Egyptian activists tell govt religious identification 'None of your business'
Photo of an Egyptian identity card that reads: "woman - and that's all (instead of 'religion') - single."
In Egypt, identity cards feature a citizen’s name, picture, profession… and religion! A group of young Egyptian activists feels that this last bit of information is irrelevant, and have launched a Facebook campaign against what they see as government intrusiveness.
The campaign, called “Haga tkhosseni (“None of your business”), was launched by a group of young people that includes Muslims as well as Coptic Christians. They want the government to eliminate the “religion” box on Egyptian identity cards.
The campaign encourages Egyptian citizens to stick a piece of paper that says “human being” or “none of your business” (or some other rejection of this categorization) over the spot where their card reads “Muslim” or “Christian”.
Egypt’s Copts make up about 10% of the country’s population of 85 million people.
A promotional video for the campaign.
“In Egypt, you can be asked to state your religion in all kinds of situations — for example to sign a sales agreement, or even to register for university!”
Mohamed Adam, 25, is a “Haga tkhosseni” activist.
Our goal throughout this campaign is to get the government to remove any mention of religion on official documents, wherever this reference is unnecessary.
We focused on identity cards because they are Egyptian citizens’ primary form of documentation. But in Egypt, you can also be asked to state your religion in all kinds of situations — for example, to sign a sales agreement, or even to register for university! In what way could this piece of information possibly be useful — much less necessary — in these cases?
We chose to launch this campaign in response to recent anti-Coptic violence in Egypt. Since the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power, we have unfortunately been hearing more and more hate speech against Christians in Egypt, namely from public figures close to the ruling party. This is not to say that these religious tensions did not exist under [former president Hosni] Mubarak, who in fact used them for his own advantage. [Editor’s Note: Mubarak portrayed himself as the last barrier protecting Copts from Islamist extremists]. Now that the revolution has taken place, everyone has the right to speak freely. The perverse effect of this newfound freedom is that hate speech has spread, and that it is going unpunished.
"In order to get beyond religious conflict, the first thing to do is put an end to this kind of arbitrary distinction"
There are of course other ways to figure out an Egyptian’s religious affiliation: you don’t need to look at someone’s identity card to know that guy named Mohamed is Muslim or that one named Gergess is Coptic! Moreover, many Copts get crosses tattooed on their wrists. But this is a personal choice, like that of practising a religion, not a distinction imposed by the state.
We received an email from an Egyptian woman who had hidden the religion box on her identity card when she went to a government office to fill out some routine paperwork. The employee looked at her identity card and asked her why she had hidden the religion box. The young woman asked him if this detail was necessary. Since it was not, the employee went on with his work.
A government bureaucrat would never dare ask to see someone’s tattoo to determine whether they are a Copt or a Muslim. That would be shocking. Yet the government gives them the ability to make this exact same distinction in a completely legal manner. To mention religion on someone’s administrative documents opens the door to discrimination. In order to get beyond religious conflict, the first thing to do is put an end to this kind of arbitrary distinction.