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Dr Nawal El-Saad-awi
"I am fighting back and defending myself"
 real 56k

Monday, 9 July, 2001, 14:24 GMT 15:24 UK
Egypt apostasy trial adjourned
Nawal el-Saadawi, 69, and her husband Sharif Hatata, 78
Ms Saadawi has had death threats in the past
The trial of a leading Egyptian feminist accused of being a heretic against Islam - writer Nawal El-Saadawi - has been adjourned.

The court in Cairo said it would give its decision by the end of the month as to whether the case against her should be heard.

Dr Saadawi is being sued, under a special Islamic law, over a newspaper interview in which she is alleged to have said that the Muslim pilgrimage, or Hajj, had pagan roots.


It was midway between a nightmare and a dream

Husband Sharif Hatata

A tape of the interview was played to the court.

The Cairo lawyer who brought the case against her is calling for the Egyptian courts to enforce her separation from her Muslim husband of 37 years, saying her remarks show that she has abandoned her religion.

In a similar case six years ago, a university professor - also accused of apostasy - had to flee the country to avoid divorcing his wife.

Surprise

The BBC's Middle East correspondent Frank Gardner says many people are surprised that this case has even got as far as going before a judge.

Nawal el-Saadawi
El-Saadawi says her statements were taken out of context
Nawal El-Saadawi's 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."

She 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 practised 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

Lawyer
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 in Egypt is her assertion that the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca has pagan origins.

'Atrocious'

The lawyer who has brought the 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.

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 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.

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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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