Egypt: Prohibited identities: State interference with religious freedom

Published: 1/Nov/2007
Source: Human Rights Watch

All Egyptians upon reaching 16 years of age must, by law, obtain a national identification document that includes a national identification number (raqamqawmi) assigned at birth. A national ID is essential to obtain access to post-secondary schooling, get a job, vote, travel abroad or within Egypt, and conduct the most basic financial and administrative transactions.

The Civil Status Department (CSD) of Egypt’s Ministry of Interior is responsible for administering and providing to Egyptian citizens these national ID cards, as well as identification documents such as birth certificates, death certificates, marriage certificates, and other vital records. These documents record, among other things, a person’s religious identity.

In assigning or recording religious identity, the Egyptian government recognizes only what it refers to as the three “heavenly” or “revealed” religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – and requires Egyptians to pick one of these religions for their identification documents. This limited choice is not based on any Egyptian law, but rather on the Ministry of Interior’s interpretation of Shari`a, or Islamic law.

An Egyptian citizen has no option to request a religious identification different from one of these, or to identify him or herself as having no religion. If he or she insists on doing so, authorities refuse to issue a national ID or related document reflecting the requested religious identification.

These policies and practices violate the right of many Egyptians to religious freedom. Because having an ID card is essential in many areas of public life, the policies also effectively deny these citizens a wide range of civil and political as well as economic and social rights. As detailed below, the consequences at times reach deeply into affected individuals’ personal lives.

Download file: Prohibited identities: State interference with religious freedom (569 kb)

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, ID Documents and Passports
Regions: Egypt
Year: 2007