Stock Photo - Egypt Today
CAIRO – 21 FEBRUARY 2017: For the first time, an Egyptian census form will offer five options in the religious category. The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) has expanded their population census’ religion category to include Other and Not Applicable, Youm7 reported on Monday
. While a far cry from expanding the state’s understanding of religious pluralism, CAPMAS’ new religious identity marker could potentially sketch a more accurate picture of the number of Egyptians that do not identify with one of the three religions officially recognized by the state: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
According to Youm7, the decision to expand the religion section was made in order to facilitate the electronic registration of the census. Previously, this section was left open for applicants to fill in as they wanted, however the electronic system would reject answers that did not conform to a pre-set list of answers: Muslim, Christian, Jewish and blank.
Identifying religious affiliation in Egypt has been a controversial issue for decades. Egyptians can apply for a national identity card when they turn 16. National identity cards must have one of the three recognized religions listen on it, or it may list a dash in its place.
Prior to 2009 however, Egyptians were not allowed to opt out of listing a religion on their identity cards, sparking condemnation from human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch
(HRW) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
In 2007 HRW and EIPR said the restriction disenfranchised minority religious groups such as Baha’is and people who either converted from Islam or self-identified as atheists.
Baha’i followers who tried to have their religion listed had their applications rejected, and were often met with hostility, according to the report
. Even though it is now possible to have a blank religion field on a national ID, it is very rare.