Original article by El-Watan in Arabic here.
You wanna know I got this scar? My colleagues in the acting group gave it to me. One night, after a rehearsal at Salam Theater, they came at me manically chanting “Allahu Akbar”, as if they were doing a great service for their god and country. Amid the ruckus, the instigator of the attack produced a sharp object and slashed my face, because I had come out as an atheist. This is what happened to a young aspiring actor named Omar. Sixteen stitches in his face; forever an ominous reminder to what may befall Egyptians who prefer to be honest about their beliefs or lack thereof.
After appearing on television several times on different shows, outspoken Alexandrian atheists Ahmed Harqan and Ismail Mohamed survived more than one assassination attempt. “While at El-Borsa El-Tegarya cafe, a man accosted us asking ‘Is it true you are atheists?’ then, out of the blue, he pulled a gun on us but we managed to escape before he could fire,” Harqan said.
Omar, Harqan, and Mohamed did not press charges; they withdrew their police reports. They were threatened with the ‘Derision of Religion’ accusation, a sin that warrants jail time in Egypt.
Alas, you do not have to be an atheist for ‘Derision of Religion’ to persecute you and put you in prison. Author Karam Saber wrote a collection of short stories called ‘Where is God?’, in it, ordinary Egyptian people contemplate the existence and nature of God, one prosecutor did not like that, he found it offensive, so he prosecuted Saber and instructed him on what he should have written to make a good book. Saber was sentenced to five years in prison. He is currently challenging the court ruling.
The fact of the matter is the Gods in the skies will always have lords and tyrants on Earth. The religious thugs – who deformed Omar’s face, attempted to kill Harqan and Mohamed, and prosecuted Saber – self-righteously believe they are the representatives of God on land. How could a law defend the word of the creator of this universe? Bigots raised on hating and fearing ‘the other’, whatever they are, will always exploit such law, it was made to be misused. Terrorism is the result of religious fanaticism. The Egyptian state must intervene with its full force to uphold freedom of speech and basic human rights, it must be known that the government will not tolerate citizens who judge and physically attack other citizens on the alleged authority of religion.