Egyptian authorities have arrested a minority Coptic Christian teacher for allegedly posting cartoons on Facebook that insulted Islam - charges that are becoming a common theme in a country ruled by an Islamic majority.
Bishoy Kamel, 32, a Coptic Christian from the Sohag province, has been detained for four days pending an investigation for reportedly posting cartoons defaming the Prophet Mohammed and Egypt’s president.
Mohamed Safwat, who has filed charges against Kamel, claimed that the teacher had also “insulted members of his own family,” writes Ahram Online.
Kamel may face up to five years in jail if convicted of blasphemy. The detainee has already admitted to managing the Facebook page under investigation. But Kamel insisted he cannot be held responsible for the content of the Facebook page, since the site was hacked on July 28.
This is not the first time members of a religious minority in Egypt have been charged for insulting Islam on social media.
In April this year, a teenage Coptic boy was sentenced to three years in prison after publishing cartoons on his Facebook page that mocked the Prophet Mohammad. In another incident, Coptic businessmen Naguib Sawiris posted Disney’s Mickey and Minnie Mouse dressed in Islamic attire. The Twitter message landed him in court, though he was acquitted.
Posts on Facebook and Twitter have been riling Arabs outside of Egypt, too. In June 2012, a Kuwaiti man was sentenced to ten years in prison after being convicted of threatening state security. The court ruled Hamad al-Naqi used Twitter to offend the Prophet Mohammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Al-Naqi also claimed that his account had been hacked.
In February 2012, Saudi Arabian writer Hamza Kashgari was arrested in Malaysia on blasphemy charges and deported. The blogger had fled his home country after receiving threats for disparaging Islam on Twitter.
Violations of blasphemy laws have different consequences in different countries throughout the Arab world. Punishments range from death penalty in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan, to lengthy prison sentences in nations like Egypt.
Tensions between Muslims and minority Coptic Christians have been on the rise for years, but interfaith relations have markedly deteriorated since the beginning of last year’s Arab Spring in Egypt.
Several churches were attacked by mobs during the uprisings, and dozens of Christians were killed in violent street clashes. The government generally denied any religious basis for the violence.
In October 2011, at least 26 people were killed and more than 300 wounded in clashes between Coptic Christians and Egypt’s military police. Christians were protesting the military’s indifference to the increase in anti-Christian attacks and discrimination. A few days before these clashes, a Christian church was torched south of the city of Luxor.
In May of this year, Muslim protesters tried to storm St. Mena's church in Imbaba, claiming that Christians were holding, against her will, a woman who had converted to Islam and married a Muslim man. At least 12 people, including four Christians and six Muslims, died in the violence.
In January 2011, more than 20 Christians were killed in a suicide blast outside the city of Alexandria, amid accusations by Islamic hardliners that that Copts had imprisoned a woman who has converted to Islam.