Thursday, September 13, 2007

Yes or NO for Religion on ID Cards: Controversy Continues in Egypt

Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) met on the 10th of September 2007, to debate the question of religious classification in ID cards. This controversy continues as it had before when the NCHR met in its symposium of August 2006. There are those who continue to call for the elimination of religious classification, while others insist on leaving this section in identity documents. This time, the Council even proposed to remove the section on religion from the card, but to leave it in the non-visible magnetic (smart) component of the card in order to appease both sides of the argument.

Those that oppose removing religious classification claim that it is the only way to know who belongs to which religion so that laws of inheritance, marriage and divorce can be applied. They ignore the fact that religious identification can be easily accomplished through other means, such as separate documents issued by the religious authorities to their respective adherents. This option did not seem to appear in any of the debates, statements or reports emerging from these symposia. Those who support the removal of religious classification affirm that it would ensure equality in Egypt and would assist in the elimination of extremist views and divisiveness in a society so plagued with multiplicities of serious problems. They see it as one of the roads towards an improved and tolerant Egyptian society.

This workshop (symposium) was attended by several prominent figures representing all sections of society, governmental agencies and authorities that are in positions of decision-making and power. Representatives of the Egyptian Baha’i community (see link) were invited to speak at the workshop in order to express their needs and views. Additionally, Mr. Ahmed Ezzat, the independent documentary filmmaker was invited to show his film “Identity Crisis” regarding the Baha’is of Egypt.

The upshot of this development is that the NCHR is now proposing that religion should continue to be indicated on ID cards, but that all religious denominations (not only Islam, Christianity or Judaism) should be allowed to be entered in these documents, regardless of whether or not the State recognizes these religions. The council insists that this is a matter of citizenship. An individual must be entirely free to choose his or her own belief. All three major Christian Churches (Orthodox, Catholic & Engeleiah [Biblical]) in Egypt also refuse the elimination of religious classification, but stress that the matter of citizenship rights must be enforced. On the other hand, the Ministry of Interior and the Muslim Brotherhood movement oppose both the elimination of religious classification and any mention of religions other than Muslim Christian or Jewish.

News of this symposium were widely covered in prominent Egyptian media outlets, such as the attached Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper. The ruling party's Al-Watany Al-Youm newspaper showed a front page headline, on 11 September 2007, written by Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd (see link) which stated "it is the right of the Baha'is to indicate their religion on ID Cards." The independent weekly Nahdet Misr newspaper also wrote, on the 11th of September, an extensive article reporting on the symposium, and clearly expressing the views that the government cannot interfere with citizen's freedom to choose their own religion or belief (see link). The entire coverage was extensive, objective and well balanced.


  1. dear bilo
    good coverage of ID crisis in Egypt
    thank you

  2. I was able to watch portions of the 2007 Symposium on YouTube and I feel compelled to congratulate the representatives of the Baha'i community in Egypt. Their patience, kindness, and steadfastness in the face of accusations thrown at them is an example to follow. These accusations have no bases and are just excuses for denying their rights to a sector of society. (My prayers are with them)

    This is simply fear of the reality of the inevitability of change of the entire world we live in.

    The Words of Baha'u'llah are crystal clear:

    "The divine Physician hath the pulse of mankind within His almighty grasp."


  3. Dear Claire,
    Thank you for your comment. would you please post the link to the video on YouTube?

  4. Dear Bilo:

    One of the links to the video is from the third paragr of your text. To listen to it one has to have an opened mind and be a "true seeker".


  5. Did you mean the video "Identity Crisis?"

    If so, this had nothing to do with the symposium. It is a promo for a documentary film made by an independent producer about the crisis of the Baha'is of Egypt. Is this what you have referred to?

  6. Sorry for the mix-up. I realize now that the date on the slides is showing: SEP 07.08.

    One lawyer present in the round table discussion is Labib Muhawad.


  7. I don't think we are looking at the same thing! It would help if you write the exact link you are looking at.

  8. Bilo:
    I pressed the link from 3rd paragr of your message then pressed Smile Rose's banner.
    The date of the discussion meeting appears as Sep 07/08.


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