Freedom of academic research:

From confiscation to charges of apostasy

The implications of the court decision ordering the divorce of Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd from his wife, Dr. Ibthal Younis

A report published in Cairo by CHRLA, The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid, July 1995

CHRLA would like to thank the following individuals who translated this document from the original Arabic: Shireen Abu al-Naga, Clarissa Bencomo, Elliott Colla, and Hisham Kassem. Nicola Pratt for editing the text. CHRLA would also like to thank Joel Campagna for his help in translating and producing this report.

1. Events from the committee report to the divorce case; 2. The general climate in which the ruling was made

3. The legal basis of the ruling: I. Invalidating the legal principle of crimes and penalties; II. Contravention of the ruling established by fiqh and the judiciary; III. Legal implications of a lawsuit based on the principle of hisba; IV. Hisba lawsuits and the suppression of freedom of thought; V. Judges and intellectual conflicts; VI. The unconstitutionality of Article 280 of the rules regulating the Sharia Courts

4. The ruling with regard to basic human rights: I. The violation of freedom of belief and expression; II. The ruling threatens freedom of scientific research; III. The ruling destroys the concepts of citizenship; IV. The ruling denies women's dignity; V. The ruling is contrary to the concept of inherent rights


Academic freedom is a necessary precondition to pedagogical functions, research, administration, and other services upon which universities and other higher institutions of learning are founded. All members of the academic community have the right to pursue their jobs without discrimination of any kind or fear of any interference or compulsion coming from states or any other sources
Article 3 of the Lima Declaration Regarding Academic Freedom

CHRLA is greatly alarmed by the Cairo Court of Appeals ruling of June 14, 1995, which ordered the divorce of Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd (the Cairo University professor) from his wife, Dr. Ibthal Younis, on the grounds that he was an apostate because of the opinions contained in his published research.

The argument on which the ruling is based raises problems related to freedom of thought, religious interpretation and belief, and the privacy of family relationships. It also brings into question issues regarding the constitutional framework, the existing laws of the country and the rulings and principle of independence of the Court of Cassation (the final court of appeal), and how these comply with the international human rights agreements to which Egypt is a signatory. Lastly, it raises the question as to what extent any official or unofficial party has a legitimate claim in bringing a case of apostasy against any individual on the basis of his or her opinions and personal beliefs. CHRLA believes that before discussing these issues, we should briefly review the facts surrounding this crisis which is now threatening the future and development of Egyptian society.

The crisis began within the walls of Cairo University while members of the Standing Committee of Academic Tenure and Promotion were debating Abu Zayd's candidacy for promotion to full professor. It was at this point that charges of apostasy were first leveled against him. This resulted in the court case calling for the divorce, and finally culminated in the issuing of a fatwa by the armed Islamic group, Jihad, calling for Abu Zayd's blood. We hope that Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd is not subjected to the same fate as the intellectual, Farag Foda, who was assassinated in 1993, nor the Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, who survived an assassination attempt last year. We expect the Court of Cassation to settle this point of contention in order to overcome the beasts of darkness who issue death threats at those who dare to think or advocate freedom of opinion or religious belief.

Introduction | Parts 1,2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Conclusion

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