CAIRO — The pale, young Christian woman sat handcuffed in the courtroom, accused of insulting Islam while teaching history of religions to fourth-graders. A team of Islamist lawyers with long beards sang in unison, “All except the Prophet Muhammad.”
The case against Dimyana Abdel-Nour in southern Egypt’s ancient city of Luxor began when parents of three of her pupils claimed that their children, aged 10, complained their teacher showed disgust when she spoke of Islam in class. According to the parents, Abdel-Nour, 24, told the children that Pope Shenouda, who led the Egyptian Coptic Church until his death last year, was better than the Prophet Muhammad.
Blasphemy charges were not uncommon in Egypt under the now-ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s regime, but there has been a surge in such cases in recent months, according to rights activists. The trend is widely seen as a reflection of the growing power and confidence of Islamists, particularly the ultraconservative Salafis.
“Salafis are the engineers of these stories,” said Abdel-Hamid Hassan, a Muslim and the head of the parents’ council at the primary school where Abdel-Nour teaches.
“If the pope himself came here from the Vatican and tried to spread Christianity among us, he would fail. We learn about our religion starting from the age of 5,” he said, alluding to the allegation against Abdel-Nour, since withdrawn, of “spreading Christianity.”