Egyptian feminist faces lawsuit over 'blasphemous' play

Cairo, Egypt - Sunni Islam's highest institute of learning Al-Azhar said Thursday it was preparing to sue Egyptian feminist Nawal al-Saadawi for a play she wrote it describes as blasphemous.

Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Council, chaired by the head of the institution, Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, agreed to file a suit against the play, "God Resigns in the Summit Meeting," spokesman Maher Haddad confirmed.

A final decision on the suit must await a ruling by a council of the institution's legal experts before it is officially referred to court, added Haddad.

Saadawi, 75, who is currently in Brussels for her "peace of mind," reacted strongly to the news. She condemned it as the "revenge of al-Azhar," with whom she has long had issues.

"Since when do men of religion pass judgement on plays? That is something for theatre critics to do, not them," she said. "It is a piece of fiction and fiction has no limits."

The play, which was published at the end of 2006, and the latest edition of her autobiography, were pulled by her publisher from the Cairo International Book Fair at the end of January and the copies destroyed.

Saadawi declined to explain the contents of the play, saying it was too complex to be summarised in a telephone conversation, except that it was an allegory dealing with contemporary problems in Egypt.

A doctor by profession, Saadawi has written dozens of taboo-breaking books on women in the Middle East which have often brought her into conflict with religious authorities.

Together with hundreds of other opposition intellectuals, she was jailed by President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

During the 1990s, Saadawi's name was on the death lists of a number of militant Islamist organisations and in 2001 she successfuly fought off an attempt by Islamist lawyers to divorce her form her husband on the grounds that she was an apostate.

Al-Azhar, which maintains that she consistently insults religion with her works, has previously recommended the banning of two of her novels.