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Egyptian Man Sentenced for Having Too Many Wives - 2002-01-27

A ruling has been handed down in a court case that galvanized, and entertained, many Egyptians. It involved one wealthy man and many, many wives. The man has been found guilty of violating Islamic law by being married to more than four wives.

Seven years of prison with hard labor. That was the sentence handed down in the case of a wealthy Egyptian businessman convicted of having five wives, one more than his Islamic religion allows.

Fifty-six-year old Ragab el-Suweirky admitted to the court that he has been married 19 times, but he insisted none of his marriages violated Islamic law because he said he was never married to more than four wives at a time.

The court in Cairo didn't agree with him. He was found guilty of distorting the truth about his marital status, tricking woman into having illicit sex and, on several occasions, having five wives at once.

He re-married one of his ex-wives four times, contrary to Islamic law that allows couples who are divorced to re-marry three times. Some of his wives were as young as 14, two years under Egypt's legal age for marriage. And many of his wives were unaware there were others.

According to Egyptian law, a man who fails to declare his other wives before a new marriage is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail or a fine of $43.

El-Suweirky, who owns a chain of clothing stores, has 15 children.

He remained composed after hearing the sentence, but as he was being led away in handcuffs he made clear he was surprised by the sentence. He said he hadn't even expected a month in jail.

The judge who handed down the sentence said el-Suweirky had been blessed with a fortune but instead of thanking God for the blessing, he chose to, "satisfy his sexual desire and lust."

Many of the women he had married continued to back him during the trial. One of them screamed when the sentence of seven years at hard labor was read.

A lawyer for el-Suweirky's said the extensive coverage the case got in the media caused the judge to hand down what he termed "a political sentence." The lawyer said there would be an appeal.