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Egypt Court Throws Out Case Against Feminist - 2001-07-30


An Egyptian court has thrown out a case against the country's leading feminist. The case was brought by a lawyer who sought to have the woman forcibly divorced from her husband on the grounds that she had abandoned her Islamic faith.

A Cairo court ruled in favor of Nawal el-Saadawi, Egypt's most outspoken and controversial feminist. The court threw out a petition presented by an Islamist lawyer, Nabih al-Wash. He accused Mrs. Saadawi of having abandoned Islam, and sought to have her forcibly divorced from her husband.

Mrs. Saadawi was not present at Monday's hearing, but later told VOA she was "happy and relaxed" following the decision. "This victory is not for my husband, Sherif Hetata, and me only," she said. "It's a victory for all intellectuals in Egypt and in the Arab world and people who are conscious of and keen about freedom of thought."

Mrs. Saadawi's latest troubles began with an interview published last March in the weekly newspaper, al-Midan. The paper quoted her as saying that the rituals associated with the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca could be traced back to pre-Islamic, pagan roots. She was also quoted as saying that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, does not require a woman to wear a headscarf, and she spoke out in favor of greater sexual equality in Muslim inheritance laws.

Mrs. Saadawi says the newspaper distorted her comments and quoted her out of context.

An initial complaint was lodged against her by Nabih al-Wahsh last April, but the public prosecutor dismissed the petition and ruled that her opinions did not constitute a crime. The lawyer then took the case to the family affairs court, where the judge has now ruled that Mr. Al-Wahsh had no legal status to lodge the complaint and that only the public prosecutor could pursue such cases.

The complaint against Mrs. Saadawi is based on the Muslim legal principle of "hisba" which allows any individual to file a complaint against another individual on behalf of society. Mrs. Saadawi has been campaigning to have this law removed from the books, and she says she will continue that fight. "My happiness [about the court victory] is incomplete, because the hisba law is still in Egypt and we should fight to eradicate it and abolish it totally from Egypt," she said, "and I am participating in the committee to abolish the hisba law from Egypt."

Nawal Saadawi is no stranger to controversy. The 70-year-old psychiatrist and writer has published some 40 books, many of which focus on women's rights in the Arab world and the painful practice of female circumcision. While feminists and intellectuals in the West have championed her, her outspokenness has often alarmed religious conservatives in Egypt.

That has not deterred Mrs. Saadawi. She says she now plans to attack her attackers. "My lawyer is suing on my behalf the newspaper that did all this and the lawyer who pursued the case against me and other newspapers that wrote against me," she said. "I'm suing them and exposing them so this will never be repeated."

Mrs. Saadawi and her husband are not the only ones to run afoul of the country's Islamic conservatives. Several years ago similar charges were brought against literature professor Nasr Abu Zeid. After a court ordered him to divorce his wife, the couple fled the country.

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