SHAFAQNA – Egyptian authorities have closed a café in Cairo that is accused of harbouring devil worshippers, days after a religious body declared that the country was in the grip of a “worrying” rise in atheism.
Officials labelled the coffee shop in the capital’s downtown Abdeen district as a “den of satanic rituals” because so many atheists were believed to have frequented it.
Cairo authorities made the claims even though atheists argue that they do not believe in either God or the Devil.
Gamal Mohie, the chief of the Abdeen municipality, said that the café was well-known as a place for satanic worship, rituals and dancing. There were also satanic drawings at the entrance, he said.
The owner has been arrested and the authorities said that they found drugs on the premises.
The targeting of atheists is part of a growing erosion of human rights since Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president, was overthrown by the military last year.
Human rights advocates say that the military-backed authorities are increasingly using morality police to arrest anyone who steps out of line, including non-believers and gay and lesbian people.
There is no law against atheism but the authorities use legislation criminalising blasphemy and religious insults to lock up non-believers.
“The situation is worse than ever because this government is trying to prove it is more Islamic and conservative than the Islamists they ousted. They are trying to constrict freedoms at the same time to silence perceived dissenters,” said Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher in freedom of religion and belief at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The police raid comes after a statement last Wednesday by Dar al-Ifta, the government body responsible for Islamic edicts and the main office of the grand mufti, that Egypt was harbouring 866 atheists.
“The number is not big but it is still the highest in the Arab region,” Ibrahim Negm, the grand mufti’s spokesperson, said in the report.
Morocco and Tunisia were the next biggest hotbeds of atheism, housing 325 and 320 atheists respectively.
The unusually precise number of 866 was determined following an extensive survey, claimed Dr Negm, adding that the real number was much higher, because people were too afraid to admit publicly to not believing in God.
“Statistics show that atheism has increased here in the past four years,” Dr Negm said. Dar al-Ifta is monitoring “tens of active websites calling for atheism”, including Egyptians Atheists, Atheists Without Borders and the Brotherhood of Atheists, the report found.
At least five “atheists” have been sent to jail in the past two years, including two youths who were arrested a few months ago for speaking about the subject on television, Mr Ibrahim added.