Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Egyptian Newspaper on ID Cards & Religious Classification

On 8 May 2007, Al-Dostour Al-Youmy (The Daily Constitution) Egyptian newspaper published a very well thought out and researched article on the crisis of religious classification in Egyptian ID cards, written by Ihab Abdel-Hamid. The article had the heading of “Why Does the Government Want to Know the ‘Religion’ of its Citizen?” It addresses issues affecting the Bahá’ís as well as Christians who had converted to Islam and want to return to Christianity, particularly in cases when a father did so (convert to Islam) without the knowledge of his son and as his son—who considers himself a Christian—reaches the age of 16 at which he is required to obtain an ID card, he is suddenly confronted with rejection and losing legal battles. Recently the Egyptian Administrative Court ruled in favor of the Ministry of Interior, disallowing the entry of “Christian” on ID cards for Egyptians who wanted to return to Christianity.

The writer also indicates that even Sudan, who follows Shar'iah law, does not have religious classification on ID cards. He describes how religious and ethnic identification on ID cards had led to genocide as happened in Nazi Germany and in Rwanda, when nearly one million individuals were killed in one week, by the “Hutu,” just because their ID cards showed “Tutsi.” Also in Lebanon when killing was based on religious identification until 1997 when all fighting factions of the civil war finally realized that there must be an end to such discrimination and removed religious classification from ID cards altogether, thus their entire population became as equal citizens. Even when some authoritarian elements in Pakistan wanted to add religion to their ID cards in 1992, the opposition turned that initiative down.

Egypt has always defended its policy of including religion in ID cards as a necessity for personal status laws regarding marriage, divorce and inheritance. He referred to this as a week argument and excuse since marriage is never a simple matter, in which each party gets to know the other very well before going through with it. It is not such an irresponsible act in which one party easily deceives the other as to his or her religious identity. ID cards are not the “simple” answer to such commitment. In this case he also gave the example of the millions of Muslims living in a country such as France (with no religion on ID cards), surrounded by millions more of Christians…that does not seem to pose any difficulties in going through with any of the required arrangements, and the parents of Muslim women do not seem to have any problem in identifying appropriate suitors for their daughters.

He indicated that having religious classification in ID cards violated the Egyptian laws and the constitution. He referred (according to Attorney Mamdouh Nakhla) specifically to Personal Status Laws # 260 of 1990 and # 142 of 1994—neither of which has any clauses requiring religious classification on ID cards, nor was there any mention of such requirement in the Egyptian constitution. He then referred to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The author presented a very well argued case for finding a solution for this very critical situation. He asks the question: “what do we do with the Bahá’ís and what do we do for the Christians who want to return to Christianity?” He referred to the absurd statements made by some radical Egyptian legislators who said that Bahá’ís should be thrown into the sea [the Nile]! He then stressed the need to continue dialogue [not to forget this problem while absorbed in the many other serious problems facing Egypt] and find a solution for this important citizenship right. He asked at the conclusion of the article: “or is it the right of the Christian majority in America, for example, to throw all Muslims into the sea?”


  1. This is great, especially the last sentence says it all. If Muslim majorities want to discriminate against religious minorities in their countries, why should they expect to be treated as equals when they live in majority Christian countries. It appears hypocritical in a way that a mere child would immediately recognize. My muslim brothers and sisters cannot have it both ways. They cannot demand fair treatment for themselves while denying it to others.

  2. This is a piece of great journalism in Egypt where a question is asked without prejudice, and the answer exposes the issues,providing good analysis of the dilemma that people face, particularly the Baha'is in Egypt.

    I like Phillipe Copeland's comment that Muslims cannot demand fair treatment for themselves while denying it to others. The majority of Muslims would agree. It is a minority of Muslims with inflexible attitudes who have dominated the press in countries such as Egypt and Iran. Fortunately an article such as this one is showing this dominant minority their errant ways.

  3. The example of France, a multi-religious country where ID cards do not show religious identity, shows just how absurd the position of the Egyptian government is.

  4. This very clear and straight forward logic has been re-iterated again and again, but I'm happy to see it presented yet one more time so eloquently in this very good article.

    Maybe someday it will rub off on other journalists, then in turn on larger segments of the population in Egypt, then finally click in the minds of government officials.

  5. Another point I forgot to comment on was that the article spoke of the fact that religion is in one's heart. Having it on a card can never reveal the real feelings or inclinations of a person. It shows how silly the system has been.

  6. What do we expect of an authoritarian system of state ? The state of Egypt is the puppet of Al-Azhar institution and vice versa. If the Egyptian state would behave just like France, Switzerland or Germany, therefore we have to change the name of Egyptian state.
    They intend to produce thousands of justification not to grant the ID cards to (converted )Baha’is or (converted) Christians. It’s the task of dictatorial systems to control, who is who, in their area of jurisdiction, in the name of social security.


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