A supporter of Egypt's former army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a Koran, a cross and flags as he celebrates the announcement of his candidacy for presidential election in Tahrir square in Cairo on March 28, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih *Editors: This photo can only be republished with RNS-EGYPT-ATHEIST, originally transmitted on February 2, 2015.

In Egypt, atheists considered a 'dangerous development'

CAIRO (RNS) In Egypt, there is seemingly no place where atheists or those thought to be nonbelievers are safe.

They've been targeted at cafes, harassed on the streets and fired as part of a broader backlash by society and the state against atheism and blasphemy.

"I have to keep my mouth shut when it comes to any criticism or satire about religion," said atheist Amr Mohammed. "If I wish to make a remark about religion or practice of religion regarding my own beliefs, I keep it to myself."

Dar al-Ifta, a government wing that issues religious edicts, released a survey in December claiming Egypt was home to exactly 866 atheists -- a number deemed "a dangerous development." Days later, a Cairo coffeehouse described as an atheists' cafe was closed, media reported.

 A supporter of Egypt's former army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a Koran, a cross and flags as he celebrates the announcement of his candidacy for presidential election in Tahrir square in Cairo on March 28, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih *Editors: This photo can only be republished with RNS-EGYPT-ATHEIST, originally transmitted on February 2, 2015.

A supporter of Egypt's former army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi holds a Koran, a cross and flags as he celebrates the announcement of his candidacy for presidential election in Tahrir square in Cairo on March 28, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
*Editors: This photo can only be republished with RNS-EGYPT-ATHEIST, originally transmitted on February 2, 2015.


 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Since 2011, at least 27 of the more than 40 defendants tried on charges of defamation have been convicted in court, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

"There have been increasing attacks on citizens with minority views and others who tried to express an opinion on controversial religious issues," the organization said in a report in August.

An Egyptian court sentenced Karim al-Banna, a student characterized by his father as an atheist, to three years in prison last month for writing Facebook posts that insulted Islam, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

"Whoever writes, comments or talks about subjects that are against religion face being charged with a criminal offense," said Fatma Serag, legal unit director at the association.

Though the nation's constitution guarantees freedom of belief, it limits freedom of practice to those who follow Christianity, Islam or Judaism. In cases regarding blasphemy, prosecutors often refer to an article in the penal code that addresses extremist ideologies and exploitation of religion.

Ayman Emam, an atheist who created the Egyptian Atheists Community Facebook page to monitor assaults on expression of belief, has been threatened for his views. In addition to being harassed online, Emam said he found a piece of paper on his car in the summer of 2013 with verses from the Quran saying apostasy should be punishable by death.

"You cannot do anything about it because what are you going to do about it -- go to the police?" Emam said. "The police are not going to help you and will probably get you into trouble."

In September 2012, angry mobs of men surrounded the Cairo home of activist Alber Saber Ayad and accused him of heresy and atheism for allegedly promoting a film online that criticized Islam, Amnesty International reported. After his mother called police for protection, authorities arrested Ayad, who was sentenced for "defamation of religion."

Others have faced problems at work. In June 2013, a teacher at a middle school in the district of Giza was fired for being an atheist, Serag said.

Last year, Interior Ministry official Amin Ezz El-Din, who oversees security in the coastal city of Alexandria, said on Egyptian TV that a task force would be formed to arrest non-believers, according to news website Mada Masr.

The recent crackdown comes amid a broader discussion about religion. Atheists recently started appearing more frequently on Egyptian television shows. Days before the attack last month in Paris on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a revolution in Islam to overhaul the religion -- a significant act in a conservative country where the population of roughly 90 million is mostly Muslim.

During a speech on New Year's Day, al-Sisi stressed the importance of spreading moderate teachings of Islam and confronting misleading interpretations of the faith, according to the State Information Service. That doesn't appear to indicate impending acceptance of controversial views.

"There is no plan to protect freedoms," said Amr Ezzat, a researcher and head of the religious freedoms program at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “It's an abandoned topic."

(Sarah Lynch writes for USA Today)

KRE END LYNCH

Comments

  1. Maybe it’s just me — cynical, cold-hearted, godless agnostic heathen that I am — but I fail to see any possible “threat” that’s hanging over Egypt because 866 atheists are there. I mean, seriously, what harm can there be, in that? What are these atheists going to … somehow take up arms against many millions of their Muslim countrymen, destroy all the mosques, kill all the mullahs/imams/ayatollahs, burn all the Qur’ans? Really!?

    Let’s all face facts: That there are people who do not believe in a particular religion (or in the case of atheists, any religion) cannot and will never harm that religion or its followers. It just can’t happen, not all by itself. After all, if a religion has any veracity, then it has veracity — and the existence of people who disagree, can’t change that. Sure, it’s offensive to think there are people who believe in a different religion than one’s own, or in no religion at all … but that offense causes no one any measurable damage. Not a speck of it.

    The thinking revealed by Dar al-Ifta’s survey only serves to demonstrate how infantile Egypt’s population is. It’s time for them to grow up already. (Of course, the same is true of some here in the ‘States; I’m referring to “Christian Nationists” who’re likewise incensed over the fact that not every American believes what they believe. So this is hardly a problem unique to Egypt or to Muslims more generally. Infantilization is an ecumenical plague on humanity, with which every nation, every religion, every institution, indeed every person may be afflicted at any given time.)

  2. “… They’ve been targeted at cafes, harassed on the streets and fired as part of a broader backlash by society and the state against atheism and blasphemy.”

    In Egypt, this also applies to Coptic Christians.

  3. Wow.At this point, all that’s left for Egypt’s seemingly miniscule atheist population is to give thanks to whatever or whoever that they don’t live in Pakistan! And as a moderate evangelical Christian, I actually agree with you, PsiCop: Speaking only for myself,atheism bothers me not one wit; I actually like’Ol Atheist Max! (Although he can certainly try one’s patience, God bless him!!).

  4. “Atheists recently started appearing more frequently on Egyptian television shows.”

    And Atheism must increase. Non-belief must spread.

    Egyptian clerics say there are only 866 non-believers in Egypt? Ha!
    What nonsense! 🙂

    From a population of 82 Million at least 5% have to be Non-believers. It is statistically unlikely to be any less than that.
    That would be 4 Million people who don’t give a crap about religion and yet – the law is against them.

    4 Million people need their civil rights!!! They need the right to not believe.

    If only they spoke up.
    4 MILLION people is too many to put in jail even in Egypt.

    This is why I speak up so loudly in America. LOOK AT US ATHEISTS!
    We are your family, we are your cousins. And we do not buy the religion story – we cannot believe in it.

    What a disgrace that in the year 2014 there are parts of the world which behave as if it is 1420!
    Disgusting!

    Free humanity from this religious torture.

  5. Psicop,

    “It’s time for them to grow up already.”

    Exactly.
    Any culture which rejects freethinking will doom its own future.
    Religion and superstition are the same thing. No culture ever advanced which did not embrace blasphemy.

    Blasphemy is the first necessary ingredient for culture to progress to a real civilization. Religion must die off.

  6. Theists who are secure in their theism should have no fear of atheism. Those who are most secure in their theism are those who live in an atmosphere of freedom of religion and expression, where atheists are just as free to believe or not believe and to speak about it as theists.

    The world needs to become a free marketplace of ideas and beliefs, so that people can debate and discuss anything they wish, so long as they are not threatening violence or acting in a violent way.

  7. I would normally like Max, but my like for anyone shuts off when they prove unwilling or unable to articulate their positions without lying or being cavalierly careless about facts and then failing to own up when confronted with their problem. Too bad, but some people were obviously taught to be slippery by their parents or other influences.

  8. Atheist Max, you appear to be saying you’re for legislation against “blasphemy.” Perhaps you’d wish to correct that….I would assume you’re against it.

  9. Jack,

    “failing to own up when confronted with their problem.”

    You claim that Matthew 27:52 is a ‘fact’ when it is clearly a lie.
    Zombies never walked for Jesus.
    Yet you insist that this is a fact and that the Gospel of Matthew is a valid account of things which actually happened.

    The burden is on you, not me, to explain how Zombies did this.
    You are the one making the claim, not me.

    “Zombies walked for Christ, visited with locals and ate at the local cafes in Jerusalem” – (Matthew 27:52)

    You have every right to believe it.
    I just think it is dishonest to claim it to be a ‘fact’- it is a lie which you are defending.

  10. Ad Hominem Jack said

    but some people were obviously taught to be slippery by their parents or other influences

    Kaching. Another attack by nasty Ad Hominem Jack. No one is surprised.

  11. You lied again, Max. You keep posting that scripture as a kind of theme song for yourself, but I have never conversed with you on it….

  12. “Philip,” if somebody posts citations, misleads the reader about what they say, is called on it, continues to cite the same references again, and repeats the same process with other citations, that person’s integrity can and should be called into question.

    This is an obvious pattern with Max that is worthy of mention. He can’t be trusted….and so every time he posts a citation, it has to be checked. The problem is that most of us don’t have the time to check everything he writes. But I’ve found that when I do check, I find simple factual errors and outright whoppers again and again.

    That’s called road record — and Max’s isn’t pretty.

  13. @Jack,

    “I have never conversed with you on it”

    Oh, but you have. The Bible and Atheism (non-belief) is what you and I have conversed about and if you won’t defend the Bible’s claims you cannot object my disbelief about them.

    Atheism is the rejection of the claim that a God exists.
    I reject the Bible. It is a book of myths – like Santa Claus – it is not truth.

    You object to people disbelieving in this nonsense.
    Yet you won’t defend your Zombies either. What a predicament you are in.

  14. “secure in their theism” is equivalent to “severely deluded and almost beyond hope of being cured”

  15. No, Jack. You were being an insulting git, and philip correctly nailed you for it (plus he directly quoted you).

    Stiffen up and face up to what you did. Plain as the day.

  16. Another day, another new name for our regular board poster…..

    At least change your writing style….LOL

  17. Max, you and I never discussed Matthew 27:52. Therefore, your assertion that I “claim” it as anything is false.

    You should be grateful that you don’t have Pinocchio’s problem or your nose would be transcontinental in length.

  18. Come out from hiding under “Fredso,” and “Philip” and all the other lame names you make up for yourself, as well as the names you steal from other posters.

    And if you want to do it successfully, get a ghostwriter, because your posts all read the same way.

    Better yet, get a life….you’re on the boards more than everyone else put together.

  19. you’re not saying it’s someone whose name starts with “Fr” are you?

    I haven’t responded to you yet. some things came up. I will do it tonight, I hope.

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