Activist Arrested Over ‘Innocence’ Allegations in Cairo
As Egypt’s Coptic Christians worry they’ll become targets of the unrest, Mike Giglio reports on the harrowing ordeal of a Christian man attacked by an angry mob in Cairo over accusations he posted a link to the anti-Muslim film on Facebook.
On Thursday night, as demonstrators clashed with police in central Cairo over the anti-Islam amateur film that has sparked outrage across the Muslim world, Alber Saber was hiding at home. An angry crowd chanting Allahu Akbar was massed outside his door. Saber, a 27-year-old activist, had a long history of speaking out against Islamists in Egypt, and with religious passions running high, he had become the target for this angry mob. From inside the apartment, he could hear people calling him an infidel and debating whether to kill him on the spot.
Protests continue in Cairo following midday prayers Friday. (Ed Giles / Getty Images)
“Why are we standing down here? Let’s go upstairs and get him,” his mother, Cariman Ghaly, remembers hearing as she pressed her back against the front door to keep the crowd from breaking through it.
The crowd accused Saber of posting a Facebook link to the controversial video, along with other offenses against Islam. Ghaly called the police. When they arrived, however, they arrested Saber. A dramatic YouTube video of the scene outside shows the crowd erupting as Saber is hustled to a waiting van, cursing and grabbing at him as an officer tries to keep them at bay.
When Saber arrived at the police station, he was charged under an infrequently used law that prohibits insulting religion, according to his lawyer, Ahmed Ezzat, who spent Friday with Saber at the local police station. The allegations, Ezzat says, include sharing the Facebook link and, months earlier, posting a self-made video commentary titled “Who is the spokesman for Allah?”
Saber is from a family of Coptic Christians, which make up an estimated 10 percent of the Egyptian population. Many have been on edge during the recent unrest, worried that tensions with Muslims may be inflamed in the outcry over the film. The film’s creator, as well as some of its main backers, are reportedly Copts living in the United States—as some demonstrators in Cairo this week were quick to point out.
Saber, however, is an outspoken atheist, according to his lawyer and friends. It’s a subject on which he has engaged often on the web, where he has an active presence on social media and his personal blog. The recent flood of animosity against Saber, Ezzat says, was due less to tensions between Christians and Muslims than to Saber’s history of speaking his mind—combined with the recent frenzy over the anti-Islam film. His opponents pounced when he posted the Facebook link. “Alber is an atheist. He’s against Islam, Christianity—just all religions. In all the videos he made, he addresses all religions. This is something that creates problems with all people,” Ezzat says.
In the “Who is the spokesman for Allah?” video, one of many on religion that Saber has made, he points out that every faith claims sole ownership of the truth. In remarks that may have seemed relevant to those who seized on the video recently, he also argues that if there were a God, he would protect his religion himself, instead of having others defend it.
Ezzat is the legal director for the Cairo-based Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. He and Ghaly allege that upon arrival at the local police station, a young officer threw Saber into a cell with other detained men and announced that he had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, as the film that has caused the international outcry unabashedly does. They also say that the officer in question is a Christian, and that Saber was beaten inside the cell.