Monday, August 23, 2010

Religious freedom at stake in Egypt

by Osama Diab

New Statement
August 23, 2010

Tarek Elshabini, a 21-year-old engineering student, is Muslim, but only according to his personal ID card. Every year comes Ramadan, he faces a dilemma: he doesn't fast because he's an atheist, but everyone, including police officers, expects him to fast because he was born to a Muslim family.

In order to avoid any possible clashes between Elshabini and his family due to his non-religious credos, he decided to move away for a while until his family is able to live with this new reality. Most families, in what was called the most religious country in the world by Gallup, would find it bitter to swallow the fact that their son does not believe God exists.

Elshabini managed to find a job in Hurghada as a bar tender in a night club to make his getaway, and on his second day in the tourist city of the Red Sea, he had to go to the police station to issue a criminal record required by his new employer. After a few hours of struggling with governmental bureaucracy, Elshabini got his clean criminal record and was out of the police station at noon.

To kill his thirst, Elshabini stopped at the kiosk across from the police station for a soda. He stood there, bought a can of soda and lit a cigarette. Elshabini had no idea that last Ramadan at least 150 people were arrested in Aswan and Hurghada, where he just arrived, for eating, drinking or/and smoking in broad daylight during Ramadan. This was new and it was the first time this happens in Egypt.