Atheists in Egypt

One of the really exciting things going on in atheism are the growing number of Muslims deconverting and becoming atheists. That can be dangerous enough in America — I have ex-Muslim friends who have to hide their disbelief even here — but in Egypt, where atheists are imprisoned, it takes enormous courage even to be open about it privately with one’s friends. Al Jazeera has a story about a group of Egyptian atheists.

Atheists are uncommon in Egypt, and reliable statistics on their numbers are unavailable because of the lack of research and an unwillingness to admit one’s atheism. However, both atheists and religious people in Egypt agree that atheism has recently become a more prominent issue in the country.

“I never knew there were any atheists in Alexandria until 2011, after the revolution. Before the revolution, all this time, I was thinking that I am the only one here,” recalled 30-year-old Gabr.

“It was very lonely. My computer was my world. Until 2011, I was just contacting foreign people and almost stopped contact with Egyptian people. You feel like you are so different, you are against everything religious people say, you can’t meet them in the middle.”…

Gabr is a member of an atheist group that meets up for drinks and goes to concerts together. When the group began in 2011, it had three or four members. Now it has close to 100, including men and women, ex-Muslims and ex-Christians.

“All of them are angry, in a way that you can’t imagine,” he said. “They insult everything.” Gabr claimed he has received threats from people on Facebook threatening to kill him with a sword. “I don’t take these messages seriously,” he said. “For me, it is pathetic. I see them as victims.” Nevertheless, he did not want to use his real name for this article.

For atheists and those perceived to be critical of religion in Egypt, the threat of violence and persecution is real. Although atheism is not technically illegal in Egypt, its penal code criminalises “contempt of heavenly religions”, desecrating religious symbols and mocking religious rites in public.

I can only hope that someday they have the freedom to be atheist in the open. The danger is not just from the government:

The authorities, Egyptian atheists say, are not the only danger they face. “I’m not afraid of the government, I’m afraid of the people. Society is the problem,” said 28-year-old Ayman Emam.

About a year ago, Emam set up a Facebook page called “Egyptian Atheists Community” in Cairo. The group has 15 members and includes former Muslims and Christians. He described the page as an attempt to draw attention to the threats and persecution faced by atheists in Egypt, from Christians as well as Muslims.

When asked how atheists are treated, he replied: “It depends on your luck. You can be an atheist and telling people, and nothing can happen to you. Or you can be fired from work, your life can be destroyed, acts of violence can be taken against you. It depends where you are, the circle of people around you. For me, the people at work don’t know. The people at school didn’t know. You have to keep your opinions to yourself. It’s a stressful situation.”

Kind of helps us put things in perspective.

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  • Michael Brew

    Guess this means we should wrap up the whole “atheist activism” thing in countries like America, then, since – as certain atheist figureheads have implied – you can’t be an activist for better treatment of disadvantaged groups in any country except the ones where the treatment is worst.

  • laurentweppe

    I never knew there were any atheists in Alexandria until 2011, after the revolution

    But but but, Mubarak was an enlightened hero of secularism who protected the Western World from Al Quaeda and the Evil Islamist Rubes. That’s what American Pundits said and they’re never wrong!