Egypt: Blasphemy Charges Increase under Islamist Pressure

Published: 19 June 2013


Egyptian prosecutors seem to have given in to Islamist pressure for steeper fines and prison sentences for insulting religion, The New York Times reports

Blasphemy charges, most filed by extremely conservative Muslims known as Salafis and against Christians, are on the rise, the newspaper said. The majority of cases have lacked clear evidence. 

Blasphemy charges were rare before the revolution and the ouster of secular-minded President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Since then, more than two dozen cases have gone to trial, and most defendants have been found guilty, the Times found. During Mubarak’s presidency, blasphemy complaints from Islamist dissidents were dealt with outside of the courts. 

Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsoud, a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood, attributes the rise in cases to an increase in the abuse of freedom of expression since the revolution. “Contempt of religion, any religion, is a crime, not a form of expression,” he told the Times. 

Mubarak’s overthrow removed the prior limitations for radicalized groups to embed conservative ideals into mainstream Egyptian society. With Islamist groups penetrating the weakened state institutions at the local level, they face few limitations to claim blasphemy. “The vagueness of laws banning contempt of religion allows for wide interpretations,” the Times reports. 

Mohammed Arafat, a spokesman for the Salafi Call, sees the increase in Islamist pressure on prosecutors as progressive. “When the issue touches the prophet, our beliefs, our religion or the Koran, a Muslim will go out to get justice or die,” he told the Times. 

Current President Mohamed Morsi’s office said that freedom of litigation was a benefit gained from the revolution, though he did not rule out the possible need for reform.