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.
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Morayef says putting the clause in the constitution “sort of embeds the idea that there are certain religions that have to be protected, and that will be defined by whoever is in power at that point.” The provision only covers Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, the only religions recognized by the Egyptian state, and is rarely, if ever, used to convict someone of insulting Christianity or Judaism.Skip to next paragraph
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“The constitution has been used to strengthen equality and the idea of citizenship, and embedding this in the constitution will do the exact opposite,” says Morayef. “It will give preference to a particular sect of a particular religion that's interpreted in a particular way.”
Salafis: Freedom has limits
Bakkar, of the Nour Party, said freedom of expression should not include the freedom to insult religious figures.
“There is a huge difference between the freedom to express your feelings, your point of view, and the direct and obvious insult to the prophets… It doesn’t restrict freedom of speech at all. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean to insult God or the prophets.”
Many of the protesters assembled at the US embassy the first night of demonstrations, when crowds breached the walls and brought down the American flag, agreed.
“Yes, there is freedom. But there are limits,” said protester Mohamed Ahmed Sayed. Free speech should not include the freedom to insult religious figures, said protesters, whether Muslim or Christian, he said.
In their statements about the protests, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the FJP, repeatedly called on the US to prosecute the makers of the video that incited the protests – even though there would be no law to prosecute them for what they said. However, police in California questioned Nakoula Basseley Nakoula about whether his alleged involvement in the film violated terms of his parole after serving time in federal prison for bank fraud. Mr. Nakoula is barred from using aliases and has restrictions on his Internet access.
“Certainly, such attacks against sanctities do not fall under the freedom of opinion or thought,” said a statement released by the Muslim Brotherhood. “They are crimes and assaults against Muslim sanctities, and must not be tolerated by the countries where they are produced or launched, since they are also detrimental to the interests of those countries in dealings with the peoples of the Muslim world.”
The statement called for the criminalization of “assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions,” which encompasses only Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
For many in Egypt, this is only reasonable.
“The general idea when it comes to speech or controlling speech in Egypt is that it's not about the individuals, it's about keeping order" for the majority, says Gharbeia of EIPR. “And this is why, for example, we see much more uproar about protecting ideas, or historical persons [like Muhammad], while we do not see the same reaction from the state but also from society around hate speech against specific groups of people” who are minorities.