A bill to penalize Egyptian parents for giving their children “foreign” names was withdrawn by the MP who proposed it on Tuesday, hours ahead of a parliamentary session to discuss it.
Controversial MP Bedeir Abdel Aziz, from the Nile Delta governorate of Kafr al-Sheikh, told Mada Masr the proposed law was an effort to “preserve our Arab, eastern and Islamic principles in Egypt,” and that he withdrew it after “our Christian brethren expressed their objections to this proposal.”
The MP had proposed amendments to Article 21 of Egypt’s Civil Status Law (Law 143/1994), which stipulates that siblings may not share the same first name, nor may a child have a double-barreled name, or names which run contrary to public order, or which contravene religious doctrines (of the three recognized monotheistic faiths).
Abdel Aziz’s proposal included fines of LE500 to LE2,000 for parents giving their children foreign names. He denied that the proposal included prison terms, as some media outlets reported.
When asked if he thought parents should have the right to freely choose the names of their sons and daughters, Abdel Aziz commented, “It is their right of course, but we should not merely be imitating the West in these regards, and should avoid names that are 100 percent foreign.”
“Jehan, for example, is a Turkish name, yet it is well known and widely used in Egypt,” Abdel Aziz explained, adding that names like Alicia, Anne, Nancy and Andrawos should be avoided.
“A name like Andrawos is easier to pronounce and to write in English than it is in Arabic,” Abdel Aziz said, referring to a common Coptic Christian name (Andrew) that has been used in Egypt for centuries.
Bishop Rafael was quoted by a Coptic news outlet asking, “Should we name our priests Arab names like Father Ali and Father Abu Bakr?”
Although he withdrew the draft, Abdel Aziz defended its basis by referring to Sadam Hussein’s alleged criminalization of non-Arabic names in Iraq, and explaining that his own proposal had stipulated that a child’s name should not conflict with Christian or Islamic doctrines.
Other countries have placed restrictions on certain names in recent history. Chinese Muslims were reportedly forbidden from using the name “Saddam,” and Saudi Arabia issued a list of 50 banned names, according to some media reports.
Reactions to the draft law were mixed. Helwan university Professor of Arabic Fatma al-Saeedi hailed Abdel Aziz’s proposal as a publicity stunt that is “extremist and fanatical,” and does not protect the Arabic language in any way, while others suggested foreign names and Western clothing are a threat to societal morals.