A proposal submitted to parliament for a new law to ban giving ‘foreign’ names to babies aroused heated controversy on social media. Even though the MP who submitted the proposal, Bedeir Abdel-Aziz who represents the North Delta constituency of Kafr al-Sheikh, today withdrew his proposal, the controversy persists.
MP Abdel-Aziz’s proposed law would have imposed a fine of EGP200 – 2000 on parents who give a child a foreign name. It would also have been illegal for brothers or sisters born to the same father to have identical names, double-names, or any names that go against “public order or the rules of heavenly laws”.
The controversy centred on exactly was meant by ‘foreign’. Did it mean non-Arabic names? If so, all Coptic names would be banned. Common names such as George, Mark, Kyrillos, Shenouda, and Bishoi for males; as well as Irene, Marina, Sophia, Rita, or Maria for females would be illegal. Names that go back to ancient Egypt, such as Ramses or Isis would also be banned. And outright non-Egyptian, non-Arabic names used by Egyptians in the Diaspora would be outlawed too.
Despite the fact that the proposed law has been withdrawn, fears lurk that the thought and intentions behind it persist among extremists. Comments on social media almost unanimously condemned the “Salafi, extremist” nature of the proposal. At best, it targets anything non-Arabic and non-Islamic; at worst it targets Copts in specific. In all cases, it targets Egypt’s legendary diverse, pluralistic culture.