Parliament General Assembly - File photo
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.
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.
As part of efforts to combat atheism, Egypt’s Youth Ministry along with Al-Azhar launched a campaign in June 2015 to face extremism and atheism called, “Weigh it with your Mind”, which aimed to send convoys of sociologists and religious preachers across Egypt to arm youth with scientific responses to atheistic claims.
In this regard, Dar al-Iftaa, Egypt’s authority tasked with releasing religious opinions, and the Council of Churches have held seminars and conferences to study and refute atheists’ arguments to spread correct religious awareness.
In October 2014, Dar al-Iftaa released a report on its website declaring that Egypt has the highest number of atheists in the Middle East as it has reached 866 out of 87 million Egyptians.
Egypt’s former Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa also said at a student conference held in September 2014 that around 12.5 percent of youth have become atheists.
This number differs as it is very hard to determine the percentage of atheists in Egypt since many of them fear declaring their beliefs lest they endanger their lives.
Recently, statistics were released from the Family Court affiliated to the Supreme Judicial Council revealing that 6,500 of women filed for a divorce in 2015 due to their husbands’ atheism as under the Personal Status Law Muslim women have the right to obtain a divorce if their husbands have denounced their religion.
The issue of atheism has been raised in Egypt particularly after the January 25 revolution as many have begun to express their thoughts freely.