By Mada Masr
The newly formed Cabinet is planning a campaign to combat atheism, according to an official statement released Wednesday.
Neamat Saty, the Youth Ministry’s director of civic education, would work with Ahmed Turky, the head of the Endowment Ministry’s mosques management unit, and a team of psychiatrists to form a national strategy to eradicate atheism.
Although Article 64 of Egypt’s recently passed Constitution stipulates that “freedom of religion is absolute,” the ministries plan on “confronting and abolishing [atheism] through religious, educational and psychological means handled by experts in these fields,” according to a report published by the state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram.
The plan is part of a Cabinet-wide effort to “confront all issues that negatively affect [youth] and hinder the steps of development towards the future.”
Turky told Mada Masr in a phone interview that there is a protocol between the two ministries to address various intellectual “threats” facing the country’s youth.
“Previously, we launched a similar campaign against religious extremism where we targeted 200,000 youth whom we saw to be most vulnerable to such ideas, especially in Sinai,” Turky said.
He added that the two ministries are now hoping to combat certain “intellectual pests” that target Egyptian youth, like atheism, asserting that the scope of atheism’s reach in Egypt is still being determined by a joint research committee.
“We are taking preventive and preemptive measures. We do not want to see atheism being endemic in Egypt,” the official explained.
Turky pointed to the ongoing standoff between politics and religion, and arguments concerning how those two realms should ideally interact, as direct causes for an upsurge in both religious extremism and atheism.
“The ongoing conflict will lead youth to either be religious extremists or push them more toward profanity and atheism,” Turky claimed.
But some say it’s problematic for state institutions to get involved in such matters.
Amr Ezzat, a researcher on religious freedoms at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Mada Masr that state bodies are meant to serve all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, and it’s extremely dangerous for them to launch campaigns against certain religious views.
“If we are talking about a modern civil state, the existence of a ministry that runs the affairs of Islam in the first place [the Endowments Ministry] is problematic in itself,” Ezzat argued.
Initiatives like the one announced on Wednesday “do not simply campaign against atheism, but they call for violating the rights of those citizens who hold such beliefs in the first place, which is considered mere incitement. These initiatives propagate that atheists threaten the national unity of the society, while the existence of such religious institutions at the first place is the threat,” he continued.