Top Egyptian Lawyer Lowers Religious Freedom Bar
By Claire Evans
09/17/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Just a few months into his tenure as head of Egypt’s Bar Association, lawyer Ragai Attia published an op-ed entitled Between Jesus and His Disciples. The article discussed how one Islamic thinker views the Bible, particularly regarding the Gospels authenticity. Many raised their concerns that he was introducing sectarianism into the organization, as he regularly publishes articles in Islamic newspapers such as al-Azhar. Since the Bar Association has both Christian and Muslim lawyers as members, religious neutrality is critical.
Several Christian lawyers pointed out that if they were to write a similar article about the Quran, they would face punishment and possibly legal consequences related to blasphemy. Such inequality is discrimination and “is putting poison in honey,” as one lawyer phrased it.
“Ragai being in the position as president of the Bar Association, he should not write articles which has his opinion related to religious matters. It can create a debate and friction between Christian and Muslim lawyers at work. What he wrote should be filed against him as a case of blasphemy!” adds another.
As president, Ragai is responsible for building an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect amongst the association’s members. Many of these lawyers handle cases relating to Christians, including blasphemy. His leadership activities are also observed by the country’s judges, which could impact the outcome of cases where Christians are the defendant.
The case of Abd Adel Bebawy is one example of the inequality between Christians and Muslims when it comes to publications. Abd, a Christian, was arrested in July 2018 after his Facebook account was hacked. A post was shared which the local Muslim community found insulting. They formed a mob and attacked the local Christian community. Abd was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison on blasphemy charges. He was due for release this past January, but the authorities refused. His lawyer’s statement at the time of sentencing remains true for the reason why Abd remains in prison: “This is not a sentence based on the law, but it is meant to please the public!”
There are many other similar cases; for Christians in Egypt cannot speak freely. They cannot speak about Islam without risking their own lives and the lives of every other Christian in their local community. Several of Egypt’s lawyers do their best to help Christians who find themselves in this situation, but the lawyers also need a leader who is sensitive to this inequality. Ragai’s article showed that he was not that kind of leader.
However, it was not surprising to some. One journalist shared, “When I wrote before that Ragai Attia is supported by the Islamic extremist movement in the Bar Association, some persons were against my opinion. Now after the article he wrote, what will happen in Egypt if a Christian person wrote an article about the Quran? For sure there will be a wave of violence against Christians, and it is possible that he would have died in vain. If we wanted from the others to show respect for our rituals and religion, we have to do that first. Don’t insult their religion.”
Following pushback, Ragai later published a clarification regarding the article saying that he did not disdain Christianity and that he respected Jesus. It was hoped that he would write that as a public figure of the Bar Association, he is committed to respecting and defending all of the association’s members, regardless of religion. But he missed this opportunity. He also failed to clarify whether he will continue writing articles in this manner. His response was perhaps more disappointing than the initial article.
Will Ragai show himself as a leader for religious freedom, or will he further lower the standard within the Bar Association?