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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs