Watani is into the fifth consecutive week of printing the horror stories of Egyptians who apply for the new computerised ID papers, the use of which will be in force at the onset of 2007, and are handed erroneous documents by the Civil Register Authority. The errors are all data entry errors which should be very easy to correct once the clerk refers to the original, authentic, hand-written documents which the applicant would have already attached to the application. But the Civil Register Authority clerks more often than not refuse to recognise these documents—which were issued by the same Civil Register Authority—and prefer instead to send the applicants on a wild goose hunt to prove the veracity of the ID information.
Magdy Labib Mikhail was born in 1957 and is the holder of an old ID card which was issued manually by the civil register office of the Delta town of Minouf, in which he is registered as Christian. When he applied for a computer-issued birth certificate he found himself listed as Muslim. He went to the central civil register office in Abassiya to correct the mistake, but the employee referred him to Zaitoun civil register office where he was again referred to Ard al-Maared civil register office. The clerk investigated the case and told Mr Mikhail that the only way to correct the mistake was for him to acquire a computerised ID. When Mr Mikhail said that the computerised ID would then be based upon false data, the clerk did not reply. Neither did the manager of the office help. Mr Mikhail bitterly asks if a Muslim was mistakenly listed as Christian, would he or she be forcibly sent on this wild-goose hunt to prove they were Muslim? I understand Mr Mikhail’s anguish, but assure him that the mistake is not due to conspiracy, but to a computer error which results from ‘Muslim’ being the default religion on the civil register data entry programme. The clerks frequently forget to alter the default religion in case of non-Muslim applicants.
Victoria Nevine Louis Helmy was born in 1951 and carries an old ID card and a birth certificate which were manually issued by a Cairo civil register office. In both, Ms Helmy is listed as Christian. When she applied for a birth certificate, she was handed one in which her parents were registered as Muslims, and the clerk refused to correct the mistake. Ms Helmy handed in her father’s and mother’s death certificates, in which they are each listed as Christian, but to no avail. She offered the computer-issued birth certificates of her brother and sister which list the same parents as Christian but the clerk refused to admit the mistake. Neither were the birth certificates of Ms Helmy’s three children, which list her—their mother—as Christian, helpful. Officially, the Civil Register Authority insists that Ms Helmy was born to Muslim parents and is thus Muslim. Nothing Ms Helmy can do appears to be able to alter that.
Samy Fawzy Mitiaz found himself registered as a Muslim female in his new computer-issued birth certificate. He handed to the civil register clerk his old manually-issued birth certificate which lists him as male Christian, but the clerk in the civil register office refused to correct the mistake and insisted that the data registered in the computer could not be wrong. If one can understand that mistakes in registering data on religion could frequently happen because of the computer programme, how can we explain errors in information related to gender? As the Arabic saying goes: the worst situations could almost be laughable.
Aziza Soliman Moussa Soliman and her parents were all listed as Muslims in her new computerised birth certificate issued by Assiut civil register office. She is now trying to correct the mistake through handing in her manually-issued papers which cite her and her parents as Christians. I am relieved she was not listed as male, since such mistakes in Upper Egypt culture can have dire—not at all laughable—consequences.