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Monday, 18 June, 2001, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Egyptian feminist threatened with divorce
Egyptian feminist writer Nawal el-Saadawi, 69, and her husband Sharif Hatata, 78, as they leave the court in Cairo on Monday
Mrs Saadawi denies that she insulted Islam
By Heba Saleh in Cairo

A court in Egypt has started hearing an apostasy case against a leading feminist activist and author, Dr Nawal el-Saadawi.

The case was brought by a lawyer, Nabih el-Wahsh, who wants the court to separate Dr el-Saadawi from her husband on the grounds that she has abandoned Islam and cannot remain married to a Muslim.

Nabih el-Wahsh
Mr Wahsh: The court should separate her from her husband
Mr Wahsh is known for his many lawsuits, including ones against Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mrs Saadawi appeared in the Family Affairs Court in Cairo on Monday flanked by human rights activists from Italy and Tunisia.

A former European Union commissioner, Emma Bonino, was among those who came to lend their support.

Mr Wahsh argues that her remarks in a newspaper interview indicate that she is an apostate.

Misquoted

But Dr el-Saadawi says she has been misquoted and she denies accusations that she has insulted Islam.

The Egyptian general prosecutor's office, which questioned Dr el-Saadawi about the allegations some weeks ago, has urged the court to dismiss the case.

A decision is now expected next month.

A similar suit filed against a university lecturer six years ago was successful and the academic had to move to the Netherlands to avoid divorcing his wife.

Unconstitutional

The case was based on the Islamic concept of hisba, which allows an individual to sue on behalf of the community if he believes that actions against Islam have been committed.

Since then, the law has been changed to restrict the right to bring hisba cases to the prosecution only.

But Mr Wahsh argues in his case against Mrs Saadawi that the new legislation is unconstitutional and should not be allowed to stand.

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See also:

24 Apr 01 | Middle East
Egyptian writer faces apostasy trial
18 May 00 | Middle East
Egypt blasphemy row deepens
08 May 00 | Middle East
A new Salman Rushdie?
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'Blasphemous' book no longer on sale
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Cairo clashes over 'blasphemous' book
12 May 00 | Middle East
Cairo book protesters released
10 May 00 | Middle East
Syrian book cleared of blasphemy
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