Egypt is a bustling country of ninety million inhabitants in the heart of the Middle East, where Islam, throughout the land, is the prominent and dominating religion socially and constitutionally for more than a millennia. Birthplace to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the largest terrorist organizations in the world, and “Sunni Islam’s most prestigious university” Al-Azhar, the country is starting to digest a new phenomenon, apostasy.
In recent years, an appreciable number of atheists and agnostics, in comparison to other Arab countries, are starting to speak up, using effective tools like social media, to not just make the voice of secular Egyptians heard, but also the voices of all Arabs who are caught up in the same struggle.
Many share their stories of struggle on The Black Ducks, a YouTube channel run by an Egyptian atheist, Ismail Mohamed, age 32, who was also the first Egyptian to publicly announce his atheism on national television. The channel is the number one platform for Arab atheists and apostates throughout the region.
Launch of The Black Ducks
Mohamed launched his project in 2013, after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power, a time when many Egyptians feared dearly for their freedom and sovereignty. He quickly got to work, specifically aiming to interview atheists and agnostics from the Middle East and North Africa. He encouraged them to speak up after experiencing both a close shave in his home country, and witnessing lost cases of fellow Arab countries, who till this day, are deeply suffering from Islamic fundamentalism.
Along with his variety of guests, they discuss a wide spectrum of topics and personal stories, from Syrian born Professor Sami Aldeeb’s theory of who wrote the Koran, to Khloud Bariedah’s stories of growing up as a girl under the oppressive Wahhabi Saudi government. Also discussed is Baher Adel‘s efforts to make Egypt a secular state and struggling against religious fundamentalism among Egyptian society, and the relationship among intellectual, society, and government.
Though the Islamic doctrine and governments are the main topics put under scrutiny, the show has had on several occasions ex-Christians, like Egyptian Dr.George Paul, who tells his stories of the dark side of the Coptic Egyptian church.
And for these brave and controversial topics, Egypt is considered, like many times before, the birthplace of yet another movement in the region.
Opposition to Secularism
Though still regarded as a taboo in Egypt, questions and criticisms are starting to build up upon the shoulders of Islamic and political figures and from the sharp and well-read secularists, who also make the largest population of atheists and agnostics in the region.
However, it wasn’t long after launching the Black Ducks, that familiar patterns and predictions started occurring. Mohamed and his guests, received death threats from the general public over the Internet and in some cases, face-to-face when they were recognized on the streets.
One of his guests, who was attacked, is a former salafi and protégé of sheikh Borhamy turned Atheist, Ahmed Harqan, who along with his wife, when leaving the building, were awaited by a bunch of thugs wishing to kill him. Running away for their lives, they ran into a police station, where Harqan found that there was much disgust and mistreatment towards him and his spouse by the authorities, who once promised to serve and protect. The reason for this threat was that Ahmed was on a national television show, debating a sheikh from Al-Azhar, (who later called for the killing of Ahmed) on
the subject of atheism a few days prior. Harqan, and his wife, have been on the Black Ducks on numerous occasions.
Mohamed awakened many dormant secularists in the region to share personal opinions. However the focus has been mainly on Mohamed, due to only his program, where he has received death threats and lawsuits from religious clerics and their followers, demanding him to stop broadcasting his program, calling it blasphemy, a threat to Egypt’s security, and claiming he should be penalized for insulting Islam. A crime, according to the Egyptian penal code, could send the victim up to five years in prison. Mohamed has also faced two personal accidents as well by religious fanatics, one in the streets of Egypt’s second largest city Alexandria, where he was born, and Cairo, where many Egyptian atheists gather to share their point of views.
However, the free thinkers are facing a variety of challenges on a daily basis in order to claim sovereignty over their moral beliefs and spreading their own perspectives. One ordeal they face, away from violence, is lack of high quality Internet, which often hinders Mohamed on many occasions whilst conducting his show. Although orchestrating the show alone since day one with old and worn out computer equipment, he received new equipment from his followers, in appreciation for his hard work and effort.
Secularism Here to Stay
Despite the problems it attracts, The Black Ducks has turned out to be a major success, making it clear and obvious to all Arab governments that secularization is here to stay, and making the fact harder to ignore each time a new episode is uploaded on social media, where hundreds of Arabs tune in across the globe.
This is a fact obvious enough that president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi since coming to power in 2014, has mentioned the issue on two separate occasions, once in front of the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, and then an array of ministers including the prime minister. He mentioned that young people are turning their backs on religion, whether Islam or Christianity, to pursue a life of science and reason.
To sum up, the atheism phenomenon in Egypt, and probably in other Muslim countries, has become a common phenomenon without any taboos after many atheists spoke up in public. And this phenomenon is increasing more and more by discussing these issues publicly, however, they need more attention and promotion from another atheist’s community to support atheist groups in Egypt and the Middle East.
Support Egyptian atheists by joining us at the Atheist Republic Cairo Consulate and Atheist Alliance of Egypt, discussing potential plans and latest news of Egyptian atheists and how to make Egypt a safe place for any human being.