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Jun 20 2013

More Blasphemy Convictions in Egypt

The government in Egypt continues to destroy the notion of free speech and send people to prison for “insulting” religion, and not just Islam. They convicted a reactionary Muslim Imam for tearing up a Bible and sentenced him to a very long prison term:

An Islamist preacher was sentenced to 11 years in prison with hard labour on Sunday for contempt of religion, tearing up the Bible, and “disturbing peace and security.”

The verdict was handed down by the Nasr City Misdemenours Court on Sunday, according to state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper. Conservative preacher Ahmed Abdallah, popularly known as “Abu Islam,” was given five years for ripping up a Bible, three years for insulting religion, and an additional three for disturbing public peace. He was also given an EGP 3,000 fine. However, Abu Islam’s verdict will be suspended pending his upcoming appeal.

His son Islam Abdallah, also known as Abu Youssef, was sentenced to eight years in prison and an EGP 2,000 fine in the same case for participating in the tearing up of the Bible and disturbing the public peace.

And also convicted a Coptic Christian teacher for insulting Islam:

Luxor’s Misdemeanour Court on Tuesday ordered that a teacher convicted of contempt of religion pay a fine of EGP100, 000, in a verdict handed down by presiding Judge Mohamed El-Tamawi.

Demiana Abdel Nour, a 24-year-old social studies teacher in Luxor, was summoned by the public prosecutor on 8 May after parents of three students at Sheikh Sultan Primary School filed complaints claiming that Abdel Nour insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by saying that the late Pope Shenouda III performed more miracles than the Prophet. They added that she placed her hand on her stomach to convey nausea when mentioning the Prophet.

Interesting that the anti-Christian protest brought a much harsher sentence than the allegedly anti-Muslim statements. But both are absolutely unjust and a violation of basic human rights.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Alverant

    I guess it could be said that destroying a physical object is worse than some words.

  2. 2
    mkoormtbaalt

    I’ve spent time in the Middle East, specifically Saudi Arabia. In the Kingdom they apply Sharia Law, which dictates that the punishment must be based on intent. If a poor man steals bread to feed his starving family, there should be no punishment and the community should help him to feed his family. If a wealthy man steals a bag of chips because he forgot his wallet, his arm should be lopped off. The difference between the two is that the poor man intended to feed his family, while the rich man was simply greedy and gluttonous.

    I don’t know that Egypt follows Sharia Law, but, even if they do not, I would imagine that their cultural bonds would inform punishments. It sounds like the court believed that the Imam’s intent was to violate the law, to spread hatred, and to denigrate a religion, whereas another court decided that the Christian was not trying to disturb the peace. It’s all sickening and maddening, but I think that would account for the difference in punishments.

  3. 3
    Olav

    Mkoormtbaalt,

    There isn’t a single version of sharia law that all islamic countries (or even all groups within those countries) agree on. So even if Egypt had a “sharia” law system, it would still not be obliged to follow Saudi legal reasoning, at all.

    Of course Egypt’s system of law is not (officially) sharia anyway. It’s a mix of things, mostly inherited from colonial times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judiciary_of_Egypt

    The justice system in Egypt is also quite chaotic. There does not need to be a real reason for similar cases to have vastly different outcomes. If the judge of the day is corrupt or has a toothache or does not like the way you look, you may well be out of luck.

    On top of that I could see how some judges would be inclined to give harsher penalties for “blasphemy” by Muslims against Christians, as a form of misguided overcompensation toward an important minority.

  4. 4
    mkoormtbaalt

    Olav,
    Sharia Law refers to law based on the Quran and the recorded actions of Muhammad. Like any codified law, it can be interpreted differently and the parts that those in charge don’t like will be ignored. If their leaders say that Egypt is a Muslim nation and enforce Islamic morals, they are likely enforcing Sharia Law. In Saudi, they interpret the Quran as stating that the penalty for a crime should match the motive.

    Egypt is a mess right now. I understand that corruption is rife and that standards are difficult to maintain. That is an unfortunate side effect of their recent rebellion against a tyrant.

  5. 5
    Robert B.

    Egypt had more colonial times than most to inherit laws from – I believe the first European power to colonize Egypt was Macedon.

  6. 6
    abb3w

    I wonder if this sort of ecumenicism on blasphemy has historical parallels, which might signify a very early stage of a process of secularization. (Anyone know an expert on European religious history circa 1400-1800?) Not that ecumenical prosecution seems a satisfactory historical terminus; but it does seem a slight improvement over only prosecuting blasphemy against one particular strain of religion.

  7. 7
    gopiballava

    My guess is that they’re trying to send a message to the anti-Coptic agitators that they need to stop attacking their fellow Egyptians. There’s a sizable Coptic minority in Egypt but recently there’s been some violence against them.

    Standard Mulsim doctrine is that Jesus was a prophet, but that the Bible has simply gotten corrupted and Christians are confused but well-meaning. (Bah’ai are persecuted because they believe there was another prophet after Mohhamed, which is blasphemy).

    I think that the Coptic community might have a lot of the educated, professional class, which would give the government a reason to want to keep them happy and not emigrating. But I’m not positive about that.

  8. 8
    Olav

    Mkoormtbaalt:

    Sharia Law refers to law based on the Quran and the recorded actions of Muhammad.

    Well, yes. “Based on” is exactly right. But still that only tells us that it is subject to extreme variations in interpretation.

    Like any codified law, it can be interpreted differently and the parts that those in charge don’t like will be ignored.

    But sharia is not codified law in the way you seem to imply. There is no lawbook where you can read all of sharia law, it is only a vague guiding principle of law that legislators and jurists all use in different ways.

    If their leaders say that Egypt is a Muslim nation and enforce Islamic morals, they are likely enforcing Sharia Law.

    There may be those in Egypt (sadly, in fact, there is no shortage of them) who say they want to base all of the law on sharia or even implement “pure” sharia (as interpreted by -them- of course). But that still does not mean they think exactly like the Saudis.

    Your mistake appears to be that you think your observations of sharia in Saudi Arabia (and they appear to be valid observations) are automatically applicable in Egypt too.

    And again, Egypt does not even claim to base all its laws on sharia.

    In Saudi, they interpret the Quran as stating that the penalty for a crime should match the motive.

    I would expect most legal systems everywhere to take motive into account in some way. But that does not mean that most legal systems everywhere are sharia, either.

    Egypt is a mess right now. I understand that corruption is rife and that standards are difficult to maintain. That is an unfortunate side effect of their recent rebellion against a tyrant.

    Not so much. It was already a mess when Mubarak was still the tyrant-in-chief. His regime never could get the judiciary completely under its thumb, and the new regime has huge problems with it too.

    In a way, it is almost reassuring.

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