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

Hezbollah Chief Says Does Not Want War But Ready for One

VOA's Jerusalem correspondent reports that with an Israeli election looming and Hezbollah's involvement in Syria, neither side appears interested in a wider conflict More

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: Despite Danger, Best US Minds Battle Deadly Virus

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race in military confinement to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey 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.
Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unresti
X
Heather Murdock
January 30, 2015 8:00 PM
Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Egypt plans to expand the Suez Canal, raising hopes that the end of its economic crisis may be in sight. But some analysts say they expect the project may cost too much and take too long to make life better for everyday Egyptians. VOA's Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Threat of Creeping Lava Has Hawaiians on Edge

Residents of the small town of Pahoa on the Big Island of Hawaii face an advancing threat from the Kilauea volcano. Local residents are keeping a watchful eye on creeping lava. Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Pro-Kremlin Youth Group Creatively Promotes 'Patriotic' Propaganda

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin faces international pressure over Ukraine and a failing economy, unofficial domestic groups are rallying to his support. One such youth organization, CET, or Network, uses creative multimedia to appeal to Russia's urban youth with patriotic propaganda. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Mobile Infrared Scanners May Help Homeowners Save Energy

Mobile photo scanners have been successfully employed for navigational purposes, such as Google Maps. Now, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the same technology could help homeowners better insulate their houses and save some money. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Issues or Ethnicity? Question Divides Nigeria

As Nigeria goes to the polls next month, many expect the two top presidential contenders to gain much of their support from constituencies organized along ethnic or religious lines. But are faith and regional blocs really what political power in Nigeria is about? Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid