After film, push strengthens for blasphemy clause in Egypt's constitution
Last week, anger over an anti-Islam film fueled protests at the US embassy. This week, religious conservatives will seek to prohibit blasphemy in the Egyptian constitution.
Last week's protests in reaction to an anti-Islam YouTube clip have led to Egyptian demands that the United States prosecute the filmmakers and may give a decisive push to an effort to enshrine in the Egyptian constitution the criminalization of blasphemy, or insulting religious figures.Skip to next paragraph
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In Egypt, the backlash could bolster a preexisting effort to insert a clause banning religious insults into Egypt’s new constitution. Islamist parties support the effort, and the idea of criminalizing blasphemy has broad public support, but civil rights advocates argue it would restrict free speech.
“I think this will just provide incredible strength to the push to have that provision in the constitution,” says Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, of the current uproar. “I’m very depressed about what this means for freedom of expression.”
Many Egyptians appear to reject the extent of free speech protection in the US, considering it more important to protect the public order than to protect a person’s right to say offensive things.
A committee of the constituent assembly, which is writing Egypt’s new constitution, is scheduled to introduce the article to the assembly this week, says Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the Salafi Nour Party, which helped write the provision. He expects the assembly to accept it, “especially after what happened last week regarding prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.” The article would ban insulting God or any prophets, including Muhammad.
"Denigrating religion" is already a criminal, not civil, offense under Egypt's penal code, meaning those who break the law face jail time, not fines. It has been invoked numerous times – in the last year and a half against one of Egypt’s most well-known actors, a Christian business mogul, and others.
In what appears to be the latest case, a young Christian man was arrested last week in the Cairo suburb of El Marg, after reportedly posting the anti-Islam YouTube clip to his Facebook page. He is charged with insulting Islam, and is currently in prison while the prosecutor investigates the case. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) researcher Ishak Ibrahim says the man was attacked by other prisoners while held in a local police station before he was transferred.