ANALYSIS – Atheism On The Rise In The Arab World

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SHAFAQNA – More Arabs are reportedly embracing atheism, as the region undergoes political upheaval in the post-Arab Spring environment.

Despite countries seeking to downplay the number of disbelievers, “atheism is spreading like wildfire,” according to an article by The New Republic. A Cairo-based Islamic institution claimed there were 2,293 atheists in the entire Arab World, an estimated population of 300 million, leading to criticism the calculations were too low.

Indeed, more than one million Saudis profess to be atheists, according to a WIN-Gallup poll from 2012. Aside from analyzing Facebook pages for Arab atheists, exact calculations are tricky in Islamic countries, where the risk of exposing oneself can range from imprisonment to capital punishment.

One Egyptian student was sentenced to three years in prison after announcing he was an atheist online. Mohamed al-Banna’s own father testified against the 21-year-old

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown in 2013, but the new regime under President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has launched a severe crackdown on social and political behavior.

Disbelief could threaten the political structure of countries relying on religion to justify state authority. Saudi Arabia, a primary example, lawfully designated atheists as terrorists in 2014.

“If you are an atheist in Saudi Arabia, you are also a revolutionary. If atheism is allowed to flourish, the regime won’t be able to survive,” Brian Whitaker, author of “Arabs Without God,” told writer Ahmed Benchemsi.

Stigmas follow self-proclaimed atheists, oftentimes labeled as immoral. “The main view is that if someone is … an atheist then he must be living like an animal. That’s how they see us. I have been asked so many times why wouldn’t I sleep with my mother?” said a Jordanian atheist cited by Benchemsi.

He writes: “In today’s Arab world, it’s not religiosity that is mandatory; it’s the appearance of it. Nonreligious attitudes and beliefs are tolerated as long as they’re not conspicuous.”

 

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