On Sunday, Egyptian officials stormed the Passiles café in Cairo to crack down on what they perceived was a hub for atheists. Or Satanists. One of them (even though atheists don’t worship Satan). It didn’t seem to matter, actually…
The cafe was popular with customers who could step away from the bustling Cairo stress to sip tea and while the hours away. But many in the police didn’t believe it was entirely innocent. In an interview with the Mada Masr news site, local police chief Gamal Mohie, said, “There was no sign reading ‘atheists’ cafe’ outside, as nobody would put up such a public announcement. However, it was popularly known as a place for Satan worship, rituals and dances. There were also Satanic drawings at the entrance.”
Even if that were true… so what? That would be the reasonable thing to ask. But, in Egypt, where they can supposedly count atheists individually, anything that will cause non-Muslims to fear going public with their beliefs is justified.
BuzzFeed News said the whole idea of the café being a meeting spot for ne’er-do-wells was farcical:
BuzzFeed News visited the site, and saw a small swastika spray-painted outside the front door, but no other indication of “satanic drawings.” No one, said locals, ever knew it as a place for atheists, devil worshippers, or any other group.
You can see pictures of the place post-raid right here.
No one was arrested except the café’s owner, and even that was for unrelated reasons (like not having a shop license and possessing illegal drugs).
But at least it scared off all those atheists and Satanists, right? No more than usual. They’re already well aware that voicing their opinions makes them targets so they know better than gathering in one spot regularly:
“It’s a popular downtown spot, but there is really nothing special about it. That’s the thing about Egypt today, you don’t know why one place gets raided and another place doesn’t, everyone is on edge, everyone feels like they are in danger from authorities,” said Mohamed Walid, a Cairo University student who frequented Passiles. He, like others, said they were now avoiding the area.
“It’s crazy. People who are atheists in Egypt almost never talk about it, it is just something they quietly believe,” said Walid. “If you are atheist and you heard this announcement, it was like the State saying we are coming for you next.”
There’s modern Egypt for you: A place where dissent must be stifled at all costs, even when it amounts to sipping drinks and talking at a local coffee shop.