It may soon be a criminal offense to be an atheist in Egypt.
Shortly before New Year’s Day, the Egyptian Parliament considered enacting a law that would make it illegal to profess no belief in God. It is already against Egyptian law to “insult” or “defame” religion, and blasphemy arrests are on the rise. A conviction can bring up to five years in prison.
The new measure would criminalize the act of not believing in God — no insults or defamation of another faith required.
The legislation was proposed Dec. 24 by Amro Hamroush, head of the Parliament’s committee on religion who said,
“It must be criminalized and categorized as contempt of religion because atheists have no doctrine and try to insult the Abrahamic religions.”
The legislation has the support of Egypt’s highest Islamic religious organization, the Al-Azhar. Mohamed Zaki, an Al-Azhar official, called it necessary “to punish those who have been seduced into atheism.”
The Egyptian government has long punished blasphemy and has targeted atheists since the 2014 inauguration of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. At that time — three years after the 2011 revolution that ousted longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — the government announced a national plan to “confront and eliminate”