09/23/2021 Egypt (International Christian Concern) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi announced a National Strategy for Human Rights for the next five years on September 11, the first human rights protection plan since becoming president in 2014.
Sisi commented at the event saying, “The Egyptian state confirms its commitment to respect the right of physical safety, personal freedom, political practice, freedom of expression, forming civil societies and the right of litigation. Egypt has always welcomed diversity of opinions.” He continued on later saying, “I respect nonbelievers. If someone tells me [they are] neither Muslim nor Christian nor a Jew or that he or she does not believe in religion, I would tell them, you are free to choose.”
Both comments sparked controversy as many Egyptians and international organizations alike pointed out trends where neither statement proved true. Egypt’s poor human rights record in the past years suggests that diversity is not welcome in the country, whether for religious freedom, political thought, or expression. In application however, one of the areas of disagreement is the existence of the religion field on national IDs.
Many Egyptian Christians would welcome the removal from the ID cards, but in practice, the change would unlikely cause any decrease in sectarian discrimination against them. Not all Egyptian minorities and Christians support the removal, but it is largely seen as a step to attempt to prevent systemic discrimination against them in the workplace and elsewhere. Oftentimes, one’s name is an indicator of their religion, except in cases of conversion which only increases the chances of persecution.
Egypt’s former Culture Minister Gaber Asfour expressed his support for the removal of the religion field, which was introduced in 1956. Alternatively, Justice Minister Omar Marwan commented on the need for a registered religion because of certain rights based on faith, saying, “We do not have the same Personal Status Law for all Egyptians. The constitution stipulates that Sharia rulings apply to Muslims in Personal Status issues while Christians and Jews should refer to their own rulings on such matters.”
Over the next months and years, time will determine whether Sisi’s comments will bring about true change to the human rights abuses in Egypt, or if he is merely uttering hollow words to appease the West, as one Facebook user commented.
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