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Two Sentenced to Death in Stabbing of Novelist Mahfouz

January 10, 1995 GMT

HAEKSTEP, Egypt (AP) _ Six years ago the Egyptian cleric on trial in New York on charges of planning attacks on American landmarks declared that Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz deserved to die.

On Tuesday, 13 Muslim radicals were convicted in the near-fatal stabbing of Mahfouz Oct. 14 outside his Cairo home.

The military court sentenced two to death and 11 to prison for terms of various length. The court found three other defendants not guilty.

The prosecution contended all 16 were members of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, the main movement behind a nearly three-year campaign to topple Egypt’s secular government. Members of the group look to Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman for spiritual guidance even though he’s been out of the country for years.

Mahfouz attended neither the trial nor the sentencing. The 83-year-old writer is said to be only now recovering from the attack, which caused a furor. Millions of Egyptians have seen films or television productions of his works.

Unlike Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born British writer outlawed by Iran the same year, Mahfouz refused to go into hiding after the 1989 death decree. Abdel-Rahman said Mahfouz was guilty of blasphemy for ``The Children of Gebelawi.″ The allegorical novel, published in 1959, was banned in Egypt until newspapers serialized it after the stabbing.

The defendants, mostly bearded young men in flowing white robes, chanted defiant Islamic slogans after Judge Ahmed Abdullah read the sentences. Outside the closed courthouse, at a military barracks outside Cairo, the defendants’ families wailed.

In his report on the sentencing, carried by Egypt’s Middle East News Agency, Abdullah said the defendants chose Mahfouz as a symbol of all intellectuals and that his murder was aimed at all free thinkers.

Human rights groups have criticized Egypt for trying suspected Muslim militants in military courts where they have no right of appeal except for a plea of clemency to President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak began referring such cases to military courts shortly after the radicals began their revolt in spring 1992. Forty-four radicals have been executed, all but two sentenced by military courts.

More than 500 people have died in the radical campaign. Most have been radicals or police, but the militants also have attacked government officials, minority Coptic Christians and foreign tourists.

Mahfouz’s 1988 Nobel is the only such prize won by an Egyptian writer. His most famous works _ ``Midaq Alley,″ ``Khan el-Khalili,″ and the Cairo trilogy _ depict the lives of ordinary people amid the bustle of Cairo.