Tuesday, October 20, 2009

RIGHTS-EGYPT: Invoking Religion Against Liberals

By Cam McGrath

(Left: Nawal El-Saadawi)

CAIRO, Oct 19 (IPS) - Self-appointed guardians of public morality are invoking an ancient instrument of Islamic jurisprudence against those whose ideas they deem immoral or heretical - or simply to gain fame.

"We are concerned about the huge rise in the number of hisba cases in recent years," says Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Hisba is a lawsuit filed by an individual who volunteers to defend society from anyone whose words or deeds he considers harmful to Islam. Introduced to Egypt in the eighth century, this obscure legal instrument empowers Muslims to hold their fellow citizens, and even the state, accountable for upholding religious virtue......

Another lawyer, Nabih El-Wahsh, filed a hisba lawsuit against feminist writer Nawal El-Saadawi after she founded a civil organisation to promote the separation of state and religion. He charged her with inciting contempt of Islam, and is seeking a jail sentence......

El-Saadawi has also been named in hisba cases that sought to have her books banned and citizenship revoked. Despite the barrage of attacks, she insists there is nothing personal behind them.

"These are mediocre lawyers...sensationalists who have exploited the situation of the increasing power of Islamic fundamentalism and the weakening of the government in the face of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood," she told IPS. "They don't just take me to court, they take everybody to court."

The problem, she says, is the government's complicity in the legal action against its most vocal critics........."

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