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Egypt considers outlawing atheism and is already arresting nonbelievers.
Lawmakers in Egypt are seriously considering passing a law that would make atheism illegal. Blasphemy is already illegal in Egypt, and people are frequently arrested for insulting or defaming religion under the country’s strict laws. The newly proposed rule would make it illegal for people not to believe in God, even if they don’t talk about it.
“The phenomenon [of atheism] is being promoted in society as freedom of belief, when this is totally wrong,” Amro Hamroush, head of Egypt’s Parliament’s committee on religion, said when he introduced the bill in late December.
“[Atheism] must be criminalized and categorized as contempt of religion because atheists have no doctrine and try to insult the Abrahamic religions,” he wrote in the local daily paper Al-Shorouq.
On Thursday, the Committee on Religion announced it would prepare an explanatory note on the draft law in the coming days. It is unclear how authorities would determine who is an atheist if the person does not speak about it.
Egypt’s highest Islamic religious organization, Al-Azhar, supports the proposed law, and its top officials said it would work to punish those who had been “seduced” by atheism.
According to Egypt’s blasphemy law, which was included in the country’s penal code in 1982, a person can go to prison for up to five years if he or she uses religion to “promote, through speech, writing or any other medium, extremist ideas with the aim of spreading discord,” or “belittle[s] or disdain[s] one of the monotheistic religions or their different sects, or to harm national unity.”
Egypt started targeting atheists more vigorously shortly after the 2014 inauguration of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. The new government announced a plan to “confront and eliminate” atheism. Some officials even described atheism as one of the biggest threats facing Egypt.
Today, local media claims that Egyptian society is facing a “moral panic” due to sexualized images in the media and an increase in homosexuality. Last month, politicians proposed a law that would criminalize homosexuality, and authorities arrested a pop singer for appearing in a music video wearing lingerie and eating a banana suggestively.
Most recently, Egyptian security forces arrested a 29-year-old computer science graduate for administrating a Facebook page that promoted atheism. He is being held awaiting further investigation.
No other country officially outlaws atheism, but people can be put to death for blasphemy or apostasy in at least 13 countries, according to the International Humanist and Ethical Union in London. The countries with the harshest laws for blasphemy and apostasy are Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.