In his work Abu Zaid has suggested that some Koranic references be interpreted as metaphorical. The death threat that hangs over him now is literal.
Revolution by Stealth Mary Anne Weaver New Yorker 8 Jun 98
ONE May morning in 1993, Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, a partly bald and heavyset professor of Islamic studies, having risen early, as was his habit, began to read the Cairo newspapers while sipping his usual cup of tea. Possessing no celebrity, he was shocked to see, on the front page of a proIslamist opposition paper, a story about himself. Here he was accused of apostasy, of abandoning his faith in Islam. It appeared that a criminal case had been filed against him in the Giza Primary Court. His accuser, Dr. Abdel-Sabour Shahin, was a prominent Muslim cleric and professor of Arabic linguistics at Cairo University's College of Dar al-Uloum, with whom Abu Zeld had had an ongoing and acrimonious academic dispute. "I was dumbstruck, incredulous," Abu Zeid told me when I met him later. "I simply couldn't believe it. One of my friends went to the court to inquire. He came back and said, 'It's true. You've got to get a lawyer.' " Until that day, everything about Nasr Abu Zeid had seemed unremarkable. A private, timid man, he had spent most of the previous twenty years first studying and then teaching at Cairo University, to which he commuted each day in a battered Volkswagen from the suburbs, an hour away. He had published ten studies of the Koran and Islam7-treatises read mostly by a small coterie of academics. In 1992, when he was forty-nine, he had married Ebtehal Younes, a fellowprofessor and expert on nineteenthcentury French and Spanish literature. Fifteen years his junior, she is slim and attractive, fiery and outspoken, the widely travelled daughter of an Egyptian diplomat. The couple lived quietly in his unprepossessing apartment, which was bursting with books, furniture, rugs, china, and family photographs. But on that May morning five years ago Nasr Abu Zeid was about to become a test case in Egypt, and the outcome of his troubles was to have deep and continuing repercussions for the country's cultural, intellectual, and political life-indeed, perhaps for that of much of the Arab world.
ABU ZEID'S trial began a few weeks after the initial accusation, in the Giza civilian court on the west bank of the Nile. The prosecution was counsefled by Shahin and some twenty other influential Muslim clerics, most of them affiliated with Cairo's state-run University of al-Azhar, the oldest college in the world and the Oxford of Islamic learning and thought. The chief plaintiff was Youssef al-Badry, a flamboyant sheikh and former member of parliament who between 1992 and early 1993 had been the Imam of a Paterson, New Jersey, mosque. Abu Zeid, not unlike many nineteenthcentury rafionalist Islamic thinkers, had argued in his books that Islam's holy texts should be interpreted in the historical and linguistic context of their time, and that their interpretation should heed social change. Al-Badry and his team now charged that Abu Zeid, by propagating the view that certain Koranic references to angels, devils, genies, and the throne of God were to be taken not literaUy but as metaphors, had denied that the Koran was the word of God; furthermore, by challenging a number of basic principles of Shariah, or Islamic religious law inparticular, those which disadvantaged [email protected] had, in effect, called on Muslims to abandon their religious laws. But since 1955, when Shariah courts in Egypt were abolished under Gamal Abdel-Nasser's modernizing, panA.rabist, A-rmy-backed regime, the country's judicial system has been based largely on secular principles. The exception is family law, where matters of inheritance, the welfare of children, and divorce are adjudicated according to Shariah law. One of the more obscure bits of Shariah is a ninth-century principle called hishah, which translates loosely as "accountability," and according to which any Muslim may sue before a court if he believes that Islam is being harmed, even if he himself is not personally involved. Since Egypt has no apostasy law, Abu Zeid was now being tried under hishah. One tenet of traditional Islam is that a Muslim woman may not marry outside her faith, so if Abu Zeid's writings were deemed by the court to be blasphemous his marriage would be dissolved. In effect, Abu Zeid was being sued for divorce, not by his wife but by a group of Islamist lawyers acting on her behalf-initially without her knowledge and later without her consent. "They found the hisbah loophole in family law, which was the only way to have a court look at the issue of apostasy," Abu Zeid told me. "They used it as a tool." The defense argued that hishah does not exist in Egyptian law, and was confident of victory. It had been decades, at the very least, since hisbah was last invoked in an Egyptian court; some of the defense lawyers admitted that prior to the trial they had not even heard of it. And, indeed, in January of 1994, the Giza Primary Court found for the defense. But Abu Zeid's reprieve did not last long. In April, Shahin and al-Badry's team appealed, basing its case in part on a highly controversial and largely untested 1980 constitutional amendmenta concession to the Islamists by the government of Anwar Sadatwhich made Shariah law "the principal source" of Egyptian law. A second trial began, in the courtroom of Judge Farouq Abdel-Aleem, "whose reputation as an Islamic extremist is well known," Abu Zeid told me. Shortly before he heard the case, Abdel-Aleem-who appears in court not in judicial robes but in traditional Islamic attire-had published an astonishing article for a judge, in which he decried Egyptian law because it was not in conformity with Shariah law. Simultaneously, during Friday prayers, sheikhs intensified their cafl for Abu Zeid's death. "Apostate!" they shouted from the prayer halls of mosques across Egypt, particularly in Cairo. Abu Zeid and Ebtehal became virtual prisoners in their apartment, as governmentsupplied armed guards took up positions along the perimeter of the couple's block, their automatic assault weapons drawn. In June of 1995, Abu Zeid's worst fears were realized. Judge Abdel-Aleem and two others of the Cairo Court of Appeals neatly circumvented the fact that the court had no jurisdiction to declare anyone an apostate: they simply found, in an unprecedented ruling, that Abu Zeid's writings in and of themselves proved him to be an apostate. They declared, in effect, that he had convicted himself. Thereby, the court pronounced, he had lost the right to be married to a Muslim woman, and it ordered him to divorce Ebtehal. Within hours of the verdict, a fax arrived at foreign news organizations via Switzerland from al-jihad, the militant Islamic underground group that, in October of 1981, had assassinated Sadat. "Al-jihad's message was simple," Abu Zeid recounted. "It said that it was an Islamic duty that I be killed." Six days later, a group of scholars from al-Azhar called on the government to carry out the "legal punishment for apostasy" in order to force Abu Zeid to repent. That punishment, according to the orthodox school of Shariah law, is death. On July 26, 1995, Abu Zeid and Ebtehal fled to Leiden University, in the Netherlands, where they are living today. A year later, in August of 1996, in a ruling unparalleled in the Islamic world, the Court of Cassation, Egypt's equivalent of the Supreme Court, upheld the verdict of the Court of Appeals. I asked Abu Zeid when we met in Amsterdam how he would compare what had happened to him with what had happened to others-the writer Salman Rushdic being the best knownwho had been sentenced to death by Islamic extremists. "I would say that my case is more serious in its grounding than Salman Rushdie's is," he replied. "He had afatwa issued against him, but afatwa can be refuted by another fatwa; it's merely a religious opinion. A court judgment, though, is a notice of truth. It's far more final."
It is difficult to be neutral about Cairo, a great, infuriating, ramshackle, remarkable city set superbly on the Nile. For centuries, it had been the citadel of Islamic learning and thought; yet it was also secular, enlightened, and chic. It was home to the Islamic world's most prominent university and to its [email protected] press. Political dissidents since the days of the Ottoman empire sought refuge here; foreign students flocked to its universities. Publishing, cinema, and intellectual debate formed its core. But one of my most vivid recent impressions of the city, where I had lived as a student for three years in the late nineteen-seventies, was of decay: of crumbling buildings, torn-up sidewalks, sewage on the street. Mosques are now everywhere, and the line between Cairo's less Islamic haves and its more Islamic have-nots has become more sharply defined. One cannot escape the impression that the old multicultural, cosmopolitan, sec@ Egypt is slipping away. As recently as twenty years ago, Egypt's great men of letters were ensconced on the sixth floor of the building that houses Cairo's leading newspaper, Al-Ahram, and there, above the cacophonous traffic jams, they had held court since the days of Nasser, providing the most viable, secular alternative to the teachings of al-Azhar. The venerable playwright Tewfik al-Hakim, then eighty years old, sat in a sunny corner office, wearing his trademark black beret. Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt's best-known writer and the Arab world's only Nobel Laureate in Literature, was in the office next door. Down the hall were other literary lions: the short-story writer Youssef ldris and the eminent literary critic Louis Awad. But when I stopped in on a recent afternoon there were few reminders of that literary scene. And there are still fewer reminders, in the pages of Al-Ahram itself, of the paper's once distinguished history. Pressures from the Islamists and pressures from the regime, which over the last two months has embarked on the most
severe crackdown on press freedom in Egypt in years, have all coalesced to guarantee a largely government-sanctioned, official press. As I sat with Mohammed Sid Ahmed, a leftist com- mentator, in Al-Ahram cafeteria over lunch, he told me that Egyptian intellectuals now read the paper "mainly to see who died." And there are other signs of the wearing down of Cairo's and, by extension, Egypt's-once vibrant cultural and intellectual life. A mere three hun- dred and seventy-five books were published in the country last year, compared with the thousands of books, and some two hundred newspapers and journals, that appeared three quarters of a century ago, at the beginning of Egypt's liberal age. A university professor now earns less than a household servant-about three hundred dollars a month. Egypt, according to film critics across the Arab world, produced bet- ter and freer cinema in the nineteen- thirties than it does now. Secular Cairenes decry these changes, but it is the precedent set by the Abu Zeid trials which continues to worry them the most. Hussein Amin is a career diplomat in his sixties-he se most recently as Egypt's Ambassador Algeria-a writer, and a prominent Cairo intellectual. When I asked him what, in his view, was the most frightening aspect of the Abu Zeid trials, he answered, without hesitation, "That Islamist thinking has penetrated the highest levels of the Egyptian judiciary." The violence perpetrated by Egypt's underground Islamic militants captures international headlines-most recently, last November's massacre of fifty-eight tourists at the temple of Hatshepsut, near Luxor-but of equal concern, and largely ignored abroad, is what Amin says is nothing less than a "revolution by stealth." Over the last five years, Egypt has seen a steadily increasing penetration of its courts, its educational and cultural institutions, and its arts and news media by the Islamists.
THE Abu Zeid trials provided further impetus. In less than two years since the Court of Cassation rul- ing, Islamist lawyers, emboldened by the verdict, have filed some eighty law- suits against the Egyptian government, against artists and intellectuals, academics and journalists, all in an attempt to make Shariah law the law of the land. More alarming than the fact of the lawsuits themselves are the verdicts: in case after case, filed in secular courts, the Islamists have largely won. They have succeeded in banning films, censoring school textbooks, and reversing a government ban on female circumcision. (That ruling, though, was later overturned on appeal.) Many intellectuals, Hussein Amin among them, have come to believe that an Islamic state in Egypt now seems ki inevitable. "The Islamists are taking over-the bureaucracy, the trade unions, the universities, and the courts," he said to me. He then added that what alarmed him most was that "many intellectuals, who are not really religious and may very well be atheists, now tend to befieve that Islam may be the only way to combat Western influence in our lives." Even some moderate and orthodox Islamists were shocked by the verdicts in the Abu Zeid trials. Fahmy Huweidi, a conservative Islamist commentator, expressed his dismay in the pages of Al-Ahram itself The Abu Zeid case was "symptomatic of a breakdown in Egyptian society," he wrote. "Nobody debates anymore. Consequently only two channels are left: judges and guns." And, in the likely event that the revolution by stealth continues, burrowing still further into the very structure of the Egyptian state, its impact on the Muslim world-and on the oil-rich Middle East-will be profound. Iran's Shilte revolution failed to export itself. But Egypt is not Iran. It is the largest and most important Arab state, and even among scholars who normally shun domino theories of history there is a growing concern that if Egypt "goes Islamic" so could much of the Arab world. The mounting concern in this scenario lies in the fact that orthodox Islam recognizes no separation between church and state, and therefore the parameters of intellectual debate and art could be further circumscribed by theocratic thought.
What happened to me," Abu Zeid said, "is far more dangerous to Egypt than many things that the underground militants have done." And what happened to him is now happening, in different ways, to many others as well. One day, I visited Youssef Chahine, Egypt's-and, arguably, the Arab world's-most accomplished filmmaker. He is currently being threatened with legal action for his latest film, an aUegorical treatment of the persecution of the twelfth-century Islamic scholar Ibn Rushd, known in the West as Averroes. Chahine, who is a tall, slightly dishevelled man of seventy, with a wry sense of humor, a French education, and a Hollywood background-he received the lifetime-achievement award at the Cannes Film Festival last year-has been the enfant terrible of Egyptian cinema for more than forty years. Stiu, he told me, he has never known "anything quite like this." He looked out the window of his tenth-floor apartment, and down into the street, and said, "The atmosphere is pretty electrified; it's becoming pretty vicious down there." His voice began to rise. "How dare they? I do not think anyone has the right to monopolize God, or his message, whether it be in the Bible, the Torah, or the Koran. And where's the international community? There are hundreds of us who have been declared blasphemers, apostates, heretics, and no one in the international community seems to give a damn." Ala'a Hamad, a middle-aged tax inspector who dabbled in wrifing in his spare time, might seem an unlikely candidate for Islamist censure. Over the last few years, he wrote two novels, "A Distance in a Man's Mind" and "The Bed," which, he told me one morning when I called on him, were meant to be no more than harmless fantasies. But they, too, were judged blasphemous by a committee of clerics from al-Azhar. The books, which until then had sold perhaps eighty copies, were banned, and Hamad was sentenced by a special state-security court to eight years in prison-a sentence that was commute last summer to a year of hard labor. And although a few months later another court reversed yet another book banning by [email protected] the most recent work of Sayed al-Qemni, a historian of Islam-the ruling was of only scant comfort to secularists. For by then the most serious accusations to be brought against an Egyptian inteuectual since those involving Abu Zeid had been levelled against his mentor, Dr. Hasan Hanafi, who is a professor of philosophy at Cairo University and is also widely respected in academic circles abroad. The Scholars Front Association of al-Azhar accused Hanafi, who is sixty-three, of having "denied Koranic verses on miracles," and of having "contradicted the clear teachings of the Koran." Egypt's courts are now being used even against their own. The retired judge Said al-Ashmawy, one of Egypt's most prominent Islamic scholars, has been threatened on several occasions with death for apostasy. His transgression? He opposed the further implementation of Shariah law and questioned in his writings whether Islam offers a firm foundation upon which to build a state. He now lives a secluded life, in an apartment whose thick draperies are always kept closed. When I visited him there one morning, armed guards were posted for his protection downstairs in the lobby and outside his door, and were connected by walkieWke. Whenever our conversation turned to Abu Zeid, Judge Ashmawy became visibly agitated. "The Court of Cassafion simply refiised to apply the law, and this is rebellion!" he declared. "The Court is supposed to uphold the law, not ignore it." He paused for a moment, then added, "But, for me, the most frightening thing about the Abu Zeid precedent is that the courts have no jurisdiction to judge whether a person is a believer or not-they can judge only concrete issues, not ideas. But in Abu Zeid's trial it was ideas that were on trial. This is the first fime that the courts have ruled someone an apostate in modem history. We're returning to the Inquisifion. With this decision, we have gone backward five hundred years."
THE targets of Islamist censure feel increasingly isolated and besieged. Fearful of losing their freedom of expression and belief, they are equally troubled by the passivity indeed, the seeming acquiescence in this-of President Hosni Mubarak's regime. 'Where, in all this bedlam, is our government?" judge Ashmawy lamented. "It has prevented me, and other enlightened Islamic scholars, from appearing on television to defend our views. The Egyptian government is blocking all my avenues from the front, while al-Azhar and the militants are hitting me from the back." There is a certain irony in this, because all Egyptian leaders since the Revolution of 1952-Nasser, Sadat, and now Mubarak-had begun their Presidencies by courting the Islamists, who, they hoped, could deriver to them the large constituencies they needed to afford legitimacy to their regimes. With time, however, each recognized the dangers that the Islamists posed to them, and they turned fiercely and suddenly against them, targeting especially their militant undergrounds. Mubarak launched his repression in 1992, when the militants accelerated assaults on Coptic Christians, intellectuals, the security forces, and the police, and began attacking foreign tourists in an attempt to disrupt Egypt's economy and thereby bring down his regime. The official offensive was brutal-and, in the view of many, shortsighted, since its excesses only lured more Egyptians into the Islamist fold. At present, according to most estimates, more than twenty thousand Islamists are in jail, and many, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, are believed to have been wrongfiilly detained. Over the last three years, the sweep of arrests has widened to include nearly a thousand respected professionals from the oldest and most moderate of Egypt's Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood. Special in-camera military courts (which Amnesty International has called "grossly unfair" and against which there is no appeal) have sentenced nearly a hundred men to the gallows, and nearly all the sentences have been carried out. According to the Islamists' lawyers, all had confessed to militant activity under torture, which is now an integral part of official policy. Evidence of the government crackdown is easy to come by in Cairo. I was struck by the growing number of plainclothes policemen, casually dressed in designer jeans but'with guns displayed conspicuously in the back pockets, who are stationed on university campuses and in "Popular neighborhoods," as the low-income areas are called, where they cordon off entire blocks. A professor at the American University of Cairo remarked, "They remind me of the Haitian Tontons Macoutes." Yet, mindful of the ever growing Islamist constituency, Mubarak, in the view of many, still wants to play it safe by attempting to have it both ways. For, even as he was cracking down on the militants, he was empowering the clerics at [email protected] are, in effect, government employees, appointed and paid by the [email protected] greater authority than they have possessed at any other time during this century. Their pronouncements are not censored, and they are given generous access to the state-controlled airwaves. Judge Ashmawy told me, "The Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar"-Gad al-Haq Ali Gad alHaq-"spent years, and millions and millions of petrol dollars, trying to build an independent fiefdom-a theocratic authority, like the Vafican. Shortly before he died, a year or so ago, he issued a fatwa that all non-Muslims were infidels. This is absolutely preposterous, and was a call to war.' Ashmawy shook his head sadly. 'Amd the government did absolutely nothing to censure him." The Islamists took fiffl advantage of the long rein. In January of 1994, for example, in what by all accounts was an extraordinary session of parliament, an Islamist deputy, Galal Gharib, attacked all non-Islamic areas of Egypt's cultural life-including ballet schools, Arabic translations of foreign literature, and the Egyptian adaptation of a play by Bertolt Brecht. Egypt's Minister of Culture, Farouq Hosni, who was present at the session, quickly agreed that any books scheduled for publication by his Ministry would from then on be sent to al-Azhar for review. Never before in the history of modern Egypt had any government acceded to such a demand. Naguib Mahfouz issued a fiirious statement in response, signed by scores of artists and writers, including Abu Zeid, in which he described the assault on the arts as "intellectual terrorism" of the worst sort. Ten months later, the then eighty-two-yearold novelist was stabbed in the neck as he left his apartment late one afternoon. The attack largely paralyzed his writing hand. One of the Arab world's most gifted and prolific writers can now only @th difficulty sign his name.
ABU ZEID'S chief accuser, Dr. AbdelASabour Shahin, is a charismatic and influential cleric who is, in a sense, a creation of the Mubarak regime. In the early nineteen-eighties, he was given a weekly program of his own on government-controlled TV and biweekly broadcasts on governmentcontrolled radio. An avuncular but insistent advocate of Islamic piety, Shahin was thus able to speak directly to rural villagers and the urban poor, who customaril) gather around communal sion s ts and radios in the coffeehouses and in the souks. He presided over Friday prayers at the prestigious Amr Ibn al-As mosque, the oldest mosque in Egypt and one of the oldest in the Islamic world. His renown became such that even film celebrities ed his office, seeking religious counselling. And, most significantly, from 1986 until the summer of 1996, he was also one of President Mubarales key advisers on Islam, as the chairman of the Religious Committee of the National Democratic Party, which Mubarak heads.
Dr. Shahin agreed to meet me one moming in his office, at Dar al-Uloum, a sprawling complex of dun-colored buildings and untended lawns. He had fallen from official grace in mid-1996, partly as a result of the government's belated concern about the ominous precedents set by the Abu Zeid trials. In an exceptional display of independence from its "moderate" sheikhs, the government barred him from preaching at the Amr Ibn al-As mosque and forced him to relinquish his political posts. It was immediately clear to me, however, that Shahin retained a faithfiil following. I found him surrounded by a group of students who seemed enraptured by his every word. While the male students were all in full Islamic beard, and the female ones in enveloping niqabs, or veils, Shahin looked far less like a sheikh than I had expected. He more closely resembled a diplomat-impeccably groomed, and dressed in a smart blue blazer and gray flannels. His hand-painted silk tie was set off by a matching handkerchief He was loquacious, and his voice was fiiu of energy. "French is really my native tongue," he said as he motioned to me to sit down. Once his students had left the room, he confided, "They think I'm capable of anything. They even think I'm capable of interpreting their dreams. Of course, I know Koranic interpretation very well." He lowered his voice. "And, whatever anyone tells you, I'm still a sheikh at many popular mosques. And, of course, I'm always welcomed by the sheikhs of alAzhar. But the government has cancelled my television program, banned me from the official press. The music has stopped, the party is over." He paused and shook his head. Then he leaned toward me across his desk. "But what is of far greater importance to me than the government is the fact that when I walk in the streets people come up to me and kiss my hand and head." Why, I asked, had he brought the case against Nasr Abu Zeid. His smile disappeared, and his face hardened. He leaned toward me even closer, and said, "Because he's a Marxist and an atheist!" But all he did was to interpret the Koran slightly differently from the way you did, I ventured. "Slightly differently!" he exclaimed, and began to shout. "Nasr Abu Zeid is not speaking of ijtihad the contemporary interpretation of Islam's holy texts in areas where ijtihad is possible. He is saying that the Koran is human, that it is not godly in inspiration, that it is not the revelation of God!" For a few moments, neither of us said anything more. I glanced out into the hallway and watched a group of female students, all of them veiled, pass by. Just beyond them, in a corner, were six security men, with handguns sticking out of their back pockets. Dr. Rifaat Said, a prominent leftist writer and politician who is a member of parliament, had told me earlier that the security services had recently discovered that Islamic militants had been using Dar al-Uloum to see the degree to which they could infiltrate an institution of higher learning, and that nearly all the Arabic-language professors were now members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. In the view of a number of secularists, like Said, the separation between the militants whom the government has been suppressing and the clerics whom it has been condoning was less than absolute. "None of this need have happened,"
Shahin went on, returning to the subject of Abu Zeld's trials. His speech was once again measured, his voice controlled. "Had he accepted my critique of his academic work, had he rectified his studies and corrected his mistakes, this matter never would have gone beyond Cairo University. It was Abu Zeid who forced us to adjudicate in this case." "Is that why you forced him to divorce his wife?" I asked. He studied me across his desk, looking slightly bemused. "You don't seriously believe that I care about Abu Zeid's marriage," he replied. "It was never an object for us in this case. Let Abu Zeid and his wife live happily ever after, like a king and queen, in the Netherlands, as long as he never sets foot inside Cairo University again! How can an apostate teach the Koran?" He began to shout again. "How can a criminal teach the word of God?" I reminded him that Abu Zeid is being threatened with death. "Yes," Shahin replied without emotion. "The prescribed penalty for apostasy is execution." He thought for a moment, and then went on, "But an apostate has to be given a chance to repent. Let Nasr Abu Zeid come before the Court of Cassation that condemned him and answer its indictment. Let him renounce his ideas. Let him publicly burn his books."
I MET with Abu Zeid on a November afternoon in Amsterdam. We arranged to have tea in the lobby of my hotel, and he arrived promptly at four o'clock, dressed in a dark-blue suit, a white shirt, and a dark tie, and carrying a brown attach6 case, worn and battered with age, which somehow symbolized the wanderings of a man exiled far from home. His most prominent features were penetrating dark-brown eyes and an equally dark beard, flecked with Lyrav. which he had grown since his [email protected]'i told him what Abdel-Sabour Shahin's final words to me had been, and asked whether or not he would repent. "Repent what?" he answered. "This is insane! I feel humiliated, because I always have to say,'l am a Mushm. 'This is an insult to my beliefs and to my dignity. I have devoted my entire life to Islamic thought, and no one-I dare them-can find one word in any of my writings that shows me to be an apostate, an atheist." I asked Abu Zeid about Ebtehal, who had declined to meet with me. "In a sense, it's even more difficult for her," he replied. "They treated her as though she were a t6en-ager, an incomplete human being. They treated her as though she were a toy to be taken out of my hands. She's a very strong person, but she's hurt. She's also considerably younger than I am and is just beginning her career, and she's risking it afl. I told her to go back. And she refiised, most emphatically." He paused for a moment, then continued. "When Ebtehal told the Egyptian press that she would never leave me, Shahin @aid that was only because it was not easy for her to find another husband. And then he said that she need not worry: he would find another husband for her, and even provide her with a dowry from money from the mosque. The son of a bitch!" The Abu Zeids have not divorced. In December of 1996, an administrative court suspended the divorce proceedings permanently. Its ruling, however, did not overturn the Court of Cassation's verdict, and the apostasy conviction was left untouched. Abu Zeid's lawyers are now challenging the constitutionality of the verdict, and also attempting to prove "gross judicial error" on the part of the court-a courageous and unprecedented move. The validity of the constitutional challenge, which some human-rights lavryers consider to be pro forma at most, was nonetheless accepted last week by a lower court, and was referred for consi 'deration to the constitutional court. Abu Zeid looked out the window, where rain was pelting the sidewalk and the winter sky had become dark. After a few moments, he turned toward me. Whatever the outcome of his case may be, he said, "I don't know if I'll ever feel the same toward my country again, and I'm very, very Egyptian. I lived in the United States for two years, and I longed every moment to go back. But now I've told Ebtehal that if I die somewhere else please don't take my body back to Egypt for burial, even though this is a dream of every Egypfian: to be buried on his soil."