The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Quranists

I haven't had time lately to look into the arrests of several members of a "Quranist" group -- people who reject the hadith and present a reformist practice of Islam based entirely on the Quran -- but as well as being a blatant violation of freedom of belief, there seems to be several other overlapping elements here. One is that at least one of the Quranists, Amr Tharwat, is involved in the pro-democracy NGO Ibn Khaldun Center, run by the prominent Egyptian-American liberal Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Tharwat was involved in election monitoring.

The other is that the arrests could be a response to the Quranists' mockery of al-Azhar recent fatwas about urine-drinkling and adult breastfeeding, which cause a furore here last month and put the august institution on the defensive. By al-Azhar's Sunni standards, the Quranists' beliefs are highly unorthodox if not downright sacrilegious (I don't know enough about the Quranists to be sure). So what we are seeing here is yet another form of the state Islamism that has become rampant in Egypt since the 1970s. Who needs to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood when you already have bigots in power?

I've pasted some statements about this case below, with links to the Quranists' website.

Statement from the Ibn Khaldun Center:

June 7th, 2007

On Wednesday May 30th, Amr Tharwat an Ibn Khaldun employee, was arrested by Egyptian State Security at his families' residence in Matereya. Mr. Tharwat was the major organizer of the recent Shura Election monitoring as well as the Ibn Khaldun public opinion polling that was carried out earlier this year. In addition to Mr. Tharwat, the Egyptian authorities arrested four other people staying at the house of Dr. Ahmed Sobhy (Adellatif Mohamed Saied, Ahmed Dahmash, Abdelhamed Abdelrahman, Ahmed El Sayed, Amr Tharwat) and confiscated files, books, and computers that were found on the premises.

Those arrested were originally taken to the Shubra El Khima police station, but in the seven days since their arrest nothing has been heard regarding there whereabouts or the nature of the charges filed against them. Several human rights organizations as well as the team of lawyers working on this case have made repeated requests to the Egyptian government regarding this issue and have received no response until now.

Some speculate that the group was arrested due to their involvement in the religious "Quranic" movement which stresses the importance of the Quran over the Sunna and Hadith. A website was recently constructed for the movement which has gained notoriety for criticizing fatwas issued by Al Azhar authorities.

The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies strongly condemns the arrest of Egyptian citizens for peacefully exercising their rights of free expression. We call upon local as well as international civil society organizations to help convince the Egyptian authorities to immediately disclose the location of those arrested and to allow them access to legal representation.

Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim - ICDS Chairman

These are links that either include information on the Quranic movement or on the case of Amr Tharwat and his family:

Letter from HRW to Ministry of Interior:

Gen. Habib Ibrahim Habib al-`Adli
Interior Minister, Arab Republic of Egypt
Al-Shaikh Rihan Street
Cairo, Egypt 11641

June 18, 2007

Your Excellency,
Human Rights Watch is writing to request information about the whereabouts of `Amr Tharwat, `Abd al-Latif Muhammad Said, Ahmad Dahmash, `Abd al-Hamid `Abd al-Rahman, and his brother, Ayman `Abd al-Rahman, and to inquire about any charges State Security prosecutors have brought against them. Tharwat is an employee of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. According to the Ibn Khaldun Center, the other men are his relatives. We are concerned that all the men, who were last reported to have been taken into police custody, are victims of enforced disappearances.

According to information from the Al-Andalus Center for Tolerance and Nonviolence Studies, State Security officers arrested Said, Dahmash, and `Abd al-Rahman in a predawn raid on May 29. Shortly before dawn two nights later, State Security officers arrested Tharwat and his relative Ahmad al-Sayid and confiscated files, books, and computers from the apartment. They quickly released Ahmad al-Sayid, but have reportedly called him in for questioning several times since. State Security officers detained Ayman `Abd al-Rahman on June 17.

According to the Ibn Khaldun Center, Tharwat and the others were initially taken to a State Security facility in Shubra al-Khima, but no official acknowledgement of their detention has been given, nor has any information about their whereabouts. Lawyers for the detainees and human rights organizations inquiring about Tharwat's whereabouts, including in a complaint to the Public Prosecutors office (registered as Case Number 9191/2007) alleging illegal arrest and enforced disappearance, have received no response from any authority to date.

Tharwat helped organize civil-society groups' efforts to monitor the June 11 elections for the Shura Council. He also participated in the Ibn Khaldun Center's public opinion polling earlier this year. All the men except al-Sayid reportedly adhere to the "Quranist" school of thought. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the men's detention might be related to any of these activities or to their religious opinions.

Your Excellency, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that "No matter how legitimate the reasons for a person's detention, no one has the right to keep that person's fate or whereabouts secret or to deny that he or she is being detained. This practice runs counter to the basic tenets of international humanitarian law and human rights law."

Article 41 of the Egyptian constitution affirms that "no person may be arrested, inspected, detained or have his freedom restricted in any way or be prevented from free movement except by an order necessitated by investigations and the preservation of public security."

Your Excellency, Human Rights Watch calls upon you to ensure that Egypt's international legal obligations are followed and that no instances of enforced disappearance are allowed to take place and that the detention and whereabouts of Tharwat and the other men listed is immediately acknowledged. Furthermore, if security forces have evidence that Tharwat or the other men listed, have committed a crime, Human Rights Watch calls upon you to ensure that in accordance with international law they are allowed visits from their lawyers and other due process rights, including a trial before an independent, impartial court. If not, Human Rights Watch urges you to release them immediately.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Sarah-Leah Whitson
Executive Director
Middle East and North Africa Division