Over the past few weeks Egypt's parliamentary committee on religion has been preparing to draft a new law criminalizing atheism.
While atheists in Egypt have long dealt with persecution by authorities and fellow citizens, there has never been a specific law against atheism. A 1981 amendment to Egypt's penal code, Article 98 (f), was enacted to stop people from "insulting religion." That law has been used previously by the government when dealing with atheists, at least until now.
Article 98 (f), or the anti-blasphemy law, states, “whoever exploits religion in order to promote extremist ideologies by word of mouth, in writing or in any other manner, with seditious intent, disparaging or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or threatening national unity, shall be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years, or pay a fine of at least 500 Egyptian pounds.”
This law has been used to punish atheists over the last several years. Just last month, Ibrahim Khalil, 29, was arrested and charged with "defaming religion" for running an atheist Facebook page. Atheists are not the only ones suffering under the law, the Egyptian government has garnered a lot of criticism for abusing the law over the last few years as blasphemy convictions have increased.
The committee on religion in the Egyptian parliament is led by Amr Hamroush. In discussing his motivation for creating a law to specifically criminalize atheism, Hamroush said, "Atheism rates are on the rise in Egypt. It is a dangerous trend that needs to be curtailed as it threatens the very fabric of our society." Yes, people lacking a belief in God are tearing apart the very fabric of society... great job, Amr.
Egypt is a conservative Muslim country. Back in October I covered the Egyptian government's crackdown on the LGBTQ community. As with their persecution of atheists, there has been no specific law against homosexuality, instead the Egyptian government classifies it as "debauchery" and persecutes homosexuals under a 50-year-old anti-prostitution law.
Hamroush's new anti-atheism law will consist of four articles. The first article defines atheism, no word yet on what that definition will be. The second article criminalizes atheism and applies severe punishment to those convicted. The third article allows for the penalties to be cancelled if a person disavows their atheist beliefs. The fourth article requires that the punishments detailed in the law be severe.
Egypt's population is roughly 90% Muslim and 10% Christian, and has grown increasingly conservative over the last decade or so. To see this kind of persecution of freethinkers, secularists, and atheists in an area of the world that is riddled with strife is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking.