Zaman arrest Ozan Kose/ Stringer via getty images

Defamation and Development in the Arab World

With the violent radicalism and civil wars of the Middle East and North Africa capturing the world’s attention, the region’s grossly distorted legal systems are often ignored. Yet problematic laws like those criminalizing defamation, which facilitate political and economic repression, undermine development – and destroy lives.

AMMAN – With the violent radicalism and civil wars of the Middle East and North Africa capturing the world’s attention, the region’s grossly distorted legal systems are being given short shrift. Yet problematic laws, like those criminalizing defamation, \ facilitate political and economic repression, undermine development, and destroy lives.

Egypt’s government is perhaps the biggest abuser of defamation and blasphemy laws to suppress differing views. In particular, the Egyptian authorities brazenly use Article 98(f) of the Egyptian Penal Code – which prohibits citizens from defaming a “heavenly religion,” inciting sectarian strife, or insulting Islam – to detain, prosecute, and imprison members of non-majority religious groups, especially Christians. All that is needed is a vague claim that their activities are jeopardizing “communal harmony.”

Moreover, the writer Ahmed Naji was recently handed a two-year prison sentence for violating “public modesty,” by publishing a sexually explicit excerpt from his novel. This came just a month after the author Fatma Naoot appealed the three-year sentence she received when a Facebook post criticizing the slaughter of animals for a Muslim feast led to a guilty verdict for “contempt for Islam.” The list goes on.

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