The Egyptian parliament has commenced processes to criminalize atheism in the predominantly Muslim north African country.
A legislation proposed on the eve of 2017 Christmas was given consideration by the parliament on the eve of New Year’s Day, the USA Today website reported.
Under existing Egyptian laws, it is illegal to insult or defame any religion. Blasphemy arrests carry a conviction of up to five years. The new development if approved means just refusing to believe in God could be punishable by law.
The proposal was championed by head of the parliament’s committee on religion, Amro Hamroush who stated that lack of belief in God was an insult to the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
“It must be criminalised and categorized as contempt of religion because atheists have no doctrine and try to insult the Abrahamic religions,” Hamroush said on December 24 when announcing the proposed law.
Reports indicate that the move has the backing of the country’s highest Islamic religious institution, the Al Azhar. In defense of the law, an Azhar official said it was necessary ‘to punish those who have been seduced into atheism.’
Egypt along with Mauritania, Sudan, Nigeria and Somalia were African nations listed in a 2017 report as being places were blasphemy and apostasy laws carry the death penalty.
Completing the list are: Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
But founder and leader of an U.S. based rights group challenges the proposed law. Ani Zonneveld says even Islam in an of itself did not criminalize atheism quoting a Quranic verse to back her position.
“This criminalization of atheism contradicts the very essence of the Quran, verse 2:256, ‘There is no compulsion in faith,‘” she further describing the legislation as “anti-Islam.”