CAIRO (BP)–Authorities in southern Egypt have arrested 155 Christians and other non-Muslims for publicly eating and drinking during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. A Christian organization in the country warned the enforcement of Islamic law on non-Muslims would “create another Taliban in Egypt.”
The arrests, which occurred in the states of Aswan and Dakahlia and the resort city of Hurghada, were made to maintain order and decrease crime during the holy month, an unnamed government official told the Los Angeles Times.
Human rights organizations were quick to react, calling the arrests both illegal and unconstitutional.
“They violated personal freedom and will end up creating another Taliban in Egypt,” Samuel al-Ashay of the human rights movement Copts for Egypt told the Al Arabiya news network. Copts for Egypt launched a campaign called “Save the Homeland” in response to the arrests, which were first reported Sept. 7. “We issued a statement to the Minister of Interior calling upon him to investigate the arrests and put those in charge on trial,” Ashay said.
“There is no law that prohibits eating or drinking during the day in Ramadan. Every citizen has the right to eat and drink in Ramadan without being harassed,” Gamal Eid of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information told Al Arabiya. “This means that the government is implicitly endorsing turning Egypt into a religious state.”
The arrests resemble policies in more conservative Gulf countries, where publicly breaking the Ramadan fast before sundown can result in a month in jail, for example, or a fine of $350.
“This is against basic human rights of citizens. We (the Christians) are not Muslims and don’t believe in Islamic fasting. We have our faith and our own fasting,” Magdhi Kalil, director of the Middle East Freedom Forum, told the International Christian Concern human rights organization in Washington, D.C. “Even for Muslims, the decision to fast or not to fast is a personal issue.”
This is the first time Egyptian officials have taken such steps, indicating further Islamization in the country’s officially secular public life, said Jonathan Racho, ICC’s regional manager for Africa and the Middle East.
“Punishing non-Muslims for eating or drinking during Ramadan is both outrageous and a clear violation of the freedom of religion,” Racho said in a Sept. 10 news release. “We condemn in strongest terms the measure by Egypt to force Muslims and non-Muslims alike to fast during Ramadan. We call upon the international community to hold Egypt accountable for its illegal and unconscionable actions.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.