In the News: Egypt to Ban Atheism

Egypt’s parliament takes serious actions to combat atheism, Marina Gamil, Egypt Today, 2018-01-04

CAIRO – 4 January 2018: Parliament’s Committee on Religion is about to prepare an explanatory note on the draft law to criminalize atheism in Egypt, amongst several steps Egypt takes to combat atheism, said on Thursday the head of committee, Amr Hamroush.

The law consists of four articles; the first defines atheism; the second criminalizes atheism and imposes severe sanctions on atheists; the third stipulates that the penalties would be cancelled if a person eschews his atheist beliefs and the fourth one dictates that the penalties declared in the law are severe.

Hamroush said that he will discuss with Al-Azhar scientists and experts the penalties and the necessary articles in the new legislation that are needed to combat this phenomenon that widely spread in Egypt in recent years.

Previously, a blasphemy law was added to the penal code in 1982 that stipulates prison sentences of six months to five years to “anyone who uses religion to promote, through speech, writing, or any other medium, extremist ideas with the aim of spreading discord or to belittle or disdain one of the monotheistic religions or their different sects, or to harm national unity.” It is important to note that atheism has not been mentioned directly in the constitution; hence, atheists are convicted under the blasphemy law.

Combating atheism

Recently, atheism has become a trending topic in the media as many TV shows have hosted many debates between Christian priests and Muslim sheikhs along with atheists to discuss the main reasons behind abandoning faiths. From 2011 to 2013, Egyptian courts convicted 27 of 42 defendants for declaring atheism, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). Furthermore, a 21-year-old student, Karim Ashraf Mohamed al-Banna, was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2014 for announcing on Facebook that he was an atheist. Police then raided an atheist café and closed it down. Recently, Egyptian Security Forces arrested a 29-year-old computer science graduate, Ibrahim Khalil, on December 21 for administrating a Facebook page that promotes atheism. […]

This is an extreme manifestation of atheophobia, in a country where respect for freedom of conscience is practically non-existent. Although apostasy is not explicitly criminalized in Egypt, apostates (those who leave Islam) risk severe persecution, such as accusations of “blasphemy” or “defaming religion.” These are consequences of the fact that Islam is the state religion.

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