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Cablegate: Quranists Charged with "Religious Defamation"

VZCZCXYZ0021
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #1938 1761309
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 251309Z JUN 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5820

UNCLAS CAIRO 001938

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KIRF KISL PHUM EG
SUBJECT: QURANISTS CHARGED WITH "RELIGIOUS DEFAMATION"

REF: CAIRO 1695

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION.

1. (SBU) On June 21, the Supreme State Security Court
announced that it will charge five detainees with "religious
defamation" following a series of arrests in late May. Amr
Tharwat, a member of the "Quranist" movement and an employee
of the USG-supported civil society organization, Ibn Khaldun
Center (IKC), was arrested several weeks ago along with for
other Quranists": Adellatif Mohamed Saied, Ahmed Dahmash,
Abdel Hamid Abdel Rahman, and Ahmed El Sayed. Egyptian
national security services also raided the house where the
men were arrested and confiscated property including books,
laptops, and flash drives.

2. (SBU) The series of arrests were unusual in that charges
were not immediately publicized against the arrested, and the
GOE did not confirm the men's detention. Tharwat's
connections to democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim and
employment at the IKC brought press attention to the case,
including a June 14 article in the New York Times on
increasing religious persecution in Egypt. Prior to the
announcement of charges on June 21, the Charge twice raised
the issue of Quranist members' arrests with Deputy Assistant
Foreign Minister for North American Affairs Mohamed Aboul
Dahab, but received no information on the status of the
detained or an explanation for the arrests.

----------------------
WHO ARE THE QURANISTS?
----------------------

3. (SBU) The Quranist movement is a small, heterodox Muslim
group that looks to the Quran as the only legitimate basis
for Islamic law, and rejects the widespread accepted reliance
on Muslims on Sunna and Hadith (sayings and doings of the
Prophet). Most recently the movement gained attention for
its criticism of an Al Azhar-sanctioned fatwa condoning
breast-feeding of male coworkers in order to circumvent rules
regarding the public segregation of unrelated males and
females (Ref A). State Security Services have allegedly
targeted other members of the Quranist movement in the past
and the group's rejection of Sunna and Hadith as the basis
for Islamic law and Muslim practices is an uncomfortable
concept for many mainstream Muslims. Dr. Ahmad Mansour
reportedly serves as the group's leader, and sought asylum in
the United States previously based on fears for his safety
given GOE hostility towards the Quranists. Dr. Mansour is
Tharwat's uncle.

--------------------------------
RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL ACTIVIST?
--------------------------------

4. (SBU) Tharwat is a student at Cairo University as well as
an IKC employee. Speculation regarding the motivation behind
his arrest preliminarily focused on his attendance at the
controversial May 2007 "Second Conference on Democracy and
Reform in the Arab World" in Doha as well as his activities
with the IKC. He recently organized a public opinion poll
for the IKC, and prior to his arrest had planned to lead the
June 11 Shoura Council election monitoring teams for the
Center. Ayat Aboul Fotouh, IKC director, commented to poloff
that she believed Tharwat was arrested due to his being a
Quranist, not because of his work at the IKC. The State
Security Prosecutor's formal charge of religious defamation
highlights the continued challenges for religious freedom in
Egypt.
JONES

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