My friend Maikel Nabil Sanad, a secular former political prisoner in Egypt, informed me about the arrest of his friend and fellow atheist Alber Saber. Saber has been harassed by Islamists in Egypt for criticizing Islam. Requesting police protection from radical Islamists, Saber was instead arrested on charges of “insulting Islam.”
Saber’s arrest is part of a broader wave of radical Islamist intimidation against Christians, Shi’ites, and atheists. The regime is systematically persecuting Christians and Shi’ite Muslims for “insulting Islam” in an attempt to silence ideological challenges to radical Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood is blocking the construction of Christian churches and attacking Christians. Egyptian Shi’ites were barred from observing the holiday of Ashura at the Hussein mosque in Cairo. In the name of defending radical Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is suppressing religious freedom.
The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, is trying to usurp absolute power. The Egyptian judiciary challenged the legality of some of his recent decisions. In response, Morsi issued an illegal Presidential decree which exempts his policies from judicial review. Morsi’s threat to judicial independence represents an effort to abolish embryonic democratic institutions in Egypt and replace the rule of law with a personal dictatorship. Sadly, the judiciary is going along with this power grab by agreeing to supervise a referendum scheduled for December 15, 2012, to ratify the draft constitution which was written by the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly.
Morsi’s power grab has sparked a struggle with Egypt’s political opposition and religious minorities. Political opponents of radical Islam such as Socialists and secular democrats are united with Egypt’s religious minorities. These groups seek to challenge the creeping hegemony of radical Islam and preserve Egypt’s nascent democratic transition.
Secular Muslims such as Mohamed Karim support the Coptic Christian representatives who walked out of the Islamist-dominated Constitutional process. Mr. Karim was quoted in Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm as saying,“The president [was]… overlooking the withdrawal of representatives of 10 percent of Egypt’s population…sorry, but this is nonsense from a president exercising thuggery over the people with his authorities.” Secular Muslims’ expressions of solidarity with Coptic Christians represent a source of hope for Egypt’s political future and can deter radical Islamists from attacking Coptic Christians.
The West should support the Egyptian opposition and its endangered religious minorities. The U.S. should cut 10% of its military aid to Egypt if Morsi implements this illegal Presidential decree. Additional cuts should be made if he continues to persecute Egypt’s religious minorities and ratify this Islamist-driven Constitution. Religious and political freedom and judicial independence are at stake in this battle. Egypt’s secular democrats and religious minorities deserve Western support in their efforts to transform Egypt from a military kleptocracy and radical Islamist regime into a modern democratic state.