Hidden from View: Egypt’s Blasphemy Cases
In a world where free speech is dead, Egypt creates new opportunities for Christian persecution.
By Claire Evans
This story was originally published in the February issue of ICC’s Persecution magazine.
02/12/2021 Egypt (International Christian Concern) –309 days have passed. Abd Adel Bebawy was supposed to have been released from prison on January 22 of last year. But at the time of writing (November 2020), he remains imprisoned. His family repeatedly comes to the prison and asks, “When will Abd be released?”
The prison authorities always respond that they’re keeping him in jail for his own safety. They say that they don’t know how his neighbors will respond when they find out he is a blasphemer! They say jail is the safest place for a Christian accused of insulting Islam.
Meanwhile, the number of Christians incarcerated on blasphemy charges in Egypt continues to grow.
Ehab is only 17 years old, but was arrested in June after responding to insults he received on social media when he shared a self-portrait that included a cross. “We did not expect that this [would] lead to a court case and jailing,” said his mother, who remains shocked at the situation. “I have two lawyers: one Muslim and the other Christian. [The first lawyer told me], ‘The judge will see us, and it means that that the case is not Muslims versus Christian.’ But then the judge expelled the lawyers, telling them, ‘Don’t defend this guy again; the verdict is the same.’”
Both Ehab and Abd are incarcerated in the same jail. They are also joined by Omar, who was arrested in August after an image was posted on his Facebook account which pointed out that Mohammed did not perform any miracles. After his arrest, extremists gathered and formed a mob, threatening the safety of other Christians should he be released. Omar has not yet received a prison sentence, but his family expects his incarceration to last at least three years.
Meanwhile, even Omar’s family has been affected as a result. “Omar’s son is always stopped by the traffic police who fine him for a variety of traffic violations,” explained a friend. “It is nothing less than harassment. The police officer thinks he is doing Islam a service this way.”
Other blasphemy cases continue elsewhere in Egypt. In November, Youssef Hany Helmy was arrested after the authorities observed an interaction he had on social media during which he responded to a Muslim woman who shared comments insulting Christianity.
Some Egyptian Christians have pointed out the hypocrisy in prosecuting Youssef Hany for blasphemy, but not the Muslim who insulted Christianity. But this latest case also speaks directly to a thread held in common by Omar, Ehab, and Abd. Each of these individuals was charged with blasphemy after an interaction on social media.
Egypt has restricted free speech across every sector of society. These restrictions are enforced by officials whose job involves monitoring social media. The situation begs the question: What is driving Egypt’s recent increase in blasphemy cases? As Egypt becomes more proficient at monitoring social media, many Christians worry that the widespread enforcement of blasphemy laws has only just begun.