Ahmed Harkan speaking on his YouTube channel in March 2018.
Ahmed Hussein Harkan|
10 December 1982
|Known for||Atheist human rights activism|
|Spouse(s)||Nada Mandour alias Saly Harkan (m. 201?; div. 2016)|
Ahmed Hussein Harkan (Arabic: أحمد حسين حرقان) (born 10 December 1982) is an Egyptian atheist human rights activist. He is a blogger, vlogger and founder of the Free Mind e-channel, and has frequently appeared on several Egyptian talk shows to discuss the rights of nonbelievers. His first name is alternately romanised as Ahmed and Ahmad, his surname as Harkan and Harqan.[note 1]
Early life and education
Harkan grew up in a Muslim family oriented toward the Salafi movement in Islam. He received religious education from the Islamic scholar Ahmed Al-Burhami. He spent a large part of his youth as an ultra-conservative Salafist Muslim fundamentalist. In June 2010, at the age of 27, Harkan abandoned Islam after a long period of doubt about his religious practices and beliefs. Harkan decided to break with his past, burn all his religious certificates and start his education from scratch. His mother was in shock when he revealed his atheism, and his sheikh Yasser sent him to a psychiatrist, who concluded Harkan wasn't insane but just an atheist. Yasser rejected the diagnosis and insisted Harkan was 'sick with doubt'.
Since his apostasy, Harkan has been among the few non-believers in Egypt who has dared to speak openly about being atheist, and he has been invited to appear on several Egyptian talk shows to discuss the rights of non-religious citizens.
2014 assassination attempt and arrest
On 21 October 2014, Harkan appeared on the Egyptian talk show Taht al Koubry ("Under the Bridge") with Tony Khalife on the channel Al-Kahera Wal-Nas ("Cairo and the People"). He explained why he had become an atheist and said that Islam is a "harsh religion", which was being implemented by Daesh and Boko Haram. They are doing "what the Prophet Muhammad and his companions did," said Harkan.
According to media reports, Harkan and his pregnant wife, Nada Mandour (Saly) Harkan, survived an assassination attempt 4 days later on the evening of 25 October 2014. Harkan managed to flee with his wife after receiving some injuries and went to the Alhanafie–Alajlany police station to report the incident, along with their friend Karim Jimy. The attackers chasing them told the police Harkan had "insulted Islam and compared the Prophet to Islamic State" on television. Instead of taking action to help Harkan and his wife and his friend, the police officers further assaulted them and they were imprisoned and charged with blasphemy and "defamation of religion" under article 98 in the Egyptian penal code for asking "What has ISIS done that Muhammad did not do?” on an Egyptian television talk show. Harkan's lawyer was humiliated and kicked out of the police station. After 24 hours in detention, Ahmed and Saly Harkan and their friend Jimy were released, and charges against them were dropped. However, they had to move to a different house to avoid threats and abuse.
In the autumn of 2014, Harkan and Mandour launched the Free Mind TV channel, which seeks to promote non-religious liberal ideas. With Harkan as show host and Mandour as camera operator and director, episodes were recorded at a secret location in Egypt, and edited and produced in a studio in the United States by Iraqi producer Khaldoon Alghanimi.
On 24 March 2015, Harkan participated in an open discussion between non-religious Egyptians, moderated by researcher Amr Ezzat and hosted by the Religion and Freedoms Forum at the headquarters of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. Ezzat questioned whether Harkan's outspoken atheism on television was an effective method of activism: "I advised him [Harkan] not to do so publicly or he would go to prison, but he said society needed such a shock. I wonder if that shock would have a positive impact on the rights of non-believers." Harkan defended his appearance by saying: "If all atheists speak out, the state will no longer treat them as an undesired minority." To an audience member who said that atheists would receive more sympathy if they did not frequently "insult religion", Harkan answered that "We have the right to express ourselves," and Ismail Mohammed (host of The Black Ducks) added: "Can we first have our rights before we talk about insults and foul language?"
On 3 November 2015, Harkan was invited to debate on Al-Assema TV, where he got into an argument with the host, Rania Mahmoud Yassin (daughter of actor Mahmoud Yacine), whom he claimed was not objective and fair. The discussion barely focused on religion itself, and mainly about Harkan's claim that in a debate the host should be impartial to ensure a balanced exchange. However, Yassin maintained an anti-atheist position and said that they had only invited Harkan on the show "so that people can learn a lesson from atheism, heresy, and all those disgraceful phenomena in society", whereupon Harkan stood up and left the show in protest.
- Heather Murdock (30 April 2015). "Defying Taboo, Middle East Atheists Launch TV Channel". Voice of America. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Rachael Black. "Freedom to Ahmed Harqan, Saly Harqan, and Karim Jimy". Richard Dawkins Foundation. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- "Non-believers express their thoughts at Religion and Freedoms Forum". Egypt Independent. 1 April 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- "Egyptian Human Rights Activist Ahmad Harqan: ISIS Is Doing what the Prophet Muhammad Did". Middle East Media Research Institute. 21 October 2014. Archived from the original on 7 March 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
- David D. Kirkpatrick (8 January 2015). "Raising Questions Within Islam After France Shooting". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 January 2015.
- "TV Host Clashes with Egyptian Atheist Live on the Air: We Don't Want Infidels Here". Middle East Media Research Institute. 3 November 2015. Archived from the original on 7 March 2018. Retrieved 6 March 2018.
- Passant Darwish (14 January 2015). "Egypt's 'war on atheism'". Al-Ahram. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Elizabeth Arrott (5 December 2013). "Egypt's Atheists Struggle to be Heard, Not Jailed". Voice of America. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- "Atheist Egyptian couple escape a lynch mob, only to be beaten by the police". Dotmsr. 8 December 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2018.