Ahmed al-Tayeb - File photo
CAIRO – 25 June 2017: Al-Azhar plans to submit a draft law opposing hate speech and violence conducted in the name of religion to Parliament, the mosque’s Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb announced on Wednesday.
The first draft of the law was completed on Tuesday by an Al-Azhar committee and published through different media outlets.
Egypt Today interviewed Dr. Ashour Abdelrahman, a professor at the Sharia and Law College of Al-Azhar University in Tanta and a member of the committee who worked on the draft.
First, we want to know when did the committee start working on the draft?
The committee was formed of consultant Mohamed Abdel Salam at its head and five members from different legal specializations - constitutional, criminal, administrative and civilian. We started working on this draft about two months ago.
What were the main sources the committee consulted when preparing this draft?
We appreciated that we were working on a very sensitive issue when drafting the law because it relates to people’s rights and freedom. We were thus very keen to review relevant national and international documents and references such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 2014 Egyptian Constitution and Egyptian criminal law. We also checked similar laws that confront hate speech in other Arab and foreign countries like Jordan, Morocco, UAE and France.
Did the committee consult any representatives from civil society or other religious bodies?
There is a real need for this law to be instituted in our country, so we worked to finish the draft in order to facilitate later interaction with the community. The national legislative power has the authority to issue this law or not.
Why did the draft not mention any legal penalties for the crime of hate speech and leave this to the decision of a specialized authority?
Al-Azhar is not a specialized legislative authority so is therefore unable to issue legal penalties for crimes. This draft was made to send the message to the whole world that Al-Azhar spreads a culture of moderation and coexistence and disregards violence.
This draft indentifies ‘religions’ as Islam, Christianity and Judaism and aims to prevent insult to these faiths and their followers. Why does it not incriminate hate speech towards any person, whether they are a believer or not?
This is a misunderstanding of the law; preventing hate speech towards religions and believers of these religions who constitute about 95 percent of Egyptian society does not mean that we allow hate speech towards others. Al-Azhar holds a message of peace for the whole world no matter their beliefs.
The draft law prevents the discussion of religious creeds in different media outlets. What does it mean by ‘religious creeds’ and does this prevention apply to discussing and criticizing books of old religious thinkers, religious heritage and different religious doctrines?
Religious creed refers to what a person believes in according to what is formally ascribed by his religion. For sure, criticizing such books is not prohibited as long as it is presented in a reasonable and respectful way that does not provoke intolerance or hatred.
Are social media accounts considered as a ‘means of publication’ that is mentioned by the draft?
‘Means of publication’ are defined by Article 71 of Egyptian criminal law. As long as social media platforms are a means of publication that can reach different people, it is considered a ‘media outlet’ which will be counted under that law if it was issued formally.
Article 5 in this draft mentioned that this law would be applied to any person who is outside Egypt when violating the law but the effect of their action still occurs inside the country. Does this article target anyone, or only Egyptians?
This article means that this law applies to any Egyptian citizen who condemns religion when outside the country, or perpetrates an action that is considered a crime according to this law and its affect occurs in Egypt.