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Cablegate: Blasphemy at the Khartoum International Book Fair

VZCZCXRO4779
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #2027 3521253
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 181253Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9598
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS KHARTOUM 002027

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF A/S FRAZER, AF S/E NATSIOS, AF/SPG
NSC FOR PITTMAN AND HUDSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SU EG
SUBJECT: BLASPHEMY AT THE KHARTOUM INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIR


1. (SBU) In a twist on the recent "teddy bear scandal" that saw a
British schoolteacher sentenced to prison, pardoned by the President
and ultimately expelled from Sudan, two Egyptian booksellers were
convicted of insulting Islam by distributing a book allegedly
critical of the prophet Mohammad's wife Aisha. The book, entitled
"The Mother of the Faithful Eats Her Children," was on display last
week at the Khartoum International Book Fair.

2. (SBU) On December 11, Sudanese security forces arrested the two
men (the forces supposedly accompanied by members of the Islamic
fundamentalist group Ansar al-Sunna), who were in Khartoum
representing the well-known Egyptian publishing house al-Madbouli.
In one of the speedier trials in Sudanese judicial history, the men
were found guilty five days later and sentenced to six months in
prison. The men were convicted under the same statute as Ms. Gillian
Gibbons, the British schoolteacher. The court in its ruling stated
that the men would "be an example to anyone who wishes to insult the
Almighty." Three Sudanese book fair employees who were also detained
were acquitted.

3. (SBU) Several other titles were also confiscated at the book
fair, including one entitled "Darfur: A History of War and
Genocide," Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's "Children of Our Quarter"
and a set of books on Wahhabism (apparently found objectionable by
the Saudi cultural attach). At last year's fair, all the Iranian
book stalls were shut down and their representatives sent back to
Teheran.

4. (SBU) In contrast to Ms. Gibbons' case, there have been no street
protests or demonstrators calling for the two men to be put to
death. While the case has been covered by local media, it has not
stimulated the same kind of public outcry nor generated potentially
embarrassing international exposure. The two men received the
maximum sentence possible under the law, according to the Egyptian
Deputy Chief of Mission; the Egyptian Embassy has protested their
sentence and has filed an appeal.

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