Atheist mother loses custody of children in Egypt

A court in Egypt has separated a mother from her two children because she is an atheist. The decision to refuse custody of the children came from a family court in Cairo last Sunday, Radio France Internationale (RFI) reports.

RFI gives no further details of the case but notes that it comes in the midst of a nationwide crackdown on atheism. In Egyptian media, disbelief in God is increasingly presented as a form of extremism which threatens national security.

This week's court ruling is thought to be the first child custody case hinging on a parent's atheism but it is not entirely unprecedented.

In 2009, a 73-year-old Egyptian Muslim man was awarded custody of his seven-year-old grandson because the boy’s parents had changed their religion, converting to the Baha’i faith. 

The grandfather, Mohammad Abdul Fatah, said he had gone to court after seeking advice from Egypt’s Grand Mufti: “He advised me to consider my daughter dead, and to file a lawsuit to demand the guardianship of my grandchild.” The court ruling could not be enforced, however, as the parents had already emigrated with their son.

Supporter of 'Big Bang' theory arrested

In a separate case, 29-year-old Ibrahim Khalil, who is alleged to have advocated the Big Bang theory about the origins of the universe, has been detained since December 21 on charges of contempt for religions.

He is accused of running an atheist group on Facebook where he allegedly "distorted" verses from the Qur'an and stated that the Earth's existence is "the result of a cosmic explosion". This, of course, is the prevailing scientific view of how the universe began and treating belief in it as evidence of criminality looks like a new attempt to extend the legal definition of "contempt for religions".

Mada Masr reports that security forces arrested Khalil at a cafe in the Dokki district of Cairo. He had told friends he was going there to meet some television producers who wanted to interview him. When he failed to return home his cousin and friends began enquiring at police stations and eventually found he had been detained in Dokki.

He was initially held for four days pending investigations, and his detention has since been extended for a further 15 days.

According to one Egyptian news report he had set up a Facebook for atheists which has 34,000 members, but so far there is no confirmation of this. Arab atheists living outside Egypt doubt that he could have been running such a large group without them noticing it.