Egypt: Are there really three million atheists?


Up to three million Egyptians are atheists claims a Cairo-based newspaper, as reports highlight the difficulties in openly choosing to follow no religion in Egypt.

The al-Sabah newspaper claims a significant proportion of Egypt's 84m population have no religion, citing an unnamed US survey. It says extremist preachers are "frightening people away from any heavenly religion". The newspaper says that while numbers rose during the Muslim Brotherhood's rule, swelling ranks of atheists will have no effect on the influence of Islam or Christianity in the country. According to a report by al-Jazeera, one informal group of atheists has about 100 members. One says the 2011 revolution has been a mixed blessing for atheists. "It gave you more space. You can speak your mind more," he tells al-Jazeera – but insists on using an assumed name in their report.

Written By: BBC News
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  1. Dissociating “Muslim” from “Arab” should be one of the main goals of atheist organisations, mainly by helping Arab atheists to come out.

    Arab is an ethnicity ; Islam is an ideology. Criticizing an ideology is not a crime. You can’t guess someone’s religion by looking at their face ; maybe they are atheists.

    Many influential people are interested in perpetuating the confusion between the ethnicity and the ideology : Arab Muslims for communitarian reasons and assimilating any critic of Islam to racial hartred , racists groups for targeting Arabs under cover of secularism.

    Where I live, fascist groups which used to blame the “immigrants” for about anything now blame the “Muslims”, still targeting the same populations. At the same time, anti-racist associations pretend that islamophobia is a racist crime.

    Undermining those processes should be one of our main fights, for secularism, for Arab free thinkers and against racism.

    • In reply to #1 by Ornicar:

      Dissociating “Muslim” from “Arab” should be one of the main goals of atheist organisations, mainly by helping Arab atheists to come out.

      Something interesting that’s been happening in North Africa is the beginning of a rejection of the label “Arab“. The Berbers don’t like it and this opinion is spreading fueled by disgust with the ultra conservative /reactionary Wahabists on the Arabian peninsula. They know that the Arab invasion was not accomplished with large troop numbers and they question the degree to which they are actually genetically related to the Arab tribes from the peninsula. Some self identify as Mediterranean rather than Arab.

      Maybe they’ll rediscover their pagan past which must have been more fun than their present religion.

  2. Perhaps a main fight for a particular group, there’s so many fights they’re nearly all of equal importance. None should be neglected, as doing so would just cause another problem to pop up when you’re swinging right when you should’ve been blocking left. It’s a hard balance and one I’ve fought constantly to remind people of getting facts straight, however it also feels like an exhausting slow loss against the unending tide of stubborn ignorance just in my family alone.

    • In reply to #2 by Liandro:

      Hey Liandro – don’t worry. “Do the duty that lies nearest to you” as Thomas Carlyle famously said – you can’t do more than that. We are not an “Organisation” just a bunch of individuals and I hope in many ways we stay that way. Except in the cause of secularism where it is easy to pull together, it is probably better that we remain disorganised, without leaders, without a creed and without a book of rules.

      By the way, I think we are winning.

  3. In a society like Egypt, I would think atheists would avoid meeting and would not identify as atheists.

    You might get a lot of people who were disgusted with the activities with their mosque, but kept loyalty to the religion.

    One of the key things I discovered in my investigation of Islam, is they don’t care that much what you really think. What counts is what you profess publicly. A double life would not be all that difficult. The same applies to gays.

  4. “Precise numbers of atheists are hard to come by as irreligion remains a taboo subject in a country where citizens are loathe to express their lack of faith in public.”

    It is possible to do surveys that encourage truthfulness in answering “incriminating” questions by making them half-random. The participant tosses a coin – heads means answer the next question truthfully; tails means toss again for a yes/no or roll a dice to give a random multi-choice answer. The result is half of all the answers are truthful and half are random, and with a large-enough sample size you can calculate the real numbers. But nothing incriminating can be pinned back to any one individual – they can always claim it was one of their random answers.

    • In reply to #5 by sminhinnick:

      “…But nothing incriminating can be pinned back to any one individual – they can always claim it was one of their random answers.”

      Would that be convincing to those who would insinuate blasphemy?
      I think internet surveys may hold the answer. Give the individual a lot of encryption security and proxy servers, and privacy, then they
      will feel free to speak their thoughts.

  5. reply to Ornicar # 1.

    I sense that you command considerable authority on this subject and I hope you’ll continue contributing to RDF; incidentally, I agree with everything you say; but then, I would wouldn’t I.

    I think the most important thing to counteract is obfuscation, which seems for the most part to be wilful. Although with minds inflicted by religious dogma it’s difficult to distinguish between that and induced ignorance.

    Indeed, given the circumstances, is there a distinction between the two?

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