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Nawal El Saadawi faces new intimidation from religious forces.

Egypt : Leading woman novelist condemned for ‘insulting Islam’

by Jo Glanville (in: Index on Censorship)

Thursday 29 March 2007

Barely a week after an Egyptian blogger was sentenced to four years for inciting hatred towards Islam, the distinguished novelist Nawal El Saadawi faces similar threats from the country’s religious establishment. Jo Glanville reports.

Al Azhar, one of the leading religious centres in the Muslim world, is threatening legal action against the celebrated Egyptian writer and activist Nawal El Saadawi.

At a meeting this week, the Islamic Research Council agreed to present a petition against El Saadawi to the prosecutor general for her attacks on ‘God, the prophets and the heavenly religions’, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al Misry al Yom.

Dr El Saadawi is one of Egypt’s most celebrated writers and activists. She was a candidate in the last presidential election and believes that the current action against her is politically motivated. Al Azhar’s threats are just the latest in a number of attempts to intimidate the author.

The head of Al Azhar, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyid Tantawi has condemned El Saadawi’s play God Resigns at the Summit Meeting for allegedly offending Islam. Five of El Saadawi’s books – including the play - were banned at the Cairo bookfair in January. All copies of the play have been destroyed.

‘Political groups want to threaten writers and freethinkers,’ El Saadawi told Index on Censorship. ‘It’s a backlash. The whole of Egyptian society is going backwards.’

Nawal El Saadawi told Index that she was summoned to the prosecutor general’s office in January, with her daughter, the writer Mona Helmi, following a case lodged against her in 2006 - also on the grounds that she had insulted Islam.

El Saadawi believes that religious groups were particularly incensed by interviews she had given to the Egyptian press, in which she said that God was a spirit and therefore neither male nor female.

She was previously accused of apostasy in 2001, when an attempt was made to force her to divorce her husband on the grounds that she had insulted Islam. Both cases were filed against her under the Sharia law of hisba.

In the wake of the accusations, El Saadawi has decided to leave the country for the next six months. She has not yet been charged. She told the Egyptian newspaper Al Misry al Yom that she was fed up with the complacency and cowardice of Egyptian intellectuals and their unwillingness to stand up to intimidation.

On 22 February a court in Alexandria handed down a four-year prison sentence on blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman for ’inciting hatred of Islam’ and insulting President Hosni Mubarak. Known on line under the pseudonym of ’Kareem Amer’, he had been in detention since November.

Published earlier at Indexonline, 02.03. 2007