Posts Tagged ‘egypt’

Atheists in Egypt

Posted in atheists on November 18th, 2013 by Jim Newman – Comments Off on Atheists in Egypt

gaberThere are atheists in Egypt. Apparently some good did come out of the 2011 uprising. Hard not to be cynical because of the return of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I never knew there were any atheists in Alexandria until 2011, after the revolution. Before the revolution, all this time, I was thinking that I am the only one here,” recalled 30-year-old Gabr.

“It was very lonely. My computer was my world. Until 2011, I was just contacting foreign people and almost stopped contact with Egyptian people. You feel like you are so different, you are against everything religious people say, you can’t meet them in the middle.”

For a time after the 2011 uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, there was greater freedom of expression in the country, and atheists began to be more publicly assertive. Yet at the same time, the power and influence of conservative Islam grew, with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president and Islamist parliamentary candidates’ success at the ballot box.

alber saberIt’s not safe to be an atheist in Egypt.

In late October it was reported that Sherif Gaber, a 20-year-old student, had been arrested after allegedly setting up a Facebook page calling for atheism. The author Karam Saber is currently appealing a five-year prison sentence after being convicted of contempt of religion and defamation in his book Where is God? And in December 2012, Albert Saber, an atheist blogger and activist, was sentenced to three years in jail after being found guilty of “defamation of religion”.

Noha atheist says she is an “intellectual Muslim” to hide her atheism.

Noha Mahmoud Salem, 53, describes herself as a former “fanatic” and Salafi. She began wearing the niqab, or veil, at the age of 21. At 24, she married a conservative Muslim and they had three boys together. But around the age of 30 she began having doubts about religion, and she stopped praying.

Both Noha and her husband thought she might have a psychological problem. She went to see specialists who told her she was suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and needed strong medication. The medication didn’t seem to help, and she was still questioning her faith, so she was given stronger and more harmful drugs. She became like a zombie, she said.

“It stopped my thinking and I was afraid that some damage had been done to my brain,” she recalled. “When I stopped the medication, my brain gradually recovered.”

But her questioning of religion continued. Noha finally got divorced from her husband in 2007, after nearly 25 years of marriage. She does not, however, describe herself as an atheist. “It is better to say I am a ‘Muslim’ but ‘an intellectual Muslim,'” she said, “because when I say ‘I am a Muslim’, people will begin to hear me. Otherwise they will be my enemies.”

Yet she cannot get her three sons to listen to her. Her relationship with them is a big source of anguish. She describes them as Salafis. They treat her harshly, and warn her that she is going to hell; meanwhile, she tells them there is no hell.

“They always tell me that I am psychologically troubled,” she says. A few months ago, Noha got a certificate from a psychologist in Alexandria proving that she is mentally well. What did her family say? “No, the doctor is wrong; he didn’t give you the right diagnosis.”

karam saberStories like these give me courage to be more outspoken here in the states.

Jim Newman, bright and well

Why Do They Hate Women?

Posted in atheists on April 28th, 2012 by Jim Newman – 2 Comments

Post by Jim Newman


Foreign Policy has an excellent, long article on women in the Middle East titled “Why Do They Hate Us.” Written by Mona Eltahwy. I can’t recommend it too highly. It starts with:

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

She places the problems with women squarely onto religion noting that the mideast is the most horrid seemingly civilized place on earth for women.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women.

I remember the political correctness of multiculturalism in the 90’s before I left California. Even feminists were stumped by accepting female genital mutilation. The difficulty always is assessing whether there is consent to cultural practice. With inculcation a victim may actually praise the abuse. When someone, a victim, speaks out then we know no means no and not a hidden maybe.

Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

The double standard of women having to follow religious law and do it better than men to prevent abuse and then to turn and talk against it shows the heroism of these so called lower class citizens.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

Horrid it is that we would morally castrate ourselves because we are unwilling to interfere in a culture. Too close to the imperialism of the past we hesitate to demand justice where abuse is obvious. This are not quaint villages where the men and women share equal but different roles. These are horrid examples of wanton abuse and negligence which no person of sensitivity could deny.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

Do not think for a moment that liberalism means fighting colonialism by ignoring the plight of abused people. These are not happy villagers playing with and loving each other. These are monsters willing to rape, pillage, and torment women. Few women are saying this is OK and those that do don’t mean it but are too terrified to seek help.

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

Read this article and weep. Let it motivate you to drop your apathy and realize that a woman crying rape in New York is no less important than a woman crying rape in Cairo. We ignore either to the death of our moral integrity.

Jim Newman, bright and well and