The Egyptian government voted down a referendum to remove religious affiliation from their citizen ID cards earlier this week, a move that many believe will usher in further persecution of the Christian minority living in the African nation.
Egypt has forced its citizens to identify their religious affiliations since the 1950s, a move that many have suggested makes it easier to target religious minorities. The proposed bill would have ended that requirement. It received widespread support from human rights groups within the country who were disappointed by its defeat.
The head of policy for the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms Sherif Azer told the Morning Star News, “Whenever there is a situation that requires showing your ID … you would be categorized right away.”
Azer added he thinks it was voted down out of fear of inter-faith marriages and other ‘societal’ problems perceived by the mostly Islamic legislature.
“This is something no … conservative or even moderate Muslim would accept,” Azer said speaking of Christian men marrying Muslim women.
“They would never say it specifically, but they would say it in the context that taking off the religion from the ID would cause chaos and would cause some social problems and will bring issues that we are not willing to face,” he added.
Christians, Muslims, and Jews are required to include their religious affiliation on their government ID cards. No other religion is listed as a choice for those applying for an ID.
Opposition of the bill ranged from the mundane, such as religion places no value on citizenship, to the ridiculous, such as the wrong religion could be placed on a headstone.
“There is no way that families would be confused,” Azer responded.
The bill was introduced in November by Member of Parliament Ismail Nasreddin, an independent from South Cairo’s district of Helwan. He said at the time, “The draft was motivated by what President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said before the World Youth Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh on 4 November — that every citizen has the right to worship or not to worship what he or she likes, and that religious beliefs are a personal matter in which the state should not interfere.”
He added, “The national charter states that Egypt is a civil state that upholds the values of citizenship. To make this a reality the first thing we need to do is eliminate all forms of religious discrimination.”
Proponents of the move suggested it would protect Christians from facing discrimination at traffic stops, hospital visits, and job searches.
“You need to have a government that would have a proper vision of a society based on citizenship, equality and human rights, but I don’t think this current regime has any idea of what that would be like,” Azer explained. “In practice it is just sweet talk, and there is nothing on the ground happening.”
Coptic Christians have been frequently targeted for violence by radical Muslims, with six murdered in an ambush in November.
The ID measure has been proposed since 2006 and has gained widespread support from various organizations including the human rights group Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), who issued a press release in support.
"Removing religion from national ID cards would undoubtedly be a step forward as it would send a clear message that religion is a private matter and that the state is not interested in the religious affiliation of citizens except where required by law," the statement read.