Problems on hold
Watani’s parliamentary affairs editor has got wind of news that a bill requiring the government to delete the religion box from national ID cards and official documents has been presented to the House of Representatives by MP Ismail Nasreddin. Deletion of the religion box accords with the Constitution which stipulates non-discrimination among citizens, and that citizenship alone is the basis for equality among all. The Egyptian identity must thus supersede religious identity.
Dr Nasreddin says his bill, which has so far garnered the support of some 200 out of the 596 members of the House, does not imply annulling religious identity from all official papers on the State’s database, such as birth or marriage certificates, or others which must define religious identity. The bill only intends to pull the religion box out of ID cards and official papers used by citizens in their capacity as Egyptians not as persons who belong to specific religious sects.
MP Nasreddin’s initiative warrants support, since it is both reasonable and pragmatic; he calls for omitting data on a person’s religious identity whenever it is an unnecessary formality, but advises retaining the religion box where it is consequential. Let me point out a few important points in this context:
• Deleting the religion box from ID cards will not immediately put an end to discriminatory practices against Egyptians basing on their religion, since it will not conceal their religious identity. The majority of Egyptians carry names or surnames specific to their religious faith; thus flagrantly exposing their religious identity. Annulling the religion box from ID cards thus does not make a person’s religion unknown, but is a gesture by the State to confirm it is no factor in Egyptian citizenship; the State upholds the Egyptian identity above all else. It is a message that religious identity plays no role in dealings, entails no positive or negative discrimination, and that all citizens indiscriminately enjoy the same measures of equality in rights and duties.
• The time is ripe to delete the religion box from Egyptian ID cards. Egypt has already gone down this road by pulling it out of travel documents; the State realised that passports identify Egyptians globally, and that this has nothing to do with their respective religious identities. An Egyptian passport requires countries to deal with its holder as an Egyptian citizen, according to International Law, religious identity being no factor in that.
• Eradicating societal discriminatory practices among Egyptians or in apparatuses or institutions requires serious reform in education, culture, and religious and social domains. Mechanisms and tools should be activated to spot all forms of religious discrimination, criminalise them, and bring perpetrators to justice as stipulated by the Constitution.
• To all who are keen for the religion box to be wiped off all official papers, I say: be patient. We must realise that our society invariably adheres to religious teachings and norms in matters such as filiation, marriage, divorce, death, burials, and inheritance; thoroughly respecting the differences among the various religions. This fact stands in the way of creating a fully civic State where the law is the sole point of reference regardless of religious views. We must own that Egyptians—Muslim and Christian—still cling to the teachings of religions in everything on personal or family matters.
• Finally, Egyptian Christians must realise that if they are eager for the religion box to be pulled out of national ID cards so that they would only be distinguishable as Egyptian, they must contribute positively to reach that objective. They must work to battle isolationism by seeking close day-to-day intermingling with their fellow Muslims. Egyptian Christians must realise that this is the true effective shield against all aspects of extremism or discriminatory practices in the community. They must also hasten to complete drafting the Family Bylaws for Christians—officially known as the Personal Status Law—which the Constitution grants them a right to, in order for them to apply their Christian doctrine to all their family matters.
9 December 2018