Last Updated 10 September 2021

A nation of 100 million people, an estimated 90% of whom follow Sunni Islam,1Egypt – The World Factbook ( Egypt is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

During the Arab Spring protests in 2011, long-time President Hosni Mubarak resigned and was later replaced in an election by the Muslim Brotherhood-supported Mohammed Morsi. Morsi was himself overthrown in 2013 leaving the country to be ruled by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Since 2017, under the pretext of the fight against terrorism, the country has been living under a state of emergency that has given security forces unchecked power to repress dissent. Political opponents, human rights activists, freethinkers and LGBTI+ people are particularly vulnerable categories, while the government exerts a tight grip on the media and civil society organizations.2;  

Constitution and government Education and children’s rights Family, community, society, religious courts and tribunals Freedom of expression advocacy of humanist values
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

The Egyptian legal system is based on positive (mainly secular) law, although it refers to Islamic hanafi law on specific matters. The Constitution places sharia and Islam at its core whilst only recognizing “Abrahamic” religions (Islam, Judaism and Christianity) as legitimate forms of worship.

The 2014 Constitution3 begins: “In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful”, and part 1 of the document lays out the role of religion. Article 2 describes Islam as “the religion of the State. […] The principles of Islamic Sharia are the main source of legislation.” The influence of sharia is especially relevant in civil law, but also in certain criminal provisions – notably on blasphemy (see below).

The Constitution formally recognizes the principle of equality, which appears both in the preamble (“We are drafting a Constitution that achieves equality between us in rights and duties with no discrimination”) and in the body of the Constitution (Art.4, Art.9, Art. 53). Art. 4 reads: “Sovereignty belongs to the people […]. They safeguard their national unity, which is based on the principles of equality, justice and equal opportunities between citizens, as provided in this Constitution”. Article 9 reads: “The state ensures equal opportunities for all citizens without discrimination”. Finally, as per Article 53, “Citizens are equal before the law, possess equal rights and public duties, and may not be discriminated against on the basis of religion, belief, sex, origin, race, colour, language, disability, social class, political or geographical affiliation, or for any other reason. Discrimination and incitement to hate are crimes punishable by law. The state shall take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination, and the law shall regulate the establishment of an independent commission for this purpose”.

Since 1913, the Egyptian Penal Code has not included an article on apostasy or conversion. However, conversion from Islam has legal consequences in family law, regarding marriage, child custody and inheritance (see below).

Discrimination in practice

Religious minorities and atheists still face discrimination in several domains.

Article 3 of the Constitution only  officially recognizes Christians and Jews as religious communities that have the faculty to refer to their own religious courts instead of Islamic law. No reference is made to atheists and religious minorities such as Bahā’īs and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Furthermore, the Constitution distinguishes between freedom of religion or belief and freedom to practice one’s religion. While stating that freedom of belief is absolute, “[t]he freedom of practicing religious rituals and establishing places of worship for the followers of revealed religions is a right organized by law” (Article 64).4Emphasis added

Concerning atheists and agnostics, they are “one of Egypt’s least-protected minorities”, according to Human Rights Watch, and there has been a prolonged campaign to turn “youth” away from atheism, with several prominent atheists arrested and convicted.5

One of the most visible signs of discrimination against atheists, apostates from Islam and members of minority religions is the policy concerning the  Egyptian State ID cards, which include a section on religion where only one of the three “divine religions” can be recognized. Many elderly members of Baha’i or other minority communities further lack birth and marriage certificates. In 2008 the situation slightly improved, when two Bahā’īs  were given permission to use a dash (“-”) in the religion section.6Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 168. However, Baha’is still do not enjoy the right to have their religion recognized, nor to profess it in public.

Muslim-born individuals who leave Islam are not allowed to change the religion field on their identity card. Only in a few cases in which Christians converted to Islam and subsequently returned to Christianity have the Egyptian courts, albeit inconsistently, allowed the change in the documents.7Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 188-190.

Key constitutional developments

In April 2019, the Parliament adopted constitutional amendments giving more power to the military and allowing President Al-Sisi to run until 2030.8The Arabic text of the amendments is available here: These amendments decisively expand the role of the military: they entrust the armed forces with the protection of the Constitution (without giving information on how this authority will coordinate with the legislative and judiciary power) and with safeguarding “democracy, maintaining the foundations of the state and its civilian nature, the gains of the people, and the rights and freedoms of the individual”;9 furthermore, the amendments broaden the military jurisdiction over civilians to cover all “attacks directed against the military“, while before the Constitution mentioned “direct attacks”, thus making the provision broader and more arbitrary.10 Members of secular and leftist parties that have openly opposed these amendments have been investigated by the authorities: one of them is Hamdeen Sabbahy, political leader of the Egyptian Popular Current.11

Against the backdrop of a situation where the security forces have adopted different tactics to crackdown on any opposition movement against the guarantees of the rule of law,12 the latest constitutional amendments further undermine the right to a fair trial and the independence of the judiciary.13;

Education and children’s rights

Article 24 of the Constitution states: “The Arabic language, religious education, and national history in all its stages are core subjects of pre- university public and private education. Universities are committed to teaching human rights, and professional morals and ethics relating to various academic disciplines.”

Muslim and Christian students are required to take Islamic and Christian courses respectively, in public schools, in all grades. Non-religious and religious minority students must choose one or the other course; they may not opt out or change from one to the other.14

Article 7 of the Constitution states that the religious al-Azhar university is the “the main authority for religious sciences, and Islamic affairs. It is responsible for preaching Islam and disseminating the religious sciences and the Arabic language in Egypt and the world.” It further adds that “The state shall provide enough financial allocations to achieve its purposes.”

Article 80 of the Constitution enshrines the rights of the Child in multiple fields, including health care, education, protection against violence, legal guarantees in case of criminal liability. However, there is ample evidence of children abducted by they authorities, held in incommunicado detention and tortured in prison.15

Family, community and society

Article 10 of the Constitution defines the family as “the basis of society and is based on religion, morality, and patriotism.”

Family law is mainly derived from Islamic law.  However, Article 3 states that “[t]he principles of the laws of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of laws regulating their personal status, religious affairs, and selection of spiritual leaders.”

Cases involving individuals who are not Muslim, Christian or Jews are adjudicated based on the Egyptian codified law (mainly based on Islamic law).16 The same applies to mixed marriages and to matters of inheritance and guardianship.17Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 142.

Under Sharia Law, the rights of men and women relating to marriage vary, including inter-religious marriages. Coptic personal status laws prohibit all mixed marriages.18

Societal pressure relating to religious interpretations of law can represent a threat with consequences such as violent sectarian clashes and honour killings.19;

The government appoints imams and pays their salaries. It further monitors their activities  by publishing weekly instructions for their sermon contents.20

In 2011, Al-Azhar and the Coptic Orthodox Church formed a common committee to address sectarian disputes in a conciliatory matter and prevent sectarian tensions, which still exist throughout the country.21

Many Christians (especially girls) are targeted for kidnapping and extortion.22; Furthermore, construction of churches must meet strict requirements and is subject to a more stringent government scrutiny than the construction or renewal of mosques.23


Besides marriage, religious family laws discriminate against women in relation to divorce, child custody and inheritance. Since 2000, a Muslim woman may obtain a divorce without her husband’s consent, following the Islamic principle of “khul”; this, however, entails the loss of all her financial rights, including alimony, dowry and other benefits.24

No law criminalizes domestic violence, unless it is “considered to be beyond ‘the accepted limits of discipline decided by the judge’ and ‘if the injuries are apparent’”.25

Female genital mutilation (FGM), although prohibited by law, is still widespread.26 Similarly, child marriage has been outlawed, but it continues to be practiced in certain areas.27 Sexual harassment of women in the streets continues to be endemic.28

LGBTI+ rights

Despite the absence of legislation explicitly banning homosexuality, LGBTI+ individuals may be prosecuted under Law 10/1961 for engaging in the “habitual practice of debauchery” or “inciting debauchery”. In recent years, the crackdown has become more intense,29 targeting homosexuals, gender non-conformist and mere supporters of LGBTI+ rights. For instance, police arrested dozens of people in the aftermath of a 2017 concert in Cairo where several rainbow flags were waived. One of them, a lesbian activist named Sarah Hegazi, never overcame the shock of the detention and tortures, and took her life in 2020.30

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Under a series of vague laws regulating the press and the media, and forbidding blasphemy and indecency, the authorities may ban or confiscate books and works of art and shut down websites, if they consider them as offensive to public morals or detrimental to religion.31;;; A decree issued in January 2015 allows ministries to ban any foreign publications that are deemed offensive to religion.32

Al-Azhar has endorsed these restrictions in the name of Islamic morals.33Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 122.

“Blasphemy” law

The Egyptian Penal Code explicitly outlaws blasphemy. Nestled among prohibitions on advocating “extremist thoughts”, “instigating sedition” or “prejudicing national security”, Article 98 (f) outlaws “disdaining and contempting any of the heavenly religions or the sects belonging thereto” with jail terms from six months to five years and/or fines of up to 1,000 Egyptian Pounds (approximately US$ 64). In addition, the desecration of religious symbols is punishable by up to five years in prison and/or fines of up to 500 EGP ($ 32), as per Article 160. The same penalties  apply to printing  distorted versions of religious books and mocking religious ceremonies (Art. 161).

All these provisions are also used against public declarations of atheism, and have been used to limit the freedom of speech of religious and non-religious groups and individuals alike.

Furthermore, Law 175/2018, the “Anti-Cyber and Information Technology Crimes law” has been arbitrarily used by the authorities to stifle online media and bloggers that allegedly spread fake news, threaten national security or attack the family values of Egyptian society.34

Blasphemy cases have been increasing since 2011.35 Besides atheists and freethinkers, religious minorities such as Christians, Shi’a Muslims and Bahais are the most targeted with accusations of blasphemy.36Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 128-130.

Anti-atheist campaign

Atheists and agnostics are on the rise in Egypt,37 despite the government’s use of religious propaganda in order to silence these movements.

What the New York Times described as “Egypt’s War on Atheism” flared up in 2014 and has continued in various forms since. Arrests and convictions for ‘blasphemy’ together with a campaign of intimidation against atheists has been described by Human Rights Watch (HRW) as part of the ongoing “coordinated government crackdown on perceived atheists”

Beginning in June 2014, the Ministry of Youth together with the Ministry of Endowments began a media and re-education campaign to “eradicate” atheism. The initiative was linked to a wider campaign that also targeted “religious extremists”, most of whom were associated with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and there were overt attempts to explicitly associate atheism per se with threats to national security and extremism. The program was aimed at “confronting and abolishing [atheism] through religious, educational and psychological means handled by experts in these fields.”40;

The backlash against the apparent growth of atheism, increasingly associated with young people and expressed on social media, has come primarily from government leaders and Islamic clerics and scholars. However, in November 2014, it was reported that Christian churches held a joint conference and were “joining forces” with Al-Azhar to fight the spread of atheism. The Egyptian Council of Churches organized, in late October 2014, a workshop for young people discussing the “dangers” of atheism.41;

In 2017, the Egyptian government took legislative measures in order to mitigate the voices of atheism within the country: the head of parliament’s committee on religion, Amro Hamroush, affirmed that atheism should be condemned as it constitutes an insult to the monotheistic religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. He also stated that “atheists have no doctrine and try to insult Abrahamic religions”. This legislative measure has been supported by Al-Azhar.42;

How has the COVID-19 pandemic in Egypt  affected freedom of expression?

In April 2020, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi introduced new amendments to the 162/1958 Emergency Law that have further consolidated presidential power. According to these amendments, the president can cease any type of public gathering and manifestation. These changes have further allowed security forces to make arrests and search peoples’ homes without a warrant.43

The government response to COVID-19 was to deny and simplify the crisis; in fact, a high number of people that have advocated the rights of detainees have been charged for spreading false news and undermining public order. As a consequence, journalists, artists, human rights advocates and politicians have been arrested for reporting about the pandemic or denouncing the management thereof.44;

The authorities use the Countering Terrorism Law that provides a broad definition of what constitutes an act of terrorism to suppress political pluralism. Many advocates and activists that have urgently called for the release of detainees that are elderly or have preconditions, due to their vulnerability to COVID-19, have been arrested with the charge of spreading false information.45 An example is that of Mohamed Mounir, a known Egyptian journalist who, after being arrested on terrorism charges for having allegedly fomented sectarian conflict and spread fake news about Coronavirus, contracted COVID-19 during his pre-trial detention and died in July 2020.46

Another notable case of a detainee at risk due to COVID-19 is that of Patrik Zaki, a human rights activist on matters related to gender and sexuality, affiliated with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He too was arrested under accusations of “spreading false news” and “inciting terrorism”, and he has been kept in pre-trial detention in spite of his asthma, which makes him particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.47;

Highlighted cases

In June 2020, activist and blogger Anas Hassan, was convicted and sentenced on appeal to three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 EGP (approximately $ 19,144) for managing the Facebook page ‘The Egyptian atheists’ which allegedly criticized the “divinely revealed religions”.48

In 2018, Mohamed Hisham Nofal, a young Egyptian atheist who was invited by the TV show “Egyptian streets” to discuss his atheism with an imam, was in fact insulted and kicked off the show live on air for stating his disbelief. After the show, he endured threats and harassment that forced him to leave Egypt and start a new life in Germany.49


“I come from a Muslim family and discovered my unbelief in my teenage years. To come out as an atheist to my family and close friends was not exactly acceptable, but it was not a danger. Some people didn’t like to hear that and tried to ignore me. Others tried to talk to me friendly to convince me about my “fault”. Until today, my mother tries to bring me back to Islam every time I talk to her. It is the same with many family members and it is really annoying.

To break fasting in public or to criticize Islam or religion publicly would be hard. And Christians face more discrimination in Egypt, it is for instance hard for them to get a promotion at work. In general I would say that the normal society silently tolerates a person being atheist, although they don’t really understand and accept it. They might think that you are crazy or stupid and you lose your credibility as an ethical and honest person. But being gay or an unveiled woman brings more problems than being atheist itself. Consequently, you can think and believe whatever you want, as long as you keep it to yourself, but any public manifestation of it raises anger.”

— Mahmoud

“I did not come out as an atheist in Egypt although only some of my friends knew that I am. The reason was that I already struggled with my family and at work just because I don’t practice Islam. For my family part, I used to spend most of my time on my own in front of my computer, almost everyone didn’t speak to me, didn’t want to share anything with me just because I had different ideas.

For work, most of companies in Egypt don’t hire Christians just because they are Christians, so I didn’t have other choice but stay Muslim in their eyes. Even then, everyone at work was wondering why I am not veiled, why I don’t do Ramadan or why I don’t pray. I actually once had a terrible problem with my boss back then… because she doesn’t like my outfits and that everyone at work say that I am kind of a slut because I am not covered enough.

Since my life was hell as an atheist in Egypt, I had to leave. Only now I can say out loud to my family that I am an atheist, and only now they accept it.

(This entry was last updated on 30 November 2020, a later update only replaced the link for footnote nr 1.)


1 Egypt – The World Factbook (
4 Emphasis added
6 Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 168.
7 Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 188-190.
8 The Arabic text of the amendments is available here:
14, 16, 20
17 Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 142.
21, 23
33 Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 122.
36 Moataz El Fegiery, Islamic Law and Human Rights: The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), 128-130.

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