Not Egypt, for sure. Al Jazeera talks to some.
For a time after the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, there was greater freedom of expression in the country, and atheists began to be more publicly assertive. Yet at the same time, the power and influence of conservative Islam grew, with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president and Islamist parliamentary candidates’ success at the ballot box.
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.
Dang – contempt for religion is a crime in Egypt. Just think: if I were in Egypt I would be breaking the law, without even being able to help it.
According to the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Egyptian Muslims want sharia, or Islamic law, to be recognised as the official law. Of those committed to sharia law, 86 percent favour the death penalty for those who leave Islam – although this is technically defined in the survey as those who join another faith.
And things don’t look likely to improve any time soon.
A new constitution is being drafted in the wake of Morsi’s ousting. A group of atheists recently called for this document to respect freedom of expression and to protect atheists. They called for the repeal of several articles, including Article Two, which states that Islam is the religion of the state and that sharia is the basis for legislation. However, it appears unlikely they will get the protections they are looking for.
A chilly kind of spring.