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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Egypt row deepens over 'blasphemous' novel

A row has intensified in Egypt over a book which some Muslims believe is blasphemous.

The novel, Feast for Seaweed by the Syrian author, Haydar Haydar, has been condemned by one of Sunni Islam's leading authorities, the al-Azhar University in Cairo.

The government-appointed Sheikh of al-Azhar, Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi, said it mocked God by describing him as a failed artist. Sheikh Tantawi said it also encouraged illegitimate sex and contempt for all Arab rulers. But Egyptian intellectuals say the book has been misrepresented by Islamists, and accuse al-Azhar of legitimising a campaign of incitement. Two officials from the Ministry of Culture face trial for recommending that the book be published.

A group of intellectuals has now called on the Egyptian prosecutor-general to investigate them too for endorsing the book. A BBC correspondent in Cairo says a full-scale cultural war is being fought over the novel, which earlier this month provoked the worst student protests in several years.

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