Dozens stood in solidarity with Al-Azhar critic Islam El-Beheiry on one of his appeal trial sessions at the Zeinhom court on Monday.
The protests followed calls by the Egyptian Secular Party, which is still under foundation, to show solidarity with El-Beheiry. They denounced his trial as they carried signs describing Al-Azhar as the “prison of enlightened thought”, while others said “Islam did not despise the Quran or Islam”.
Last Monday, the Misdemeanours Court of Misr Al-Qadima announced that it would hear the first appeal session for El-Beheiry’s release.
El-Beheiry was charged with contempt of religion and was sentenced to five years in prison but was released on bail of EGP 50,000 in anticipation of the issuance of the final verdict.
The sentence raised concerns from local rights groups. The Party previously issued a statement on Friday demanding support for El-Beheiry.
“We call on intellectuals, politicians, and all Egyptians concerned with freedom of speech to gather at the next appeal session for El-Behriry to assure him that he is not the only one concerned about Egypt’s future,” the statement read. “The assembly also highlighted that freedoms are guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution…these freedoms should not be violated in a country that needs them.”
El-Beheiry’s programme, which was broadcast on Al-Qahera Wal Nas satellite channel for two years, received criticism from conservative preachers and clerics at the government-affiliated institution Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Religious Endowments.
The charges against El-Beheiry stem from his programme, where he questioned the teachings of Salafi preachers. In many of his episodes, he provided video clips of famous and respected Salafi preachers and criticised their religious arguments. His programme was suspended after several warnings from Al-Azhar and a number of media officials.