More Catholic than the pope

Mona Eltahawy reports on the harassment and persecution of atheists in Egypt.

Because atheism itself is not illegal in Egypt, charges are laid under laws against blasphemy or contempt for religion. In 2012, a 27-year-old blogger, Alber Saber, received a three-year sentence on charges of blasphemy for creating a web page called “Egyptian Atheists.” In 2013, the writer and human rights activist Karam Saber (no relation) was convicted of defaming religion in his short story collection “Where Is God?”

Cool trick. No law against atheism – but you can’t defame religion!

It is no surprise that Mr. Banna’s conviction occurred on the watch of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army general who led the ouster of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to become president. Regardless of which way the seesaw of power in Egypt tips — toward the Islamists or toward the military — it is always a heterosexual, conservative Muslim man who heads the moral hierarchy. The further from that identity you are, the more vulnerable you are.

Liberal feminist atheist women are miles and miles away from that identity.

If anything, Egypt’s nominally secular ruler is more Catholic than the pope, to borrow a metaphor from another religion. Assuming the role of defender of public morality is a deliberate reminder that the Islamists do not hold the copyright on piety. This is not new: The regime of the ousted President Hosni Mubarak often vaunted its religiosity to outdo its Islamists rivals.

So…you can have Islamists, or you can have non-Islamists who compete with Islamists for Who Is Most Theocratic. Fabulous – talk about moving the Overton window.

Nowhere is this morality power play exercised more vehemently than in curbing perceived religious and sex crimes. Hence Egypt’s witch hunt against gay men. Rights activists say that 2014 was the worst year in a decade for gay people in Egypt, with at least 150 men arrested or put on trial. Same-sex relationships are not illegal, but gay men are targeted under “debauchery” laws.

Because God isn’t gay. God is a heterosexual man and don’t you forget it. God fucks laydeez, God doesn’t fuck men. Everybody knows that.

In a speech this month honoring the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, Mr. Sisi called on Muslim leaders in Egypt to start a “religious revolution” to counter the jihadist message of the Islamic State. He also sent his foreign minister to the solidarity march after the attacks in Paris at the office of the magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.

The contradiction in Mr. Sisi’s aim of keeping the heterosexual, conservative Muslim man at the top of Egypt’s moral hierarchy is glaring. You can’t trump the Islamists in their piety and lead a campaign against minorities like atheists and gay men even as you condemn extremist violence and show solidarity for free speech and free thinking.

Maybe the foreign minister just wanted to have a chat with the Saudi officials on the solidarity march.


  1. Anne Fenwick says

    Just out of curiosity, how do you go about being an atheist homosexual in Egypt without getting prosecuted I wonder? Keep your mouth shut and your relationship secret?

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