Cairo: The Egyptian parliament is examining a draft bill that makes disparaging remarks on the country’s historical figures a jailable offence.
Lawmaker Omar Hamrush, the author of the draft, said that the motion proposes penalties of a maximum five years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 Egyptian pounds (about Dh104,000) against the offender.
Repeat offenders risk jailing of up to seven years and a fine of 1 million pounds.
“There is insistence from some people on mocking historical personalities and symbols,” Hamrush said in media remarks.
“The controversy resulting from insulting these symbols is dangerous and negatively affects the Egyptian people by spreading depression among them,” he added.
The draft defines historical figures as those deemed as part of the state’s history and official documents.
Researchers conducting scholarly studies are exempted of the proposed penalties.
Speaker of the parliament Ali Abdul Aal has referred Hamrush’s draft to the assembly’s constitutional, media and culture committees to look into it after it was supported by 60 legislators. No specific date has been set yet for a plenary debate in the parliament.
The move comes weeks after well-known Egyptian novelist and researcher Yousuf Zidan triggered a heated debate by harshly criticising the 19th nationalist icon Ahmad Orabi and accusing him of giving Britain the pretext to colonise Egypt for more than 70 years.
Orabi’s descendants have filed a suit against Zidan, accusing him of falsifying history and causing public confusion about their ancestor’s national role.
Months earlier, Zidan, an Arabic Booker winner, called the 12th Sunni ruler Salah Al Deen the “most despicable person in history” and accused him of perpetrating atrocities against members of the Shiite Fatimid dynasty after he ended their rule in Egypt.
Zidan’s critics have accused him of fishing for attention by allegedly ignoring well-established historical facts.
His backers say he deserves praise for re-reading history and raising a new debate on taken-for-granted historical events.