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Egypt ‘s Coptic Christians battle for ID cards

By Christian Fraser

12/26/2009 Egypt (BBC News) – In the grounds of one of the city’s oldest Christian churches, Girgis Gabriel Girgis is tattooing a baby girl.

“The tattoo was once used to identify Christian orphans whose parents had been killed in war,” said Girgis. “So they wouldn’t be brought up as Muslims!”

In Islam, the father determines the religion of his children.

And now – even as an adult – Ayman is denied by the state the Christian identity card he craves.

“In the eyes of the I state, I don’t exist. They are trying to force me to become a Muslim by accepting a Muslim identity card. But it was my father’s decision to convert. Not mine.”

“I’d rather die than accept a Muslim identity card. It is plainly obvious to anyone here I am a practising Christian,” he says.

Christians in Egypt comprise about 10% of the country’s 80 million people.

But in a predominantly Islamic society, the Copts say they are being increasingly marginalised.

Identity cards carrying details of a person’s religion are required by law in Egypt for employment, education, and access to any public services.

Last month, a new report by Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights documented 25 cases of alleged forced conversion – and criticised the government for ignoring the cases.

There are cases where the Egyptian government plays a direct hand, forcing people to retain a Muslim identity against their wishes.

“The law says when a person becomes 16 years old, when they must get an identity card, he or she has the right to take papers from the church to prove they are Christian.

“But there are people who have taken these papers to the interior ministry and they have been told they have two choices.

“Either they take a Muslim identity card or they live without an identity card, which is a major, major problem.”

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