News / Middle East

    Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailed

    Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailedi
    X
    December 05, 2013 5:23 AM
    In Egypt, key points of difference often revolve around religion. These central questions often leave little room for those who have no religious beliefs. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott has more from Cairo.
    Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailed
    Elizabeth Arrott
    In Egypt, key points of difference often revolve around religion: did the rule of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi threaten to radicalize the deeply conservative country? Will minority Christians find the protection they have so long sought? These central questions often leave little room for those who have no religious beliefs. As Egypt undergoes profound change, atheists are trying to be heard, arguing tolerance could be a true test of Egyptian modernity.

    Across Egypt, from the call to prayer sounding from the mosques five times a day, to the sermons of Christian churches, religion permeates daily life.

    For most, it is a faith that must be never broken. Leaders of the nation's Christian minority make it almost impossible for Christians to leave the church. For Egypt's Muslims, a Pew Research survey finds nearly 90 percent believe those who leave Islam should be killed.
    • Former Christian Milad Soliman says he became an atheist after he entered university. He still has a small Coptic cross tattooed on his wrist, Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
    • Former Muslim Ismail Mohamed says he has to work at his family's laundromat because it is impossible for him, as an atheist, to be employed anywhere else, Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
    • Former Salafi Muslim Ahmed Hussein did not know what an atheist was until he first opened a Facebook account at the age of 27, Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)
    • Former Christian Ayman Ramzi is the lone atheist in his family. His wife and daughter are practicing Christians. He jokes, "They have their church and I have my Facebook." Oct. 25, 2013, Cairo. (Yuli Weeks for VOA)

    Recently, four men who believe in neither Islam or Christianity - or indeed any religion - met to discuss the difficulties of being atheist in Egypt. They are well aware of the dangers, but they want to speak out - not against religion, but for their right to not have one.

    Ahmed Hussein, from a strict Salafi Muslim family, began to have religious doubts as a teen. He told others only in recent years.

    Watch related video of interview with Egyptian atheists:

    VOA's Elizabeth Arrott interviews Egyptian atheistsi
    || 0:00:00
    ...  
     
    X
    Elizabeth Arrott
    December 06, 2013 2:22 AM
    VOA's Elizabeth Arrott interviews Egyptian atheists

    Hussein describes how his mother simply collapsed at the news. His sheikh sent him to a psychiatrist, who said he was not insane - just an atheist. His sheikh rejected the diagnosis.

    Hussein describes how his sheikh insisted that he suffered the “sickness of doubt.” He believes his sheikh made that up to protect him from the death sentence apostasy can be. The state does not criminalize atheism as such, but its law against “insults to religion” often amounts to the same thing.

    The jailing of online atheists led Ismail Mohamed, at the time a moderate Muslim, to explore the subject. He knew little about atheism but the arrests seemed to him unfair.

    Mohamed said online research was the first spark to understanding of not just atheism, but science as well. In school, he said, evolution was mentioned, but only to serve religious principles.

    For the other two in the group, Milad Soliman and Ayman Nakhla, both former Christians, questions also led to exploration. The Internet opened a new world, bringing together people - their exact numbers unknown - who thought they were alone.

    A few days after speaking with VOA, Ismail Mohamed went further - appearing on Egyptian television.

    He was pilloried by the host and call-in guests, but his very appearance was a breakthrough. Political analyst and long-time rights advocate Hisham Kassem couldn’t believe his eyes.

    “This man, young man, was sitting there confidently making his case. I was sitting there amazed. I never thought I will see this in my lifetime,” said Kassem.

    However, there are many hurdles still to be overcome. Ayman Nakhla was among a group of atheists calling for the new draft constitution to be secular - a request rejected out of hand. Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo expects a greater divide between religion and the state in the future, but perhaps not now.

    “You need to have the separation of the state and the church [religion], But it needs a lot of education and a lot of enlightenment and I think it is happening already,” said Naklha.

    The former Salafist Hussein agrees, and predicts that Egypt's younger generation is already more open to the idea because of their willingness to talk with one another openly, both in person and online.

    But even as these four men try to help educate others on the universal right to freedom of thought and belief, their fellow atheists continue to be jailed.

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: maggie from: canada
    December 06, 2013 1:17 PM
    Ok these people are free to believe whatever. I am a Muslim and I am happy in my faith. Neither Islam or Christanity are dangrrous ...people just lack knowledge. Anyways freedom to all.

    by: pop from: egypt
    December 05, 2013 6:04 PM
    Islam is the cancer of this world ... wake up .. I live in Egypt .. for me Christianity is a superstitious like Islam but its not that dangerous .. Islam is so so so so so so dangerous.
    In Response

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    December 06, 2013 1:01 AM
    Pop, please do not try to show that only Islam is more cancerous than Christianity, that's a lie! Both religions are equally dangerous, equally evil and furthermore, equally bogus !

    by: Muhamad from: Egypt
    December 05, 2013 10:59 AM
    they call themselves "Atheists" ?? they look like something else to me...

    by: Amr Aladdin from: Finland
    December 05, 2013 10:30 AM
    Proud to have you as friends, guys! Speak up and someday people will not have to leave Egypt for freedom.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora