11/21/2016, 14.54
EGYPT
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President al Sisi grants amnesty to Islamic thinker Islam Al-Behairy

by Loula Lahham

The accused has been sentenced to one year in prison for defaming Islam on TV because he had called for the revision of medieval Qur‘anic interpretations. The spokesman of the Catholic Church agrees with the decision but deems it late. For Salafi leaders, it was wrong because he had offended Islam. Meanwhile, the head of the Journalists’ Union gets two years in prison.

Cairo (AsiaNews) – Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Sisi ordered the release of 82 prisoners convicted of participating in unauthorised demonstrations, violation of freedom of expression and dissemination of false information.

Famous intellectual and Islamic thinker Islam al-Behairy (pictured) is one of the beneficiaries of the amnesty (Presidential Decree 515/2016) issued on 17 November. 

Last July, Egypt’s Court of Cassation had confirmed a one-year prison sentence imposed on Al-Behairy for defaming Islam on TV in 2015, following charges filed by al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s highest authority in Egypt and the world.

His crime was to have forcefully called for the revision of various texts of interpretation of the Qur‘an, Islam's holy book, written mostly in the Middle Ages.

According to his critics and Muslim extremists, the words of the Muslim free thinker were blasphemous vis-à-vis Islam's religious heritage.

News of Islam Al-Behairy sparked a bevy of conflicting opinions and comments.

Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian Catholic Church, backs the president’s decision; however, “I am inclined to think that it comes too late. I am very happy for Al-Behairy’s release, but this does not mean that I think like him”.

I am for "freedom of expression," Fr Greiche said, even if it involves the "defamation of my religious beliefs, as often happens here. We don’t have a lot of loyalty here."

Sheikh Sameh Abdel-Hamad, an Egyptian Salafi leader, disagrees. The decision was "totally wrong" and should be opposed vigorously.

In his view, Al-Behairy seriously violated religious ​​[Islamic] values, ridiculing the founding fathers and the first great Muslim thinkers, above all Al-Bukhari, "the greatest" among theologians and Islamic intellectuals in his opinion.

For Sameh Abdel-Hamad, "The president ridicules Al-Azhar and offends Islam”, with his amnesty.

Meanwhile, Yehia Qallash, head of the Journalists’ Union has been sentenced to two years in prison along with two colleagues for "harbouring fugitives”.

A court in Cairo allowed Yehia Qallash, Gamal Abdel Rahim and Khaled al-Balshy to pay a US 0-bail pending an appeal.

The case dates back to last May, when protests broke out after Egypt decided to return two disputed islands to Saudi Arabia. President al Sisi and Saudi King Salman had reached an agreement during a meeting.

However, the Cairo Administrative Court has ruled against the agreement. Critics claim that it is contrary to the Constitution and lacks transparency.

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