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Thursday, 18 May, 2000, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Egypt blasphemy row deepens
Students were injured in clashes at Al-Azhar Religious University
Students clash with police at the religious university
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

A row in Egypt over a book which Islamists view as blasphemous has deepened.

The head of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's highest religious authority, said the novel Feast for Seaweed was full of phrases scorning and insulting Islam.

But Ibrahim Aslan - a well know Egyptian writer who recommended that the Ministry of Culture publish the book - said Al-Azhar had legitimised a campaign of incitement.

The controversy has led to the worst student protests in several years at the Al-Azhar Religious University.

Two officials from the Ministry of Culture are also facing trial for offending public morals because they recommended publication of the book, written by Syrian writer Hayder Hayder.

Misrepresentation

Respected intellectuals say the book, first published in 1983 and reprinted in Egypt last November, has been completely misrespresented by a campaign against it in an Islamist newspaper.

But now Al-Azhar, seen as the final arbiter of all things religious, has thrown its considerable weight into the confrontation.

The government-appointed head of Al-Azhar, Mohamed Sayyid Tantawi, said the book offended all sacred beliefs and should not have been printed.

Many intellectuals have been shocked by Al-Azhar stand.

A newspaper representing them says the entire body of Arab literature would be lost if judged in a similar vein.

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10 May 00 | Middle East
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