Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1418, (15 - 21 November 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1418, (15 - 21 November 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Religious issues in parliament

Religious topics divide parliament for a second week

photo: Reuters
photo: Reuters

Ismail Nasreddin, an independent MP from South Cairo’s district of Helwan, announced on 11 November that parliament’s Proposals and Complaints Committee will soon be discussing a draft bill which will remove religious identification from ID cards and official documents, writes Gamal Essam El-Din.

Nasreddin said he is collecting the signatures required for the bill to be officially submitted to the Proposals and Complaints Committee.

“The draft was motivated by what President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi said before the World Youth Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh on 4 November — that every citizen has the right to worship or not to worship what he or she likes, and that religious beliefs are a personal matter in which the state should not interfere,” said the MP.

President Al-Sisi also stressed the importance of reforming religious discourse, adding “there shouldn’t be discrimination upon religious grounds or whether a citizen is Muslim or Christian.”

Nasreddin argues “Al-Sisi’s call for religious tolerance” is underwritten by the constitution.

“The national charter states that Egypt is a civil state that upholds the values of citizenship. To make this a reality the first thing we need to do is eliminate all forms of religious discrimination,” he said.

Article 53 of the constitution states citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and duties and cannot be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, colour, language, disability, social class and political or geographical affiliation. Discrimination and incitement to hate are “crimes punishable by law”.

The MP said “just as the term divorced was removed from the national ID we should remove religion.”

“Before 1952 ID documents did not reference religion,” says Nasreddin.

Last year Nasreddin proposed changing Article 140 of the constitution to increase the president’s term of office from four to six years.

He is not the first MP to suggest removing religious identification from ID cards. In June 2016 Alaa Abdel-Moneim presented a similar draft to the House of Representatives but it failed to garner the required support.

Ahmed Khalil, head of the Salafist Nour Party’s parliamentary group, told MPs Nasreddin’s proposals will meet the same fate.

Meanwhile MP Ghada Agami, who was pressing for legislation which would ban the full-face veil in public places, says she has decided not to submit her draft bill to the Proposals and Complaints Committee.

Agami, who is deputy chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said she decided to withdraw her proposals after the “draft bill caused controversy and divisions, with opponents and supporters exchanging accusations and insults”.

“I do not want to be responsible for exacerbating divisions in Egyptian society. I would rather see Egypt united and moving forward,” she said.

Agami denied she had faced pressure from officials to withdraw her proposal, or was caving in to threats from extremist Islamist movements which used their media outlets to demonise the bill.

“I would not give in to pressure or extortion,” she said. “I withdrew the proposal when I saw how it was dividing the public.”

Agami’s draft legislation had sought to ban the niqab in offices, hospitals, schools, theatres, bookstores, museums, public transport, airports, closed-door playgrounds, kindergartens, lecture halls and work places.

Khalil claimed Agami abandoned her proposals when she realised the majority of MPs would not back her bill.

MP Mohamed Abu Hamed, who has proposed Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli issue a decree banning women from wearing the niqab at work, insists “banning the face veil is not contingent on new legislation”.

“We should do what Algeria’s prime minister did and simply issue a ban by decree,” says Abu Hamed.

Osama Al-Abd, head of the Religious Affairs Committee, told reporters no draft legislations on the niqab had been submitted. “If we did receive any such proposal we would refer it to Al-Azhar. As far as I understand, Al-Azhar and the mufti agree the niqab is not part of Islamic Sharia though this does not mean it should be banned.”

Rights activist Fouad Riad said he was disappointed Agami had decided to withdraw her bill.

“It is not just that the face veil is not part of Islamic Sharia, the niqab has been used by some as a way to conceal their identity and thus represents a threat to national security,” Riad said in an article published in Al-Ahram on 12 November.

“Agami’s reluctance to go forward with her bill shows that extremist groups, particularly the ultraconservative Salafis, still exercise a lot of power in society and are ready to intimidate anyone trying to stand against their strict version of Islam.”

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