Egypt government opposes dropping of blasphemy law

MPs and rights groups supporting the repeal of Egypt's blasphemy law say it's unfairly used to target religious minorities, but the Ministry of Justice say amending it is unconstitutional.

According to Morning Star News, Chancellor Ayman Rafah told the People's Assembly on June 12 that the draft law suggesting the removal of Article 98F is opposed by the administration and that the removal would be in violation of the constitution.

People walk at the entrance of the State Council's building, Egypt's highest administrative court in Cairo, Egypt May 17, 2016. | REUTERS/AMR ABDALLAH DALSH

Nadia Henry, Mohamed Zakareya Mohi El-Din and Mona Mounir are the Members of Parliament who submitted the draft law seeking for the elimination of Article 98F, which is Egypt's version of a "blasphemy law." Violating Article 98F can send a person to jail from six months to five years with a fine of 500 to 1,000 Egyptian pounds (US$55 to US$110) if found guilty of criticizing any of the "heavenly religions" namely Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

However, critics charge the government of unfairly using the blasphemy law against religious minorities.

"Basically they are very sympathetic toward Muslims, but they are not to the other side with Copts," Amnesty International's Mohammad El-Messiry told the publication.

Lawyer and former MP Ehab Ramzy support the accusation that the law is unfair.

"It has become a sword to be used against certain people," said Ramzy. "For example, if you hate your work partner, you can share something on their Facebook and this can be used as evidence of blasphemy to get rid of the person. If you want to get rid of your neighbor, you find a way to accuse them of blasphemy, using an ordinary insult as evidence."

Gatestone Institute, an international policy council and think tank, also denounced Egypt as "becoming more like Pakistan" in that although their blasphemy laws theoretically protect all religions, the council noted that only Christians and moderate Muslims are convicted by the law while Muslims who attack the Christian religion are "regularly let off."

In March, the Pakistani government assured to implement the blasphemy law as it is after hundreds protested in Islamabad against amending it.

Al-Azhar cleric Yehia Ismail, who opposes the removal of the law, argues that protecting religions is necessary in a society.

The cleric told Ahram Online, "When we delete articles that criminalise any kind of demeaning of religion, this will result in us living in a barbarous society."