Sisi's Egypt to 'eliminate' atheism

Following Saudi Arabia's absurd decision to outlaw "calling for atheist thought" on the grounds that it is a form of terrorism, Egypt is trying a different approach.

Labelling Egyptian atheists as terrorists might be just a bit too confusing because the Sisi regime has already allocated the Muslim Brotherhood to the terrorism slot.

Instead, the government is preparing to launch "a national plan to confront the phenomenon of atheism". 

Atheists have become increasingly visible in Egypt since the 2011 revolution and have been using social media to explain their point of view. For example, one Egyptian atheist, Ismail Mohamed, presents a regular talk show on YouTube called Black Ducks.

Since the military takeover in Egypt last year, the official line has been to regard atheism as a social problem, much like crime or drug-taking, and to blame it on the Muslim Brotherhood for giving Islam a bad name.

Several atheists have appeared on mainstream TV programmes, only to be pilloried by their interviewer and abused by viewers.

When an Arabic satellite channel known as Honest TV decided to tackle atheism in its Redline talk show, the show’s host, Mohamed Moussa, explained that the programme was part of a war against “destructive ideas”, since atheism is a foreign plot. 

Mostafa Zakareya, an atheist from Alexandria who had bravely (or perhaps foolishly) agreed to appear in the programme told viewers he had no desire to “insult religions” but simply wanted Egyptians to accept him as an atheist. 

“I’m not here to say that Islam is bad or to criticize religion, I’m here to say that everyone is free to choose his faith, and that people should understand that religious beliefs should remain personal,” he said. “We need to deal with each other as humans.”

Responding to Zakareya’s remarks, Sheikh Gomaa Mohamed Ali, a well-known cleric, called for him to be arrested and executed. The sheikh claimed that atheism is a “new phenomenon” that has been “coined by the Zionists”. 

Not to be outdone – and despite the fact that atheism is not actually illegal in Egypt – the head of Alexandria’s Security Directorate also told the programme he was forming a task force of police officers specialised in tackling such “crimes” to round up atheists. 

Ayman Ramzy Nakhla, a college librarian who had abandoned Christianity, was also interviewed on al-Nahar TV by Reham Said who, noting his occupation, suggested he had become "confused" by reading too many books

A few weeks later, the education minister announced that Nakhla was being suspended from work in the college library and referred to the public prosecutor for spreading ideas that were “atheistic and abnormal for Egyptian society”. He was accused of “denying the existence of God and denying religions, prophets and holy books, directly by satellite and indirectly within the educational institution”. 

According to al-Ahram, the forthcoming national plan to "confront and eliminate" atheism in Egypt is being developed by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. This may seem odd, but atheism in the Arab countries is often viewed as a "problem" that temporarily affects young people, until they eventually see sense. (A Saudi atheist in his late forties recently told me that his family are still assuming he will grow out of it.)

Al-Ahram reports that the "phenomenon of atheism" has been discussed by Ne'mat Sati from the Ministry of Youth and Sports, Dr Ahmed Turk from the Ministry of Awqaf and Dr Majid Ayad, a professor of artificial intelligence. The newspaper says this was the second in a series of meetings to prepare the national plan.The plan, apparently, will be multi-faceted, involving "religious, psychological, educational and social" specialists. 
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Thursday, 19 June 2014