Egypt's media regulator issues warning to controversial show discussing Islam

Mariam Rizk , Monday 6 Apr 2015

The warning follows a complaint from Al-Azhar that the show has attacked the fundamentals of Islam

Islam El-Beheiry
Islam El-Beheiry (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt's state media regulator has warned the broadcaster of a controversial show discussing Islam that it should revise the show's content, its head told Ahram Online on Monday.

The debate over the programme, called With Islam and presented by Islam El-Beheiry on private satellite TV channel El-Qahera Wal-Nas, started last week when Al-Azhar, the country's leading Sunni Islam institute, filed an official complaint with the Free Media Zone, the state department in charge of managing cable TV channel contracts.

Effat Abdel-Azim, the head of the Free Media Zone, confirmed receiving the complaint, along with CDs allegedly proving that El-Beheiry had insulted the fundamentals of Islam.

The Free Media Zone's board of directors decided to warn TNTV, the broadcaster that owns the channel hosting El-Beheiry's show.

"According to the regulations, if there is another violation after this warning, the board of directors has to reconvene to stop the show," Abdel-Azim said. "The final step is to withdraw the company's broadcasting license."

In its complaint, Al-Azhar promoted itself as being "the only reference to Islamic affairs as stated by the constitution", and accused El-Beheiry of deliberately "raising doubts over what is firmly known in religion."

"The show is a clear incitement to sedition, defamation of religion… and misleads the nation's youth," a statement from Al-Azhar alleged.

El-Beheiry's show has previously tackled several controversial issues in Islam, including punishment for apostasy, the debate on early marriage, and different interpretations of the Hadith, the sayings and teachings of Islam's Prophet Muhammed.

On Sunday, El-Beheiry said that the state's media regulator did not call him in for an explanation, nor show him the video clips in which he allegedly attacks Islam and religious figures.

"I challenge anyone to find a single word where I insult God or the Prophet, his companions, or even Bukhari and Muslem [two Sunni Islam scholars who have written collections of the Prophet's Hadith]," El-Beheiry said.

He told a news show on CBC, another private television channel, that he had "willingly" requested a three-day vacation to take a rest from the recent pressures.

Returning from the brief vacation, during Sunday's episode of his show, El-Beheiry described Al-Azhar's statement as a "mistake", and vowed to end his show if they could prove that he had "stepped on the sacred".

"What are the fundamentals of religion to you?" he asked, seemingly addressing his critics. "[Islamic] heritage includes farces. Even if these were 'fundamentals', I would be okay with attacking them."

"This is not my farewell speech," he said defiantly. "I'm stronger than they could ever imagine."

On Thursday, two independent lawyers filed a complaint with the prosecutor-general, accusing El-Beheiry of contempt of religion, insulting the Prophet's companions and the Sunnah, the teachings and practices of Islam's Prophet.

On Saturday, El-Qahera Wal-Nas, the same channel that hosts El-Beheiry's show, held a debate between him and a representative from Al-Azhar.

On several occasions, Al-Azhar has criticised works of literature and films for "attacking the fundamentals of religion", and sought to ban them from being published or screened.

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