A Report on Inquisitions in Egypt 2014
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albersaber.com. It is reproduced here with the permission of the author. You may also consult the original version or the Arabic version of this article on the author’s web site.
During the Inquisitional trial in which I was accused of derogating religions, I began with proving my presence, and the trial opened with my constant annunciation: “Stop the Inquisition in Egypt!”. (1) (2)
Despite this, inquisitions have not decreased, and below I present a list of some of the major Inquisitional Trials that took place in Egypt in the year 2014:
On the 5th of February 2014, famous journalist Ibrahim Issa was found innocent after an Islamic lawyer filed a case against him for derogating religions.
Note: A great deal of well-known artists, journalists, writers, and businessmen have been accused of the same crime and were freed thanks to public and international efforts. (3) (4)
On the 13th of February, 2013, the Police broke into the home of Mahmoud Abdul-Khaliq Mahmoud (a 61-year-old retired Shiite Doctor) from Talkha, Dakahlia, and proceeded to confiscate a photograph of Hasan Nasrallah, which was framed in wood inside the house, along with a number of Shiite books and CDs, and 18 round stones. He was convicted with Derogation of Religions solely for being a Shiite. (5) (6)
On the 26th of February 2014, Amr Abduallah’s sentence of five year imprisonment was upheld. This marked the first verdict on Derogation of Religions in Egypt since the declaration of the new constitution. Amr Abdullah is an Egyptian Shiite who appeared on a number of TV channels advocating the rights of Shia in Egypt. He is also a student, and the son of the former Egyptian Ambassador to Sudan. On the 14th of November, 2013, an extremist TV-known Salafist called ‘Waleed Ismail’ gathered a number of like-minded individuals to plan an assault on Amr Abdullah in the area surrounding Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo. Upon spotting Amr near that location, they assault, and physically abused, him only to later turn him in at a Police Station. The Police, in turn, accused him of Derogation of the Islamic Religion, and on the 3rd of January 2014, Amr Abduallah was sentenced to prison for five years solely on the basis of him being a Shiite- since the Shia is fundamentally different from the Sunni one. (7) (8)
On the 29th of March 2014, university student Amr Sa’d (20 years) was assaulted by a number of colleagues for being an atheist. When he got to the police to report the incident, the police discovered he is an atheist, leading them to torture him and lock him up, as well as force him to perform the Islamic prayers – stating that he would not be released unless he fully performed them. (9)
On the same day (29th of March 2014), Maryam Hamdi (a student and former Muslim, aged 18) suddenly disappeared. It was discovered later on that her father put her under house arrest after discovering her beliefs and doubts about religion, forcing her to take psychiatric medication and drugs. Maryam is forbidden to leave the house or communicate in any way with the outer world. She is forbidden to use phone or internet. When her fiancé attempted to help her, they physically assaulted him as well, as he belongs to a different religious sect. Despite reporting this incident to the police and attempting to remand it to the department of the Public Prosecutor, Maryam is still imprisoned in her own house as we speak. Unfortunately, the law gives the legal guardian full control over her until she reaches 21 years of age.
Note: due to the torture Maryam has been forced to undergo, she attempted suicide on the 23rd of March, by jumping off her house’s balcony. (10)
In April 2014, Al-Azhar Institution called for a ban on the movie “Noah”, claiming that it is offensive to the ‘Aqeeda’ and the fundamentals of Islamic Sharia, labelling it ‘Haraam’ (forbidden), and stating that it is a defilation of the fundamentals of Islamic Sharia, which are mandated by law by the constitution, which also states clearly that Al-Azhar Al-Sharif is the only reference when it comes to Islamic Affairs. (11)
On the 6th of May 2014, a group of anonymous persons assaulted Ali Amr Kamal using switchblade knives right at his front door for being an atheist, which left him with a number of incised wounds and bruises. He went to the hospital to receive medical treatment for his injuries, where he was terribly mistreated. He was abandoned by his lawyer and his police report was shredded to pieces by the police upon discovering he is an atheist. On the 17th of May 2014, after his recovery, and on his way to work for the first time after the incident, he was shot – again – in front of his house, which resulted in severe bleeding. Ali had to be hospitalized in Damanhur Public Hospital, where was forced to undergo a blood transfusion. Consequently, he had to move to an unknown location and keep a low profile to move on with his life and avoid death threats or further attempts to take his life. (12)
During the last days of May 2014, numerous people sieged the house of 30-year-old Christian Cyrils Shawqi Atallah, in Al-Aqsar area. According to the attackers, Attallah had insulted Islam, and had confessed to following an anti-Islamic Facebook page. The six persons who took part in the assault were released, while he was held captive at the Police Station. On the 24th of June 2014, he was sentenced to prison for six years and a fined 6,000 EGP. (13) (14)
On the 2nd of June 2014, Islam Al-Mahlawi, a 17 year old student in Dimyat, left his house to sit for a school exam at 10 AM, only to find a number of his friends accompanied by others claiming they heard rumours that he had left Islam. “That is none of your business,” replied Islam, but they responded angrily by stating that he should not enter their school nor walk in their country. They attacked him using knives, and it is said that even his peers who tried to break up the fight joined in upon discovering he is an atheist. He was physically assaulted not only with fists, but also with wooden planks. The assaulters proceeded to abduct him using a motorcycle, and physically abused him every time he attempted to scream for help. He was taken to pray and forced to re-convert to Islam; “You are now one of us again!” they stated, and carried him to a nearby hospital. At the hospital, Islam attempted to report the incident to the Police, but was met with harsh treatment not only from Policemen, but also from Police Officers, who locked him up for about ten hours, where he was forced to reveal the e-mail address and password associated with his personal Facebook account. They asked him to provide them with the name of an atheist he is personally familiar with and refused to return his I.D card. The next day, Islam went to school to sit for another exam, only to be kicked out by the teacher. This caused him to miss yet another yearly school test, and fail the entire school year which had to be redone later. Islam found he was unwelcome in the area in which he resided; especially that news of his atheism had spread all around. Due to his feelings of insecurity, he left the city altogether and moved to Cairo to work and lead a financially independent life. (15)
On the 5th of June 2014, writer and novelist Karam Sabir was sentenced to five years in jail over a complaint received from a Salafist, accusing him and his story collection entitled “Where is Allah?” of Derogation of Religions. (16)
On the 15th of June, Dumyanah Abdulnur, a 23-year-old Christian young woman and teacher, was sentenced to six months in prison in Al-Aqsar after a number of parents filed a complaint to the Police against her, where the Public Prosecutor called for her arrest for derogating religions and inviting people to Christianity. On the 14th of May, she had been released with a fine of 20,000 EGP, and was convicted on the 11th of June 2014 with a fine of 100,000 EGP. (17)
On the 12th of July 2014, a number of Islamists attempted to force the Minister of Culture Jabir Asfourto to give up his positional and dragged him to court for Derogation of Religions and encouraging Fitnah (a word in Islamic Fiqh meaning ‘to entice temptation’) among Egyptians. Abbas Shoman, Al-Azhar’s Deputy, accused him of calling for an atheistic mentality. (18)
On the 16th of October 2014, a number of Islamists called for the firing of Dr. Jabir Asfour from his position for contradicting the Islamic Sharia, as claimed by them, and contradicting the Institution of Al-Azhar and the Egyptian constitution in his public statements. (19), All these reports were issued because he had previously criticized the unreasonable actions and statements of radical religionists.
On the 16th of September 2014, a personal female friend of mine, Y. Th. (19 years), sent me a letter from Al-Sa’eed in Egypt, stating that her father had been planning on marrying her off and forcing her to drop out of college. When her father revealed these intentions, she came out about her atheism and her desire to finish her studies to become an independent woman. This lead her father to secretly prepare marriage documents without her knowledge, and then physically assault her and tie her up in her room, while giving her the option of either living as a prisoner, or marriage. She refused to be married off, and vowed not to let any future husband lay hands on her, which drove her father to lock her up at a Nunnery. The next day, she wrote to me again saying that her father had indeed sent her to a Nunnery and had registered her as “a person vowed to serve religion only”, that she is in a confined place with locked doors, is being monitored by a number of women, and is unable to message me without difficulty. On the next day, when her father arrived for a visit, she told him she reconverted to Christianity, and after a lengthy discussion, her father agreed to take her back home and postpone the marriage arrangements until she finishes college. Indeed, on the 19th of September 2014, she wrote to me again telling me her father agreed to have her back at the house after nullifying all Nunnery papers. My friend returned to studying while avoiding any further incident that might tempt her father to lock her up again.
Note: the Egyptian Constitution states that a father has legal custody over his daughter until the age of 21. (20)
Sherif Gaber, an Egyptian student aged 20, born date February 10, 1993. He is studying Arts Department at Suez University,and lives in the city of Ismailia, Egypt, He was arrested at 3 o’clock a.m. from his home on Sunday, October 27, 2013. In the beginning of April 2013, some students submited papers published by Sharif on his FB. One of the lecturers intervened and deliberately insulted Sharif during a lecture in front of the students and promised to escalate the matter to the head of the department and the university president, and start collecting signatures on a petition to remove Sharif from the university. And indeed, the head of the department summoned Sharif and spoke with him to understand Sharif’s thinking and promised Sharif to stand by him. But the institute filed a complaint with the Attorney General and the State Security arrested Sharif at his home at 3 am, Sunday and on Wednesday, October 30, 2013 a judge renewed his imprisonment for 15 days, And he was released on December 5, 2013 with a bail of 5000 Egyptian pounds. He is still under trial, the last court session was on September 27, 2014 and was adjourned until December 20, 2014. (21) (22) (23)
On the 25th of October 2014, a number of individuals came up to testify against Ahmad Hussein Harkan, a 30-year old atheist from Alexandria, for the crime of Derogation of Religions. Protective Security Forces planned an ambush against him, disguising as civilians and assaulting Ahmed and his pregnant wife in front of their own place of residence. When both Ahmed and his wife visited the closest Police Station to report the incident, they were assaulted again and sent to the Dakhila Police Department and later to the Department of the Public Prosecutor. The same fate met their friend Karim Jimmy, until all three arrived at the Public Prosecutor’s office where they were treated with great disgust and disrespect; things were so terrible that the Public Prosecutor’s agent forbade their private lawyer from speaking and kicked him out of the building. They were then transferred back to the department and released on the afternoon of the next day. Later, the District Attorney issued an order to continue the hearing at the Public Prosecutor’s Office. At this time, Ahmed lives under constantdeath threats, where radical extremists have pledged to either succeed at legally prosecuting him, or end up taking his life. (24) (25) (26) (27) (28) (29)
Forms of discrimination against atheists by the authorities:
- Advocates: “Arresting atheists is against the constitution and a disgrace to Egypt” – 27 March 2014
- “The Government rages a war against Atheism” – 11 July 2014.
- “Egypt fights Atheism” – 1st August 2014.
- Sheikh Al-Azhar: “The atheism phenomenon is a great ordeal facing this country and corrupting its youth” – Friday, 10th of October 2014.
- “Sheikh Al-Azhar warns the country of the spread of Atheism.” – Tuesday, 14th of October 2014.
Summary & Conclusion; problems and solutions:
This issue can be summed up as follows:
First: The Law; the first and foremost problem for religious minorities in Egypt is the constitution that proclaims Egypt as an Islamic country, where Islam is the source of legislation. Following the constitution, numerous over-generalized laws were created, which allow the state to go after any persons opposing them. The most common of these laws is Article 98, which states that criticizing religion or religious figures is an act of extremism, a ‘Fitnah’, and a threat to national security. Despite that the article states that the punishment should not exceed a maximum of five years of imprisonment and a fine of 1000 EGP; we often find that Judges sentence those found guilty with six years of imprisonment and a fine of 100,000EGP.
Additionally, the constitution and law do not allow civil marriages, but force couples to get marriages through religious institutions only. Moreover, new-borns are given the religion of the parents the moment they are born, and it is forbidden by law to wipe religion off a person’s I.D card or convert to another religion. It is evident that Egypt is still lingering in the MiddleAges while the rest of the world has already hit the 21st century.
Second: The Police; Policemen treat religious minorities in a violent and uncivilized conduct due to decreased awareness and tolerance levels. Such behaviour was very clear in the cases of Amr Kamal, Amr Sa’d, Ibrahim Al-Mahlawi, and Ahmed Harqan.
Third: The Media; visual media has sadly been reporting news on atheist and Shia with discrimination, bias, and disdain. The media has portrayed atheists as mentally-troubled sociopaths, and have publicly mocked them on TV shows with targeted hate speech. Some presenters even called for their arrest and trial on air. Print media has not treated them much differently, putting great pressures on news reporters, as well as firing and arresting a number of news presenters, writers, and journalists. This reflects the country’s decline in rights in general.
Fourth: Society; the Egyptian society still suffers from a general atmosphere of ignorance and illiteracy, and a sharp decline in the levels of intellectuality and the quality of school curriculums. The constant bias presented through media outlets has caused the masses to attempt to murder and torture ‘the other’, whether in the year 2014 or as far back as 2011. This is shown clearly in many cases, including one incident where the Shiite Sheikh Hasan Shihate was physically assaulted, dragged, tortured, and killed, followed by the maiming of his body.
Some individuals seek fame and media exposure by reporting famous figures or common people and accusing them of derogating religions. The crime of Derogating of Religions is used as a weapon against any person they may find unfavourable or may disagree with. Unfortunately, all cases of Derogating of Religions are investigated directly after someone issues a complaint to the Police or the Public Prosecutor, where the Public Prosecutor’s Office directly orders the arrest of the accused persons. Usually, if the ones accused are well-known figures, they walk free after paying a fine, while common citizens are not released, but kept imprisoned until trial. We only have very few cases where common citizens walked free before the day of t
heir trial. This gives haters the chance to lock undesirable people away from society with great ease, using a single meaningless piece of paper or sending a complaint to the Public Prosecutor, turning this unethical law into a weapon that could be used against anyone.
Fifth: Religious Minorities; as an outcome of the constant intolerance, discrimination, and violence faced by these minorities, they have developed feelings of insecurity and lack of belonging, and live in constant fear of being beaten up, tortured, imprisoned, or murdered. This has led many to leave the country or stay on a low profile to avoid trouble, and many are forced to endure depression and psychological illnesses initiated by these ordeals.
A number of proposed solutions in my personal opinion:
First: The Law; Derogation of Religions should be removed from the Egyptian Law, for it has turned into a weapon readily available for radicals and moderates alike to strike down their opponents, who are fined very small amounts of money in cases where they verbally abuse those whom they issue complaints against. Such fines do not exceed the limit of 100 EGP in case they were proven guilty of this minimal crime.
Moreover, all articles stating that any sort of religion can rule the lives of citizens should be removed as well, as it has turned into a tool of discrimination against citizens on the basis of religion and/or creed. The Law should instead criminalize any act of hate speech or discrimination.
Religion should be wiped off I.D cards and legal documents – as these are used to discriminate against citizens on the basis of religion. Civil marriage should be made legal, and the country should abide by the International Human Rights Treaties it had previously signed, as well as elevating the role of the civil society.
Second: The Police; there is an urgent need to change the Police’s approaches toward establishing safety in the community, and end the prosecution of those who hold uncommon ideologies or belong to different religions or religious denominations. The Police should abide by International Standards of Human Rights, and protect the dignity and humanity of citizens, which can be established through intensive training courses held by legal experts, trainers, and institutions specialized in law.
Third; Media, the Ministry of Education, and Religious Institutions; it is the duty of the Government, Civil Society organizations, and political parties to nurture an atmosphere of social dialogue which aims to educate society on tolerating cultural, religious, or intellectual varieties, and raise awareness on why different people should not be excluded from society and labelled ‘traitors’, ‘infidels’, ‘spies’, ‘mentally ill’, and whatever other labels previously advertised by authorities. These institutions should approach this issue with an open mind and heart.
Thank you for your attention.
Written and documented by: ALBER SABER
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