Will hash be legalized in Egypt? Debate heats up


Heated debate has ensued since the Cigarettes Dealers Association submitted an official request to legalize hash.

Fierce criticism of Osama Salama, chairman of the association and sponsor of the campaign, is paralleled with strong support for the initiative.

While the first camp views calls for legalization as implicit encouragement of addiction, the second stresses the financial benefits of such a move, especially in light of the high rates of consumption among Egyptians.

Salama says his request is purely pragmatic: “Hash is already widely consumed in Egypt. We might as well make it legal.”

He says the state will save billions annually if hash becomes legal.

“According to reports, dealing in hash yields a huge annual profit that ranges from 40 to 45 billion Egyptian pounds [$5.25 – $5.90 billion],” he said.

“The state wastes a lot of money in combating drugs and only manages to confiscate 15 percent of the quantity, while the remaining 85 percent is smuggled into the country anyway.”

Salama says taxing the trade would raise a lot of money and the economy “is bound to prosper.”

He rejected concerns about increased hash consumption if his request is granted: “People like whatever is prohibited, but when the prohibited is legalized consumption drops.”

Salama refrained from engaging in legal and religious debates about the issue: “We want what’s in Egypt’s interest at the end of the day.”


Security expert General Refaat Abdel Hamid accuses Salama of threatening Egypt’s national security: “Israel used drugs rather than weapons to destabilize Egypt, and this is what Salama is doing now.”

Abdel Hamid said he filed a complaint with the interior minister, asking for Salama’s arrest for “spreading chaos.”

Security expert Sameh Lotfi also slammed the initiative: “Will the Cigarettes Dealers Association agree to take responsibility for all crimes committed by hash consumers?”

Lotfi says the Interior Ministry is doing a very good job against drug consumption: “Now we can see how difficult it is to get drugs like Tramadol, and this means the ministry has managed to eliminate it from the market.”

Journalist Mohamed Abdel Raouf scoffed at Salama’s claim that 45 million Egyptians already smoke hash: “Well, if half the population smokes hash, then maybe we should replace quality education with free hash. What an out-of-the-box solution to our problems after two revolutions!”

Activist Seif al-Azzazi filed a complaint against Salama with the prosecutor general, accusing him of “committing a crime against the law, the state, and the people.”

Hani al-Nazer, former head of the National Center for Research, accused Salama of committing “a full-fledged crime” by encouraging an increase in the number of “mentally and psychologically disturbed addicts.”

Effects of hash

Psychiatrist Magdi Ibrahim Hussein, who has done extensive research on addiction, warns of a “disaster” if hash is legalized: “When consumed in small quantities, hash can lift the consumer’s spirits, but when the quantities increase, it can cause hallucinations similar to those triggered by LSD in addition to memory disorders, lack of empathy, distorted perception, and aggression.”

Hash consumption, added Hussein, also causes heart palpitations, cornea inflammation, mouth and throat dryness, nausea and respiratory system inflammation. “Addiction is also responsible for a wide range of crimes, particularly rape, and road accidents. This is basically because narcotics make people impulsive and violent as well as incapable of exercising self-restraint.”

Hussein refutes Salama’s statements about the economic benefits of legalizing hash: “Hash induces depression, lethargy, and apathy. How can people suffering from such symptoms be able to work? What kind of profit is expected to be made when people stop going to work or are unable to work conscientiously?”


Osama al-Ghazali Harb, an activist and member of the Free Egyptians Party, criticized the way Salama was being treated like a criminal: “Salama’s argument is very logical, objective, and worth studying. He simply argued that since the war against hash has so far been lost, then we might as well legalize it. This is done in several countries like The Netherlands, Norway, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Argentina.”

Harb pointed to the popularity of hash among Egyptians of all social backgrounds, and the state’s failure to eliminate it: “There are two ways of dealing with anything considered uncommon in a given society: prohibition or legalization under regulations. This will not lead to increased consumption as some claim. Take alcohol for example; it is legal yet not more than 2 percent of the Egyptian population consumes it.”

Business tycoon Naguib Sawiris wrote an article entitled “How the Egyptian government can make billions with 10 resolutions,” and one of his suggestions was legalizing hash: “This is an idea many might not approve, but that is applied in several developed countries. Think of the customs and taxes that will be imposed on the hash trade.”

The Egyptian independent daily Al-Masri al-Youm ran a report on the benefits of consuming hash, based on a German study. “According to the study, smoking hash is less dangerous than consuming processed narcotics like heroin and cocaine and even less dangerous than alcohol. Researchers, in fact, argue that hash helps its consumers to go on with their lives while other drugs can cost them their jobs or totally destroy their lives.”

According to a survey conducted by the newspaper about the proposal, 48 percent support legalizing hash while 47 percent oppose it.

“This result shows one of two things,” said the paper. “Either Egyptians are really serious about supporting the legalization of hash or this reflects a state of dark comedy that is currently prevailing in the Egyptian society.”

Coptic Easter: How Egypt celebrates the rising of Christ


Coptic Easter, which falls on the Sunday following the full moon that comes after the vernal equinox (March 21), is one of the two most important holy days for Egyptian Christians, the other being Coptic Christmas on Jan. 7. Coptic Easter marks the end of the 55-day Lent, commonly known as the Great Fast, where all animal products – including milk, cheese and butter – are prohibited.

While Coptic fasting time is unequalled in any other Christian community, with a total of 210 days in 365, the pre-Easter fast is the longest. That is why the feasting that follows it is the most remarkable in Egyptian Coptic culture.

On Easter eve or Holy Saturday, which falls this year on April 11, Coptic Christians start their Easter Vigil, also known as The Great Vigil, which lasts until the dawn of Easter. It is preferable for those who can to fast completely – that is, abstain from food and drink – on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and break the fast upon the end of Mass.

The Easter Eve ceremony includes a symbolic reenactment of Christ’s ascension, also called the “resurrection play.” The play shows the gates of heaven closed following Adam’s sin and his expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Lights are turned off to symbolize the darkness humanity lived in before the advent of Christ. The light that follows indicates that Christ has risen and was able to open the gates of heaven, thus cleansing humanity from the original sin.

The prayers are recited in Coptic and Arabic. All Egyptian Christians, including those not familiar with the Coptic language, know by heart the sentence repeated on that night: “Ekhrestos Anesti, Alisos Anesti” (Christ is risen! Truly He is risen).

Easter day is known for the banquets that Coptic families prepare to break their long fast. The food served is not very different from that commonly consumed during the two main Islamic holidays. Like the Lesser Bairam, cookies and biscuits are purchased or home-baked, and like the Greater Bairam, meat and Egyptian fatteh (rice with crispy flatbread). Buying new clothes is also a tradition shared by Coptic and Islamic holidays as well as family reunions.

Easter day is followed by Spring Day, also known as Sham al-Nessim in Arabic, which is celebrated by all Egyptians but has a special place in Coptic culture. The Arabic name is originally Coptic: “shoum in nissim,” meaning “the garden of crops.” Spring Day is an ancient Egyptian festival celebrated at the beginning of spring.


When Egypt became Christian in the fourth century BC, Spring Day used to fall in the middle of the Great Fast, making Egyptians unable to enjoy the feast linked to the ancient holiday and the accompanying festivities they are supposed to abstain from during the fast. They therefore decided to celebrate Spring Day the day after Easter. Ever since, Spring Day has become the Monday following Easter Sunday.

Although Copts treat Spring Day as an extension of Easter, the former is marked by special rituals more linked to the ancient Egyptian celebration such as eating salted mullet, green onions and lupin in public parks. The coloring of eggs is similarly ancient Egyptian, with the hatching process being a symbol of life coming out of a lifeless object, which was then analogous to the growing of crops and spring as the season of fertility.

In the Christian tradition, eggs came to be associated with the rising of Christ from his tomb, and red became the preferred color for painting eggs to symbolize His blood, a tradition still followed by Copts.


As Easter approaches, Copts are speculating over whether President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will attend Mass as he did on Coptic Christmas, an action that was applauded by most Copts as a step toward more tolerance and as a means of assuaging fears of sectarian discrimination that accompanied the Islamist rule of Mohamed Mursi.

In addition to inviting the president and the prime minister according to protocol, Coptic Archbishop Sergius Sergius said 7,000 invitations for Easter Mass have been sent: “Ministers, governors and other state officials are included in the invitations. We should invite the parliament speaker as well but there is none at the moment.”

During Mursi’s rule, the church only invited the president, prime minister and parliament speaker. Analysts saw this as the church’s way of evading the embarrassment of receiving many rejections from the mostly Islamist political scene at the time.

Some Copts opted to spend Easter and the entire Holy Week in Jerusalem to follow the path of Christ in the days that preceded the crucifixion. Around 1,300 Copts flew from Cairo Airport to Tel Aviv for the eight-day pilgrimage that should include the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows – through which Jesus carried the cross on his way to crucifixion – as well as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also called the Church of Resurrection, and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.