Middle East: Taking Liberties In Egypt

ICC Note: In Egypt, even as the Sisi-led government aims to crackdown on Islamic extremism the place for religious minorities or non-believers continues to shrink as well. The law and society both continue to abuse Christians and others who don’t neatly fit within the prescribed vision of society. The last few months have seen explosions of violence that have showed the deep divisions and hostilities that persist.

05/05/2015 Egypt (FT) Egyptian teacher Ayman Ramzy made a confession on a television programme last year that turned his life upside down. He was badgered out of his job, attacked on the streets, summoned to court and publicly shunned, becoming a veritable ghost who rarely leaves his Cairo home.

His confession was not that he was a serial killer or paedophile or pilfered public funds but that he no longer believed in any religion. For that, his life has become something out of a science fiction novel, akin to banishment with not only the collusion of the state and the media, but millions of his fellow countrymen.

“I didn’t think it would be so tough,” says Mr Ramzy, 43. “The problem is that all the people in society are taught to hate each other, whether Christian or Muslim or Baha’i. Even within religions everyone is afraid of other sects.”

Mr Ramzy’s harrowing experience comes amid a broader debate about freedom of conscience in an Arab world teeming with change, turmoil and violence rooted in religion. Buoyed by repressive laws and conservative clerical establishments, Arab societies stigmatise religious minorities and punish those who challenge religious doctrine, according to human rights groups.

The depths to which that intolerance has reached became evident in February, when Libyan groups affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant executed groups of Egyptian and Ethiopian Christians in mass killings broadcast on the internet.

There are also signs that with the rise of violent extremism in the region pressure on non-believers is increasing, even as atheists and agnostics — struggling to be heard — launch a web-only TV station and secular political party.

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