that abolition of the religion cannot lead to Christian marriages to a Muslim, saying that this is untrue because Christians must obtain a certificate from the church to confirm their religion.

Professor at Al-Azhar University Mohamed Wahdan said that what is proposed is good, but the timing is not appropriate, as passing such bill needs a prelude period since there are some extremists, and first we need to conduct a community dialogue on the matter, and the presence of the religion field in ID cards does stir nor represent any discriminatory behaviour. As for his opinion on the draft law, he said that Islam respects religions and the freedom of others, both Muslims and Christians believe in God, and we are all Egyptians, and we do not walk in the street pointing out each other’s religions.

Religion is important only when we are burying deceased people, to differentiate between Muslims and Christians, he concluded.

Every citizen must hold at all times Egypt’s national ID card, which will include basic information about individuals including age, occupation, place of residence, marital status and religious affiliation.

According to Article 53 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution, citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, gender, origin, race, colour, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason.

Coptic Christians make up 10-15 percent of Egypt’s 104 million population. In the last several years, Coptic churches have been the target of several deadly terrorist attacks, which left tens dead and injured. In one of the latest attack, seven people killed in the terrorist attack against buses carrying Copts in Upper Egypt’s Minya a few weeks ago.

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