Islamist intolerance in Egypt goes beyond the new constitution

Excellent article in The Telegraph by Richard Spencer who relates the story of an Egyptian man accused of disrespecting the prophet and who got three months in jail where guards urged inmates to beat him.

The Islamist takeover in Egypt goes beyond the new constitution and reflects a changing society where intolerance and cruelty are rising:

"Things are definitely worse than under the old regime," said Gamal Eid, of the Arabic Human Rights Initiative. "It is because of the Islamists having power - their sense that they have won."

That is only part of the story. Despite regular descriptions of ex-President Hosni Mubarak's old dictatorship as "secular", it too made Egypt a country constitutionally obliged to follow the "principles of Sharia". The laws it promulgated were wide enough and flexible enough to turn the Islamist tap on and off at will, according to the Mubarak's regime's short-term interests.

Blasphemy laws have been in place since 1937, and can be used to defend Christianity as well as Islam. But in practice the law was deployed regularly, both as a sop to the Muslim Brotherhood and also simply as a means of state repression.

Nevertheless, Mr Eid says there is a sense that religion can now be invoked to pursue any manner of grievances, in a way designed to emphasise a conservative vision of society.

In one case he has taken up, an 18-year-old girl from a provincial village was arrested for blasphemy after a row with her mother and brother, who had discovered she had met a boyfriend after going away to university.

It was the girl who had complained to the police first, alleging that her mother and brother had beaten her, but when questioned, the mother claimed the girl had cursed her and cursed her religion. That was enough for the police to switch the focus of their attention.

Sharia needs the legitimacy of law. But society must be willing to enforce its strictures - not just authorities but ordinary people too. These changes being wrought in Egypt will permanently alter the culture in ways that even devout Muslims may come to regret eventually.


Excellent article in The Telegraph by Richard Spencer who relates the story of an Egyptian man accused of disrespecting the prophet and who got three months in jail where guards urged inmates to beat him.

The Islamist takeover in Egypt goes beyond the new constitution and reflects a changing society where intolerance and cruelty are rising:

"Things are definitely worse than under the old regime," said Gamal Eid, of the Arabic Human Rights Initiative. "It is because of the Islamists having power - their sense that they have won."

That is only part of the story. Despite regular descriptions of ex-President Hosni Mubarak's old dictatorship as "secular", it too made Egypt a country constitutionally obliged to follow the "principles of Sharia". The laws it promulgated were wide enough and flexible enough to turn the Islamist tap on and off at will, according to the Mubarak's regime's short-term interests.

Blasphemy laws have been in place since 1937, and can be used to defend Christianity as well as Islam. But in practice the law was deployed regularly, both as a sop to the Muslim Brotherhood and also simply as a means of state repression.

Nevertheless, Mr Eid says there is a sense that religion can now be invoked to pursue any manner of grievances, in a way designed to emphasise a conservative vision of society.

In one case he has taken up, an 18-year-old girl from a provincial village was arrested for blasphemy after a row with her mother and brother, who had discovered she had met a boyfriend after going away to university.

It was the girl who had complained to the police first, alleging that her mother and brother had beaten her, but when questioned, the mother claimed the girl had cursed her and cursed her religion. That was enough for the police to switch the focus of their attention.

Sharia needs the legitimacy of law. But society must be willing to enforce its strictures - not just authorities but ordinary people too. These changes being wrought in Egypt will permanently alter the culture in ways that even devout Muslims may come to regret eventually.


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