The controversy surrounding the arrest of band members of the local “Street Children” group has caught renewed attention from a number of public and religious figures and actors that have accused the band of “religious contempt”.
The band has released a number of satirical videos on Facebook in which they comment on ongoing political events and mocked religious radio shows.
In a phone interview with the privately-owned TV channel Sada Al-Balad, Imam Ahmed Karima said the band members have “crossed the line”, as all religious issues should be addressed in a respectful manner.
“I didn’t really watch the video, but I know of the content from the media coverage and what this band did is considered apostasy and they should be held legally accountable,” Karima said.
He added that freedom of expression is not applied if anyone insults Judaism because they will be accused of anti-Semitism. He went on to wonder why Islam is the only religion that is consistently insulted with “no actions taken”.
Islam El-Behairy was arrested for insulting religious figures, so the law should be applied to everyone equally, especially as they are adults and should be held accountable for their deeds, Karima added.
“There should be no excuses given to them and I call on the general-prosecutor to file a lawsuit against them,” Karima continued.
He concluded saying that there is an obvious difference between freedom of thought and expression and blasphemy, saying that what they did is explicit apostasy.
In September 2014, Karima was suspended by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs for three months after he visited Iran to give Sunni comparative jurisprudence lectures without permission from Al-Azhar University.
Adel Ramadan, a legal officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Daily News Egypt that bringing up the issue of “religious contempt” is an obvious attempt by some media outlets to create social backlash.
“The general prosecution didn’t investigate the videos in which the band mocked religious radio shows specifically; however, some media and religious figures discussed this video in order to distort their image,” Ramadan said.
A lawsuit has already been filed to the general prosecution against the band; however, the provision of “religious contempt” in the Constitution is not clear. This is rather vague and is the only provision in the Sanctions Law that depends on “personal assessments” due to its lack of clarity.
“If I were to assess the video, I would say that it is not ‘religious contempt’, however, someone else could consider this video as in contempt on Islam. This would be an ongoing debate because the law is not in anyone’s favour,” Ramadan added.
“The law was previously used in other cases that weren’t as direct and explicit as this one, and they were charged with ‘religious contempt’, so the personal assessment and unclear law are not in the band’s favour,” he said.
He concluded by saying that if the prosecution’s decision is not in the band’s favour, the EIPR will provide lawyers to help in the case.
In a phone interview to the privately-owned TV channel Sada Al-Balda, Islamic preacher Khaled Al-Gindi said that although the band’s actions were morally unacceptable, it should not be considered “religious contempt”.
Al-Gindi said that this should be a wake-up call for religious radio shows as the antiquated, traditional tone of their sermons is no longer effective and needs more vitality to address and reach out to the youth demographic.
“What this band acted upon was not contempt of religion, but rather contempt of the sermons as they only commented on shows and old-fashioned religious sermons. We have to admit that our current style is boring,” Al-Gindi continued.
Ezz El-Din Khaled, the youngest member of “Street Children” was arrested earlier this month on charges of inciting protests and publishing inappropriate videos online. His arrest stirred anger on social media among young people, particularly those who contested that sarcasm is not a crime.
Khaled was released one day after being detained, then the rest of the band were ordered by the prosecution to be held in remand on charges of publishing inappropriate videos and inciting protests.
According to lawyer Tarek Al-Awady, who attended the investigations with the band members, charges of co-founding a group that aims to topple the regime and spreading false news that can harm the public interest were also added charges.