In a statement before parliament’s religious affairs committee on Monday evening, Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa said his ministry is taking steps on all fronts to make Egypt immune to "atheist, heretical and extremist ideas and to contain the spread of atheism in Egypt."
During a session to respond to an inquiry on the spread of atheism in Egypt, Gomaa affirmed that the ministry has already developed a comprehensive strategy to contain the spread of inappropriate ideas.
Gomaa said his ministry’s strategy is based on fighting the spread of atheist and heretical ideas in media outlets and via online social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter.
“We are taking precautionary measures to stem these ideas,” Gomaa told MPs. “But let me say that, in spite all of the talk on this issue, I want to stress that atheism has not become a phenomenon in Egypt.
“This does not mean that Egypt is almost free from atheists,” he continued. "No, we have some atheists and some individual atheist ideas, but we should not allow this to spread to form a public phenomenon.”
According to the minister, “All efforts should be mobilized to fight irresponsibility and deviation in our society, because these are the ones which lead to the spread of atheism. Irresponsibility begets atheism, and we should fight both, because they are two faces of the same coin.”
He insisted that the mere appearance of atheists gives them a degree of power and influence, and it was now necessary to take the precautionary measure of completely preventing them from appearing on television channels, thereby preventing their heretical statements from spreading.
Gomaa urged parliament’s committee of religious affairs and the committee of culture, media and antiquities to create “a code of ethics” with the owners of television channels in order to prevent atheists and heretics from spreading their ideas.
The minister said, “Egyptians, whether they are Muslims or Christians, are religious by nature, and so they reject atheism.”
“Egypt is the country of Al-Azhar and it has mosques with 120,000 minarets, and so it is quite difficult to find an atheist phenomenon in our nation,” he said.
On another front, Gomaa said the ministry has issued a book entitled Towards a Rational Discourse, which is "based on fighting extremist, takfiri and atheist thoughts. We aim to distribute this book among young people and aim to convince them in a logical and rational way of the dangers of espousing takfiri and atheist ideas.
“We also aim to publish this book on social networking websites in order to prevent individual atheist ideas from turning into a public phenomenon,” he said.
Gomaa’s statement came during a debate on an anti-atheism legislation proposal by Omar Hamroush, secretary general of the Religious Affairs Committee, who said he is afraid that “atheism has become a phenomenon in Egypt.”
“It is just as dangerous as the phenomenon of takfirism and radicalism, and we should do our best to fight both,” said Hamroush.
According to Hamroush, “Atheists are people who like bizarre and petit ideas.”
"They are people without culture or deep thoughts and our responsibility is to fight them,” said Hamroush.
Deputy Minister Gaber Tayie told MPs that the ministry is closely observing the spread of “atheist and extremist ideas” in media outlets and in schools and universities.
“In some elementary schools, we were shocked when we learned that some students refused to shake hands with the deputy of Cairo governor because she was a woman, and that a young girl refused to shake hands with the governor because he is a man,” said Tayie.
“This was very alarming to us, and we decided at once to review what is going on in the minds of young students in these schools, because this behavior reflects the spread of extremist ideas at an early age,” Tayie added.
Tayie said, “The Ministry of Endowments has also instructed clerics to devote the Friday sermons to standing up to atheist and extremist ideas, not to mention that we are currently targeting as many as 589 schools, including 11,000 students, across Egypt to contain irreligious ideas and fight extremism.”
Osama El-Abd, the head of parliament’s religious affairs committee, said the spread of Western liberal thoughts in Egypt via television and internet channels in recent years has led to the spread of atheist ideas among young people.
“Young people who suffer from psychological problems can easily fall prey to such thoughts,” said Al-Abd. “But I do not agree that atheism has become a phenomenon in Egypt.
“It is a passing cloud and not a phenomenon, and we should conduct a dialogue with young people to rid their minds of any atheist, extremist and bizarre ideas and thoughts,” he said.
Late last year, a draft-law proposal from some MPs aiming to criminalise "atheism" sparked controversy, meeting with opposition from among Egyptian intellectuals and members of the general public.