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Egypt Targets Both Islamists And Atheists

Egypt Targets Both Islamists And Atheists

This week’s Egyptian court ruling imposing death sentences for 529 Muslim Brotherhood members was widely condemned abroad as a troubling sign for the health of the nation's democracy. But Cairo’s continued escalation against the Islamist organization might also give outsiders the false impression that religion in general is under attack in Egypt.

In fact, another crackdown is under way against a very different perceived enemy of the state: atheists. While atheism in Egypt has long been taboo, the perils of not believing in God became especially plain after Alexandria security chief Amin Ezz El-Din announced expand=1] on the Egyptian talk show Khatt ahmar (Redline) that a new task force would be created to apprehend atheists for their “crimes.”

El-Din’s statement came after the appearance by atheist activist Mostefa Zakareya, whom host Muhamad Moussa had previously invited on the show to expand=1] express his views and debate with a Muslim sheikh.

“Thank you very much for your efforts in fighting the organization of terrorism, the Muslim Brotherhood,” Moussa told El-Din. “But the atheism issue is a concern of no less importance than fighting terrorism, because this is intellectual and religious terrorism.”

Moussa and El-Din were criticized on social media. One YouTube comment in Arabic reads, “I expected that the Muslim Brothers would be the ones to launch an inquisition! I guess there’s no difference between the Brothers and their opponents. They’re all together in the darkness.”

Using the well-known Brotherhood slogan to mock El-Din, the following tweet reads: General Amin Ezz El-Din on Khatt ahmar: “A task force will be formed to apprehend this atheist.” Islam is the answer Your Excellency the Pasha.

اللواء أمين عز الدين لخط أحمر: سيتم تشكيل �ريق بحث لضبط هذا الملحد" ------الإسلام هو الحل يا معالي #امسك_كا�ر الباشا http://t.co/Iq96wDM7YL

— A.Selawy (@Selawism) March 27, 2014

That the fall of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood government led by Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 has not made it easier for Egyptians who hold non-conformist religious views should not necessarily come as a surprise. Atheists and “blasphemers” have faced persecution in Egypt before — during, and after Morsi’s presidency.

Under President Hosni Mubarak in 2007, Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Soliman was sentenced to four years in prison for charges that included calling Al-Azhar University, the country’s top Islamic institution, “the university of terrorism.” Soliman alleged that he had been tortured in prison by Egyptian authorities before his release in November 2010.

During Morsi’s presidency, publicly atheist Egyptian activist Alber Saber Ayad was found guilty of defaming religion after Internet posts allegedly promoted the film Innocence of Muslims, which satirizes Islam. Ayad also stated that he was beaten and tortured while detained.

While the exact number of atheists and non-believers in Egypt is hard to determine, the rise of social media has given them powerful new means for expression and solidarity. Multiple Facebook pages and groups, the most active of which include the Egyptian Atheists Community and the Egyptian Atheists and Agnostics Social Club, serve as dedicated forums where Egyptians whose views do not necessarily align with official ones can share media and make their voices heard.

But it is precisely these forms of public expression that many Egyptians find unacceptable, and that the Alexandria security chief may soon begin targeting.

— Hassan Shiban

Photo: Egyptian Atheists Community FB page

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Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

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