My views, observations, questions about everything in this world ....and that country they call Egypt.

01 September 2006

Break The Religious Handcuffs

This will sound weird to 'foreigners', perfectly normal to Egyptians, and outrageous to Human Rights Activists. On the back of the Egyptian National ID card ,that every citizen has, there are 4 pieces of personal information. Occupation, Sex, religion, and martial status. Having the first and last one on ID cards, my guess is, is not that common and is probably debatable. The second one is pretty standard. But it's the third one that's troubling me. I can imagine a lot of non-Egyptians right now going "holy crap (no pun intended!), religion is on your ID cards?"

Here is why I think religion should not be on Egyptian ID cards.

First of all, if my card says I'm Muslim, for example, does that mean I'm Muslim? Do letters printed and glossed on a piece of paper saying 'Christian' really mean that I am Christian? No and no. What a person believes in and who they worship cannot be decided by a government paper. A person is a Muslim or a Christian by what's in their head, what's in their heart, and the actions they take. Nobody can tell us what we believe in except ourselves.

My second problem has to do with the nature of religion. One’s religion is neither an eye colour nor a blood type. It's neither an ethnicity nor a fingerprint. Religion is not a gene that we are born with. It is something that we choose. We should have the freedom to choose whatever we want to believe in. I should have the freedom to be a Muslim one day, a Christian the next day, a Buddhist the day after, and so forth without constantly changing government papers. It's not a sex-change operation! After all, isn't it expected that our beliefs change based on what we experience in life? Do I have to change my ID every time I have doubts about my religion or completely reject it?

Thirdly, as far as I know, the government allows you only to be one of three: Muslim, Christian, or Jew (yes you can be a Jew!). The Egyptian government doesn’t let you believe in anything else. How narrow minded is that? Are there are no other belief systems? No Buddhism, no Hinduism? No atheism, no agnosticism? Where is the Freedom of choice?

Fourthly, there is the issue of discrimination. I don't think I need to elaborate more here, but I will anyway. Having religion on ID cards makes it incredibly easy to discriminate between Egyptians. Imagine how the treatment of the police, university professeurs, and employers could vary depending on whether or not you agree with what they believe in! There is no doubt minorities suffer as a result of this. Even though removing religion from government papers is not likely to stop discrimination, but at least it won't be as ridiclously easy as it is now.

Start with Freedom...

P.S. related post: When You Build A Bridge


Blogger Grafxgurl said...

yeah this makes me know.. this is happening in pakistan too.. and so many christians were treated so badly once people realised what religion they were...they came to India to stay...and they keep coming.

thats just bad.. i do hope that this wont cause any unrest in Egypt.

10:04 AM

Blogger still breathing said...

about the discrimination thing, i don't quite agree. i'm a muslim and
i've known many christians coz i was in a sister's school and i've never seen/heared of any word/act of that kind.

who gets shit treatment coz if what they believe in? i just can't imagine it is even possible.

1:12 PM

Blogger Grafxgurl said...

still breathing - i guess you havent experienced that part of life. but it does happen...all over the world.

3:30 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Advocates of having religion stated on your ID say it is needed for personal status affairs where procedures and routine and even rights and obligations vary according to your religion (marriage, divorce, polygamy, etc..).

Personal status in Egypt are not governed by secular laws, they are governed by religous rules and rules vary regarding what you can and cannot do. Therefore, either state religion on the IDs, or govern personal status affairs with secular rules like zawag madany... but I don't think the latter will ever be applied given the current state of affairs.

4:42 PM

Blogger Bilo said...

If one needs to prove his or her religion for the purpose of personal status matters, then the religious authorities to whom the person belongs could always provide proof of the person's religion on a card issued by that religious authority. There is no need to have it on a government-issued ID Card at all. Many civilized countries has this system in place without any problems or conflicts. This way proof of religion is only used for personal status matters, and not to discriminate against someone like in job opportunities, etc...

Also, as "still breathing" said, fortunately there are still many good and tolerant people out there from various religious backgrounds in Egypt.

10:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i totally agree with bilo.. moreover, i would like to add that discrimination exists either way.. religion stated or not.. u can tell from a person's looks their "religion" (whether they wear a viel, a cross, a mos7af.. u name it, let alone names).. so he/she who wants to be intolerant or prejudiced against religion does not need an ID..

as for choosing between religions.. well, u just said it urself.. what is stated in ur ID does not really tell what u believe in.. u can be whatever u want and it shouldn't matter since u don't wnt it disclosed... am i anywhere near clear??!!

the system in egypt sucks, magatsh 3ala de

4:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

good point, except that for 75% of people in egypt, their religion is identifiable based on their name anyway. So removing religion on the ID cards won't really remove religious discrimination

6:05 AM

Blogger Bilo said...

The post below addresses many of the questions raised by this enlightened group of readers. It shows clearly how identifying people in official documents by their religion could be quite dangerous:

7:33 AM

Blogger Joey said...

I agree with all what you stated above, MC. However, like they said, in most of the cases you can still the religion from the looks, names .. etc ;)

Btw, It's either Muslim, Christian or Other .. Jew is not an option too

8:30 PM

Blogger MechanicalCrowds said...

still breathing,
You sound so pure and so innocent still. Let's leave it the way it is. I don't think I need to argue this anyways cause everybody knows it.

Like I said in my post, this will not eliminate discrimination as this is not the source of it. But I am sure that it will be less.

So why should I live as the religion stated on my ID if I believe in something else? bilo, can you help out with this one?

Anon & Joey,
So you can tell a muslim from an athiest just from their name? I don't think so.

9:35 PM

Blogger Joey said...

Look, at least 2 of my friends are Atheists but if you ask them, they consider themselves Muslims since they were born muslims.

It's different here, things are looked at differently. If you don't believe in God .. you are "non-believing Muslim/Christian"

12:35 AM

Blogger Gun Barrel Kalashnikov said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:39 AM

Blogger Gun Barrel Kalashnikov said...

1. Well, I guess if we wanna talk discrimination then due to political reasons, minorities in Egypt get more rights than majorities.

2. I am a muslim and I have a multitude of Christian friends and I have never been aggressive or discrimanatory when dealing with them.

3. It is not if you are a majority that you may have hatred against the minority, not always the case, sometimes the minority may carry the same hatred or more towards you, or sometimes even you may not hate them but they would hate the majority.

4. I agree with the theory that states that there are different treatments as per everyone's religion, i.e in rights and obligations.

And well let's not go down the road of me wishing to be of one religion today, and another tomorrow cause it is just like saying I wanna be human today and a monkey tomorrow, both not that much existent... For everyone I guess religion is supposed to be something of great meaning, being that hesitant about it on daily basis would be plain weird and insane, whatever a person's religion is...

Finally, ID cards even if considered a problem although I don't see the point, would be a minor issue, we should start by the majors, in other words, Egypt has a lot of shit going on, the ID cards again if a problem would not be the last problem hanging out there and begging for a solution...

12:49 AM

Blogger Bilo said...

Very interesting opinions. Thank you all for this very useful discussion....

The issue of ID cards is quite important. Contrary to what was stated by Joey, the options are ONLY Muslim, Christian and Jewish. So, when Baha'is applied for the ID cards they were told that they have no other option, meaning that they could not indicate "other" because the computer will not allow BUT the three religions. They were told the only way they could get an ID card was to lie on official document and indicate one of the three religions. Lying on official documents is a felony, also is immoral. Additionally they cannot deny their own belief even though they are Baha'is in their own hearts. If they all lie to get ID cards, then that action would officially eliminate their religion from Egypt. Just put yourselves in their shoes and suppose that you are of a minority religion, let us say Christian, and let us say that the government would decide NOT to allow any Christians to indicate their religion on ID cards…what would you do then? Lie to get an ID card? Demand your rights as guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution? Anything else?

Another critical matter is that since Baha'is will not deny their religion, they cannot obtain ID cards...I am sure everyone reading this knows what it means to live in Egypt without an ID card!

So, you see, the ID card issue is a very important one....

2:47 AM

Blogger Joey said...

Yea my bad, you are right, Bilo. I read a lot about the Bahaais and they had some of them on different TV shows. So there's no "Other"? Ouch! that is definitely worst :S

@The Godfather: Minority have more rights than majority? Are you saying that Christians have more rights than Muslims in Egypt?! What are you talking about? Copts are facing discrimination in Egypt, most of my MUSLIM friends are aware of that and it is a FACT!

3:21 AM

Blogger Bilo said...

To both Joey and Don Corleone (excuse me, but could not help it!) 

I am glad that this is being discussed back and forth. Hopefully this discussion would help many who read this blog get an idea on how many Egyptians really think and perceive things. It is very true that there are numerous people in Egypt from various religious backgrounds who are tolerant, loving and understanding, and probably do not have a mean bone in their body when it come to associating with others who are different from them in belief or whatever. It is also very real that there are those who are hateful, bigots and closed minded, and in my opinion plain nasty. It is also true that there are those who don't care one way or another--in a way they are indifferent to these issues as long as the issues don't affect them. This is the group of people who, in my humble opinion, have the most potential to help things turn around in the Egyptian society to allow it to become the type of society we all are longing for. This is simply because they might be the silent majority, but I could be totally wrong on this one. I like to hear more from all of you regarding all these issues, and thank you again.

4:52 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a European diplomat who’s been living in Cairo for over 4 years, I’ve been recently introduced to this blog by an Egyptian friend who knows I am madly in love with Egypt. Today, when I see a contemporary Muslim stating: “if we wanna talk discrimination then due to political reasons, minorities in Egypt get more rights than majorities” then I do not wonder why “Egypt has a lot of shit going on” that if Egyptians do not be honest enough to face actual facts with absolute lucidity then would probably be forever left “hanging out there begging for a solution...”

Thank you.

8:38 AM

Blogger Reham said...


am i livining on another planet!! ppl.. i'm a Muslim who used to have Christian friends, neighbors and collegues.. we never get to discuss religion or to deal with each other on such basis.. am dealing with them on human basis.. in fact it happens that we only have one Christian colleague here in my company.. and to say the truth.. she's the most close to my heart here.. only because she's a human being... she's kind, sweet and so caring.. why the hell should i hate her? let me say somthing ya shabab.. the saying "el deen lelah wel watan lela gamee3" is not slogan.. i believe it's a real wise saying!!

i feel i live in another world!

2:28 PM

Blogger Picasso said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't Egypt a dictatorship? I mean, even if you have elections the President remains always the same, does he not? Even so, I think you're better of like that than living under the iranian mulahs...

Nevertheless, i completely agree with you, what a shameful behaviour from the authorities.

5:03 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Below is from Reham's blog (check out teh frog and the horse!):

"(bec i don't really know why the gif is not working here.. so kindly after u watch the frog.. just bend ur head little to the right u'll see a horse :o) )

We have to respect other’s opinions; you can see it clearly in the above Picture

We just need to wait and listen actively to others."

this is not by me.. :o)

posted by Reham
Permalink ¤ 4 comments

12:41 AM

Blogger MechanicalCrowds said...

1. So you're saying a Jew in Egypt has more rights than a Muslim? But how's that related to religion on ID cards?
2. Good for you. Again, not related to the subject
3. Yes, the minority can hate the majority and vice versa. Not our subject though.
3. I disagree, because if that is the case then the law has to have a rules for the treatment of each possible set of beliefs, which is infinite. Again, this is not related to our subject.

Revised your words their huh? Wise decision.
Anyways, religion is nothing like being a human or a monkey... It is not in our DNA. I am not going to argue whether changing religion is weird/insane or not, but believe it or not, every person has the right to be weird.

This is not just about ID cards. This is about Freedom, which is a very basic and central issue to any government/people.

Thanks for your informed opinions. I think talking about freedom is not a luxury, it's a must. It may not make things better, but if we don't talk about it, things are bound to get worse.

Mr. Diplomat,
This natural phenomenon is referred to by some bloggers as the APU (arab parallel universe). In this universe, problems are not only denied, but the compelete opposite is claimed to be true.
In other words, I agree.

You're a good person, not everyone is like that. How big is your company by the way? Doesn't 1 copt seems a little low to you? :)

"el deen lelah wel watan lela gamee3"
"Religion is for God and the land is for everybody."
I agree... and that is what all of this is about. Keeping God out the government and it's papers.

It's theoretically a democracy, but obviously it's not so in practice. However, I would choose this any day over Iranian mulahs.

9:49 AM

Blogger Reham said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:37 AM

Blogger Reham said...

dear.. we r almost 25.. i know that 1 copt seems to be a very little #,, but believe it or not.. since i'm kinda involved in recruitment process.. it's not our policy to exclude copts.. and there's no hidden policy too !! it only depends on the candidate qualifications.. and to prove it.. the girl am talking about is the head of a very senstive and weighty departement in our company..!
am not really defending anyone.. am just wondering why should I be treated as per my religion... !! if am muslim or copt or even jewish!!
may be deep inside i'll have some concern about other's religion <-- it's by nature ya gama3a.. but indeed i'll deal with them bec they r human!

10:38 AM

Blogger Яαgιи Яαvєи said...

I work at a bank and I happen to deal with multinational corporations located in Egypt. I'm not sure of the ages of the people who've commented so far, but for some reason most of them seem inexperienced in the area of discrimination.

From dealing with multinational companies and private companies located in Egypt, I've noticed the following:

1. Some of them hire 99 Christians out of every 100.
2. Some hire 99 Muslims out of every 100.
3. Corporate loans can only be granted to the favored ethnicity.

Of course there are companies that don't really give a shit about a person's religion, but I just wanted to point out that from my very limited experience, I've come across that.

I do agree that religion is not a crucial piece of info that a person needs to prove by carrying a citizen ID, unless I'm on death bed and they're wondering whether to bring me a sheikh or a priest. In that case, I'd rather have my blood type mentioned on the card instead.

5:05 PM

Anonymous Blacklander said...

I couldn't agree more with your view on IDs.

That said, there's a lot to say in that area. Why is there an official religion when the government is godless to say the least, and how many people actually "believe"?

I believe in a new Egypt that acts like a liberal mother, letting her children choose for themselves whatever they want, as long as they'd remain faithful to the family.
The government doesn't represent Egypt, WE do, and it's about time we stop them from maiming our identity.

11:51 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Unless I'm on death bed and they're wondering whether to bring me a sheikh or a priest"...Is that why Egyptians are so religious, the need a Sovereign Power to save them from pain in their second life?! That's pathetic! What kind of education do they stuff your heads with?!

8:32 AM

Blogger AZ said...

well well wel what do we have here... REBEL ... so we fight over letters on our ids.... how about fighting for a real democratc country??? how about fighting for banning the abuse n police station??? how about fighting for real suff instead of complaining about some letters on the back of our ids.... whats that your talkin about guys!!! what kinda problem is that n first place!!!! ppl have lived n this country since ever and nobody faced a problem becase of this religion thing.... just be real guys.. dont let those tiny things distract you from bigger things... this country is collapsing... removing religion from our ids s no gonna solve anything

12:07 PM

Blogger AZ said...

grafxgurl... yes it happens alover the word... but its not much of a problem n egypt.. ppl coping here very well i think... such things r triggered to distract us from far alot worst things that happen and THEY dont want us to regrd them... such issues are the cotton balls we run after and we leave the real things....
hey man its ur blog write whaetever u want um not against u or what u say um just againt raising such topis while we have more horrid things to talk about... i dotn mean raising it her ein your blog but n news papers and stuff they r making it like kadeya e3lameya...

12:10 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But its not much of a problem n egypt.. ppl coping here very well i think"... I wonder does our friend even "think" at all?!

7:03 PM

Blogger MechanicalCrowds said...

You're a good person and it sounds like your company is good too. But, not everybody or every company is like that. Discrimination is obviously widespread in Egypt, and I am surprised we have quite a few people with their head in the sand. Look at Raven's experience for example.

Way to go... By the way, what does 'kudos' mean??

This isn't just about ID cards, this is about Freedom. It is about the right to free thought. It is about separating government and religion. These are very basic concepts to any nation.

ppl have lived n this country since ever and nobody faced a problem becase of this religion thing

such things r triggered to distract us from far alot worst things that happen and THEY dont want us to regrd them
Ok, so who wants to distract us? The Jews??

Freedom is important and a basic human right. It may not mean much to you, but it has meant a lot to humanity through out its history.

7:54 PM

Blogger AZ said...

these are very basic concepts to any nation :D i wont argue though i dont believe n separating religion from gov. its only that our gov r no longer religious so mesh hatfre2 m3aya keter if we separate religion from gov or not
if u want to fight for freedom i totally support u but dont u think that fighting for freedom requires whats more than complaining about some letters on an id????
and ofcourse ididnt mean the jews and u know what i mean ... mocking eachother is not a nice thing to do while discussing an issue so mehs harod 3la elmawdo3 dh :)
and yes religion on ids never caused anybody a problem n egypt ever befor... wen wa sthe last time u used ur id away from paper workf u seek freedom make sure u seek for the right to survive befor the right to be free... u cant bring freedome to the dead
2 train crashes n less than 10 days... instead of complaining about this and blaming the responsable for this disaster we are asking them to ommit some letters from our ids.... um out of this conversation...

10:47 PM

Blogger Bilo said...

It may be redundant to elaborate, again, that this ID matter is not about omitting "some letters from our ids...." This has to do with basic civil rights of all Egyptians (Whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu or anything else).

Some Egyptians cannot obtain ID cards because of these "letters". When they try to live in their own country without IDs, they cannot go to school, they cannot have a job, they cannot vote, they cannot obtain social services, they cannot get treatment in a hospital, they cannot get a birth certificate for their new-born babies, they cannot travel, they cannot marry, they cannot divorce, they cannot even get buried! And the list goes on.... Just recall history and what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. It began with identifying people according to their religion. If a man’s name did not sound Jewish, they added a "Sam" to it, and if a woman’s name did not sound Jewish, they added a "Sarah" to it.... "J" was printed on the ID card of every Jew, and "you know the rest of the story." So you see, today it begins with very small religious minorities in Egypt, tomorrow...who knows who will be next! Of course there are other problems and mishaps that continue to occur every day, no one can deny that, and they will always be there--everywhere in the world--but we cannot stand idle while people’s human rights are blatantly violated without any accountability. How would members of the majority group in Egypt feel if they immigrate to Canada or the US or anywhere else, and they are told that because of their religion, which would be then--in that country--considered a minority, that they cannot practice their religion, or be identified as legal residents, or citizens, etc...unless they convert to Christianity? Would we feel the same then, and say, well...this is not the most important issue...we should rather address the huge number of car accidents first, or perhaps stabbings, robberies and shootings before we could start worrying about our basic human rights!

4:45 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dont bother explaining yourself. They're on another planet dude! Just leave it right there!

9:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder why the Egyptian government bothers with the option of JEWISH, if what the statistics on is true?
Click on "Religion" and there is an table of the number of Jews living in various Mulim countries unti 2001.
For Egypt, it says 100!!!!!!
Of course this is an exaggeration. there are certainly more....but how many more.

Secondly what would the data say about
the number of Christians living in Egypt since 1948? Do you think the number is increasing? I hardly think so. What numbers would you give, and secondly (to my earlier "secondly";-)
what would the projection for 10 years from now look like?

Thirdly the NYTimes has an interesting article about the number of Muslims who have been moving to the US since 9/11/2001. Yes, I almost couldn't believe it, But you know what george Bush says about the NY Times ;-)

the point is that this issue of freedom of religion is a very serious issue, it is linked to the other injustices that the government is regularly enforcing in daily life, In My Opinion. I am against politics, but this is one area where I could (if I were living in Egypt) support activism in changing the official activity. Everyone knows laws don't change people's hearts, but at least the prejudiced can't use the laws as an excuse to justify their prejudiced behavior.

Let the sunlight in and the bats will be forced to find another home.
Written by Edo River
I can't get my ID working from this directory...

2:22 PM


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