Cairo: A draft bill suggesting the removal of the religion category from Egyptians’ identification cards and other official documents have provoked a big controversy in the country that has a Christian minority.

MP Esmail Nasr Al Deen said he has presented the draft to the parliament and has secured backing of many members of the assembly.

“The mention of religion in the ID violates stipulations of the constitution that provide for equality among all citizens regardless of their faiths, gender, race or social status,” Nasr Al Deen said.

“If we really want to set up a real civil state that safeguards values of citizenship, then we should not keep this mistaken situation,” he told Gulf News.

The lawmaker argued that some employers pick their employees on the basis of their religions mentioned in the official documents.

“As soon as I made my proposal, I got the backing of more than half of the parliament who said they will vote for it,” Nasr Al Deen said.

According to the Egyptian constitution, a draft bill must get the approval of at least one third of the 596-member legislature to take effect.

“Categorising Egyptians as Muslims or Christians should be only limited to the mosque and the church,” the Muslim lawmaker said.

Egypt has experienced a spate of deadly attacks by militant Islamists targeting security forces and Christians since the army’s 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi. Christians staunchly backed Mursi’s ouster led by incumbent President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, who was the then army chief.

Earlier this month, Al Sissi, a Muslim, said that equal citizenship rights are the basis of rule in Egypt.

In 2016, Cairo University, Egypt’s biggest public academic centre, decided to stop the mention of the student’s religion in documents presented to the institution, saying that its move is aimed at elimination discrimination on the basis of faith.

“We objected to this step at the time and we will do the same in reaction to the lawmaker [Nasr Al Deen]’s draft,” said Omar Hamrush, a member of the parliament’s religious committee.

“There is no need to remove the religion category from the identification card because it does not violate the constitution, harm or reduce rights of Copts in Egypt,” Hamrush told this paper. “On the contrary, its removal could cause trouble and create problems related to marriage for example,” he added.

In Egypt, marriage registrars are officially obliged to state the religions of the couple in matrimonial documents.

Nasr Al Deen’s proposal has drawn sharp criticism of some Muslim clerics.

“Removing the religion category from the ID card shows glaring ignorance of the importance of religion in Egypt,” said Mahmoud Mehna, an official in the influential Islamic seat of learning Al Azhar.

“The mention of religion in the identification card does not lead to discrimination. We the Muslims and Copts are citizens who share long common history,” he added in a press statement.

The proposal has divided rights advocates, too. While some vehemently back it, others downplay its significance.

“Removing the religion category from the identification card complies with international standards,” said Sameh Fawzy, a rights activist. “But in the Egyptian case, doing this will make no real change,” he wrote in private newspaper Al Choruk. Fawzy argued that in the past five decades, Egyptians have tended to choose names for their children clearly indicating their religious affiliations.

“Since the 1970s, Egyptian society has been overwhelmed by the trend of choosing purely religious names for newborns, replacing a long tradition of using general names,” he added, referring to the decade believed to mark the start of a wave of Islamism culminating in the 1981 assassination of then president Anwar Al Sadat by militants.

“Now names of people denote their religious identity without the need to check their ID cards,” Fawzy said.

“In many cases, discrimination is practised in reaction to the mere name of the person and not necessarily on the basis of official papers.”