'Religious Defamation': The Latest Form of Intellectual Terrorism Used by Egyptian Extremists

Ishak Hanna, Secretary-General of the Egyptian Enlightenment Association, said the phenomenon of silencing speech and suppressing freedom of expression has dramatically increased in the Egyptian society.

Hanna did note that radical Islamic groups have created new forms of intellectual terrorism, perhaps the most recent being the so-called "religious defamation," in which they take a pretext to get rid of political and human rights activists.

In a seminar organized by the association on Sunday evening entitled "Blasphemy: Latest Forms of Terrorism," Hanna pointed out that extremists were practicing terrorism against people whom they publicly accused of infidelity, such as the late Dr. Farag Foda, who was killed.

They later altered this approach by using what is called "Hesba"- an Islamic doctrine that entitles any Muslim to take legal action against anyone considered harmful to Islam- which they used against the late Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid. They tried to force him to divorce his wife.

Hanna warned this accusation is used primarily against simple and poor citizens who are unable to defend themselves and whom society does not protect.

Hanna said that as those extremists win one case after another, the idea would be entrenched and it may develop to be a weapon against media professionals and politicians. Over time, Egyptians may become accustomed and more familiar to such charges, making it difficult for human rights advocates to defend intellectuals, philosophers and creative people.

For his part, Dr. Mohamed Afifi, professor and chairperson of the History Department at Cairo University, said the term "religous defamation" in Egypt makes him laugh.

"How can a state like Egypt, which exported the idea of religion and its fundamentals to the whole world, reach such a stage in which some people fabricate that charge?" Afifi exclaimed.

Hamdi el-Assiouti, human rights lawyer and a member of the Lawyers Syndicate's Freedoms Committee, said that the defamation charge is not new and it has been found since 1882.