Egypt: Novelist prosecuted for blasphemy

17 April 2013

The prominent Egyptian novelist Youssef Zeidan, author of the bestselling book ‘Azazil’, stands trial for blasphemy and contempt of Islam, Christianity and Judaism because of his book ‘The Arabic Theology’.

Zeidan appeared in front of the High State Security Prosecutor in mid-February 2013. The official memo which notified the author of the investigation was very stern and did not include any details, only the case number: 686.

The case was brought by the Islamic Research Institute and 11 Coptic organisations, claiming Zeidan had scorned Christianity and mocked the doctrine of the trinity, which is at the core of Christian belief. The Islamic Research Institute also accused Zeidan of sparking sectarian strife and encouraging religious extremism.

Zeidan went to State Security Prosecution headquarters in New Cairo and was released shortly afterwards. He was granted one month to respond to the complaints.

In mid-April he received the dates for custody negotiations and since he is not allowed to leave the country until they have taken place, he has had to cancel his participation in an Arabic literary salon which is about to start on a tour from Stockholm to Malmö, Amsterdam, Brussels, Madrid and Cordoba.

Among the participating poets and novelists in the travelling Arabic literary salon is the award-winning author Mohammed Achaari who has been imprisoned for stating his opinions.

Three religions, one substance
‘The Arabic Theology’ was published in 2010 by Shorouk. In the book, Zeidan tracks the relationship between man and God within the three monotheistic religions. Zeidan said the three religions sprang from one substance even though their differences are plain.

Youssef Ziedan is one of Egypt’s most highly respected scholars on Arabic and Islamic studies. A university professor, public lecturer, columnist and prolific author of more than 50 books.

Other blaspemy charges
Youssef Ziedan won international fame for his novel ‘Azazeel’ which won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (often dubbed the ‘Arabic Booker Prize’), and became a phenomenal global success in 2010, selling in 15 languages. In Italy it sold 20,000 copies in its first month on sale.

It also caused a widespread uproar throughout the Middle East, sparking numerous debates about blasphemy and religious tolerance. In 2010, two prominent Egyptian lawyers—Naguib Gobrail and Mamdouh Ramzy—submitted a complaint to Egypt’s Attorney General accusing Ziedan of committing “blasphemy” and “abusing of the Christian faith”. Azazeel tells the story of religious turbulence of fifth-century Egypt. Youssef Ziedan has described his novel ‘Azazeel’ in the past as “not against Christianity but against violence, especially violence in the name of the sacred”.

One critic said it “tries to Islamise Christian beliefs and takes the side of heretics”.

There were many calls to ban ‘Azazeel’, and four books have been written attacking the novel, but so far the Egyptian government has not complied with the demands.

Other books have been published to defend the novel, not to mention hundreds of pro-Azazeel articles in the press.

Ahram Online – 24 February 2013:
Egyptian Arabic Booker winner faces blasphemy charges
Youssef Zeidan faces blasphemy charges for his book ‘The Arabic Theology’ which investigates the relationship between man and God within Islam, Christianity and Judaism. By Mohammed Saad

Related content:
‘Policing Belief – The Impact of Blasphemy Laws on Human Rights’ (PDF)
A Freedom House special report, October 2010

Youssef Ziedan’s home page:

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