Egyptian anger at Islamist call to ban Arabian Nights

Cairo, Egypt - Egyptian writers have condemned a call by a group of Islamic lawyers for the classic book Arabian Nights to be banned because it is "obscene".

The group, Lawyers Without Shackles, filed a complaint with Egypt's prosecutor general after the collection of folk tales was republished.

They called for the new edition to be pulped and the stories to be banned.

But the country's writers union has said it will fight the group in the courts if they try to proceed.

'Like the Taliban'

"I was shocked at the offensive phrases it contains," Ayman Abdul Hakim of Lawyers Without Shackles was quoted by the TV station Al Arabiya.

They catalogued several references to sex in the book and said they were "calls to sin".

But Writers' Union spokesman said the lawyers were behaving "like the Taliban".

"Those who want to destroy our heritage are taking the same path as the Taliban when they destroyed Buddha's statues," Mohammed Salmawy told the news agency AFP, referring to the destruction of the giant sculptures of Buddha in Bamiyan.

The book's publishers, the state-run General Organisation Cultures Palaces, said the republishing had been very popular and the print run had sold out.

"Egyptians are avid readers and they will not be influenced by a bunch of people who take advantage of Islam in order to suppress freedom," Ahmed Megahed, Chairman of the GOCP was quoted by Al Arabiya.

Arabian Nights, also known as The 1,001 Nights, is a centuries-old collection of Arabic and south Asian folk tales.

It includes the stories Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.