On June 24, 2014 Kerolos Shouky Attallah was found guilty of violating two articles of the Egyptian Penal Code – Article 98F, defaming a divinely revealed religion, and Article 176, inciting sectarian violence. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. All because he “liked” a Facebook page that his Muslim neighbors didn’t like.
The Knights of the Cross Facebook page was designed to provide Arabic-speaking converts from Islam – many forced to live alone and in hiding – a cyber-place to encourage each other and safely discuss the Bible. Members also post essays about Christian apologetics and entries about perceived errors and conflicts in the Koran.
Attallah did not comment, upload, or any way interact with the page, other than to hit the “Like” button. Once Attallah became aware that he had offended Muslims in his community, he “un-liked” the page.
Attallah obtained a cell phone sometime in May and started his own Facebook page soon thereafter. Days later, Muslims in his village became aware that he had “liked” the offending page, and by May 28, they printed and distributed leaflets demanding vengeance against him. One leaflet read, “You will not be men if you don’t kick him out of your village,” according to Samaan.
The Muslims tried to attack Attallah at his home the next day, but security authorities intervened by arresting Attallah. Authorities did not arrest any of the Muslims involved in the attack or those who incited it with the leaflets. Up until the day before the sentencing, Muslims were intermittently attacking Christian-owned homes and businesses, using the Facebook site as an excuse.
Yet, during all of this, a new President came into power in Egypt. President Sisi promised law and order in Egypt and he had delivered that during the ousting of the past two presidents.
While Sisi was campaigning for President in the embattled Egypt, the Christians of Egypt placed their hope in him. Believing Sisi to be, at the very least, tolerant of them, they backed his rise to power. Why wouldn’t they? He ensured the rebuilding of their churches and appeared to have Egypt’s security in mind. And compared to all of the other candidates, he was the best.
This backfired. Although Sisi upholds the laws, the problem is that he upholds the laws. The laws in Egypt, and the prevailing local societal norms, are based on Sharia law. Women in school, despite religion, are asked to wear veils. Sisi has cracked down on free speech and media outlets. Anyone can be the target of a blasphemy case. Christians have little legal standing.
Now that Sisi is in power, Christians still have much to fear.