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Dr Nawal El-Saad-awi
"I am fighting back and defending myself"
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Monday, 9 July, 2001, 01:01 GMT 02:01 UK
Court to hear Egypt apostasy case
Nawal el-Saadawi, 69, and her husband Sharif Hatata, 78
Ms Saadawi has had death threats in the past
By Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner

An Egyptian court is due to hear on Monday the case against the prominent feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi, who stands accused of being a heretic against Islam.

It was midway between a nightmare and a dream

Sharif Hatata
A Cairo lawyer is demanding that she divorce her husband of 37 years.

She has been quoted as saying that the Muslim Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca has pagan roots, and that women should inherit the same as men, instead of half.

Many people are surprised that this case has even got as far as going before a judge.


It is, after all, hard to believe that someone could try to separate a happily married couple in their 70s.

Nawal el-Saadawi
El-Saadawi says her statements were taken out of context
Her husband, Sharif Hatata, says he was stunned when he first heard of this lawsuit.

"Well, you know it was midway between a nightmare and a dream. I mean, it sounded absolutely unreal and ridiculous, but at the same time, for a little while it was frightening."

Nawal El-Saadawi has had death threats in the past. Her published views are considered far too radical for Egypt's conservative readers.

She was the first Arab woman to write against female genital mutilation, still practiced in parts of Egypt.

Inheritance law

Now, she has upset Islamic extremists by questioning the Muslim law of inheritance.

What she said about the pilgrimage and the laws of inheritance is atrocious

Nabih El-Wahsh
"I said we have to rethink about the inheritance law because we have 30% of families in Egypt where the mother is working and paying for the family and the husband is not working," she said.

And she added:"It is the mother who is the provider for the family, so why women inherit only half?"

Nawal El-Saadawi has tackled other sacred subjects too. In a recent newspaper interview, she said the veil was not Islamic, it was worn by Jewish and Christian women.

But what has really enraged some people here, is her assertion that the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, has pagan origins.


The lawyer who has brought this case against her, Nabih El-Wahsh, says that is going too far.

Nabih el-Wahsh
Nabih El-Wahsh: The court should separate her from her husband
"What she said about the pilgrimage and the laws of inheritance is atrocious. She has offended the feelings of Muslims," he said.

"Whether she has to divorce her husband or not, is not important. What matters is that she should keep her opinions to herself, because they are against Islam. These opinions are poison for Muslims," he added.

Nawal El-Saadawi has been called "the new Salman Rushdie", a term she vigorously rejects. She considers herself a good Muslim, pointing out that she studied and respects Islam.

She just maintains that a person should be allowed to write what they believe. But not, it seems, in 21st century Egypt.

Divided opinions

Khaled Dawoud of the Al-Ahram newspaper, says whether she wins or loses this case, this sends a stark warning to other writers.

I think it is now narrowing further the margin of freedom of expression

Khaled Dawoud
"I think it is now narrowing further the margin of freedom of expression here," he said.

"I am sure now within this atmosphere any intellectual, any novelist, will have to take into consideration these kinds of pressures and the presence of these groups and the presence of these kinds of lawyers who are ready to sue you just because of your ideas," he added.

On the streets of Cairo, opinion about this case is divided. Liberals see the lawyer as a cynical opportunist, out to make a name for himself.

But his arguments have appealed to many religious Egyptians. Perhaps this country is just not yet ready for a writer with such controversial views.

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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?
09 May 00 | Middle East
'Blasphemous' book no longer on sale
08 May 00 | Middle East
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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