As the live airwaves of Egypt’s state TV deliver the Al Ahzar lectures cautioning against apostasy and Atheism to all those carrying state-issued I.D. cards indicating Egypt’s official religion, Egypt’s newly installed president, Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, foregoes public prayers and mosque attendance as the first modern leader ever to skip over this tradition within his initial days of office.
Since the uprising of January 2011 against former President Mubarak—propelled by a platform of human rights, equal rights, secularism and religious freedom which in turn brought down Mubarak’s successor, Mohammed Morsi—more and more Egyptians have fled Islam by quietly claiming Atheism and enduring the harassment that comes with it.
Likewise, those converting to Christianity proclaim Atheism in order to avoid death threats. Now however, unlike earlier times, Muslims are apt to keep their Islamic birth names rather than switch to Christian ones like David or Maria. Rejecting the practice of matching one’s name to one’s religion is seen as bold and dangerous—introducing Christianity into personal circles. But it is consistent with the outcome of the recent presidential election hoped and seen by some as a potentially fierce challenge to the theocratic state. Generally, the name-religion change means that the very personal matter of spiritual belief and departure from Islam and the mosque must remain on the sly to avoid the treachery embodied in religious juridical law.
President Al-Sisi was installed this month on June 8 in a swearing-in ceremony before Egypt’s Constitutional Court surrounded by representatives from many nations—heads of state and high-ranked envoys—including a member of the U.S. State Department. Almost three years from Egypt’s first uprising, a president enters office knowing that the 23 million votes cast for him (more than double cast for Morsi) were cast for a better future and not, as in the past, for provisions of rice and oil. Egypt’s electorate, mindful of turmoil in Libya and Syria, chose Mr. Al-Sisi, a man with backbone; now Iraq’s ISIS (a terror faction working alongside Al Qaida) threatens Egypt and Al-Sisi, and Egyptians count on their former field marshal and backer of the freedom movement to defend Egypt’s borders and continue to extinguish internal terrorism.
Egyptians also expect the new president to waste no time in addressing the issue of religious doctrine which Al-Sisi prioritized in his pre-election promise to begin his term by “renewing the Islamic religious discourse.” He spoke this in a speech about revising the practice of religious hate. But Al-Sisi has already missed an easy opportunity to exercise this conviction. He could have discreetly disallowed the Quran readings during his installation ceremony (a tradition started by Sadat) without question, appearing innocent in the watchful eyes of Al Ahzar. Overlooking an important moment to demonstrate a principle of his campaign, Al-Sisi is seen by some as a bit mysterious regarding his resolve to take on the ultimate challenge to the Islamic establishment. Egyptians watch and wonder about the man they elected and his claims …read more