Egypt: Attempt to annul the marriage of Dr Nawal el-Saadawi

We are deeply concerned about politically-motivated court action brought against Dr. Nawal el-Saadawi and the possibility of threats to her personal security and that of her husband. Now 70, the prominent Egyptian feminist writer, doctor and active defender of the rights of women has become the latest intellectual to face the possibility of apostasy charges.
In an interview with an independent weekly, Al-Midan, in early March 2001, Dr. el-Saadawi reiterated some of her views, claiming that wearing the veil by women was not obligatory, contrary to the insistence of a number of Muslim scholars. She was quoted as saying that carrying out the Islamic pilgrimage -- one of the five pillars of Islam -- "is a vestige of pagan practices." The interview also quotes her as saying that Islamic inheritance law, which gives males twice the share of females, should be abolished due to the fact that up to 35 per cent of families in Egypt are currently dependent on the income of a woman.
Two weeks after publishing the interview, the Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Nassr Farid Wassel, called on the writer to renounce her statements. Dr. el-Saadawi responded that the journalist had distorted the whole interview, and that she had merely been stating historical facts. Sheikh Nassr Farid Wassel also sent a long letter to Al-Midan characterising Dr. el-Saadawi's remarks as amounting to heresy "and ousting her from Islam."
In April 2001 Egypt's prosecutor-general ruled that a case against her, on charges of apostasy, would be heard in court. The case against her was brought by a conservative lawyer, Nabih el-Wahsh. El-Wahsh also called for Sherif Hetata, the novelist and medical doctor to whom she has been married for thirty seven years, to divorce her on the grounds that she has deserted Islam.
We call your attention to the fact that, in recent years, a number of extremist lawyers have specialised in filing lawsuits against secular intellectuals and artists, either asking that their work be banned or that they are treated as apostates. This is an extremely dangerous trend whereby politico-religious forces make repeated attempts to silence those who dare speak against the imposition of their politically motivated agenda.
Indeed, the repression that Dr. el-Saadawi's work has encountered has been a result of her outspoken criticism of Islamic fundamentalists. In 1981 she was imprisoned by the late President Anwar Sadat for political activities. In 1991, the Arab Women's Solidarity Association, an organization founded by Dr. el-Saadawi and the first legal, independent feminist organization in Egypt, was banned. More recently, the Egyptian government banned several of Dr. el-Saadawi's books from the 2001 Cairo Book Fair.
The recent case brought against Dr. El-Saadawi raises fears both in terms of its legal outcome and the potential risk of individuals taking the law into their own hands. For example, in 1995, extremist lawyers initially won a similar case against a university professor, Nasser Abu Zeid, ordering him to divorce his wife on the grounds of apostasy. Although the extremists subsequently lost the case on appeal, Mr. Abu Zeid and his wife had to flee Egypt, fearing attacks by Muslim fundamentalists.
Similarily, Sherif Hetata, Dr. el-Saadawi's husband, said he was worried by the Mufti's statement that el-Saadawi's remarks "oust her from Islam." He added that after Al-Midan published the interview with his wife, readers wrote to the newspaper stating that "el-Saadawi's head must be chopped off with a sword" as punishment for her views on Islam and women's emancipation.
International Campaign to Support Nawal el-Saadawi
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International Campaign to Support Nawal el-Saadawi