The Minister of Culture’s award given to a controversial writer previously accused of apostasy has Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood up in arms, with several members launching a judicial and media campaign demanding the withdrawal of the award.
The Muslim Brotherhood lashed out at the Ministry of Culture and MPs from the group filed a complaint after secularist writer and thinker Sayed al-Qimni received the State Award of Merit in Social Sciences, the highest in Egypt.
The Egyptian government insists on provoking the people through repeatedly paying tribute to people who slander Islam, said Brotherhood MP Dr. Hamdi Hassan in the interpellation he directed at Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif.
Lawyer Nabih al-Wahsh filed a lawsuit demanding the withdrawal of the award from Qimni, alleging that he does not deserve it.
"His works deride Islam and he is skeptical about the message of Prophet Mohamed," he told Al Arabiya. "Plus the prize is from state money and most Egyptians reject Qimni's ideas. Thus, he does not deserve the prize."
Wahsh added that the Egyptian constitution is based on Islamic law (Sharia), which Qimni allegedly doubts, and called for impeaching the Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni for approving the choice of Qimni.
Preacher Yusuf al-Badri, known for suing intellectuals, also lashed out at the Minister of Culture and filed a lawsuit for the revocation of the prize.
"He denies the existence of prophets Abraham and Moses and Prophet Mohamed's battles," he told Al Arabiya. "How could people who say this be given awards?"
The fundamentalist group al-Jamaa al-Islamiya issued a statement condemning awarding the prize to Qimni.
All Islamist and cultural circles are in shock after Qimni was awarded a prize he did not deserve, said Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, one of the group's founders and member of the Consultative Assembly, Egypt's lower house of parliament.
"The Minister of Culture should protect youth from vice and perversion," he told Al Arabiya. "He should revive Egypt's Muslim culture instead of encouraging secularists."
The State Award of Merit is 200,000 Egyptian Pounds ($36,000) and every year disagreements arise about the deservedness of candidates.
Not an apostate
In response to the accusations leveled against, Qimni objected to being labeled an apostate and expressed his indifference towards these allegations.
"I am Muslim and I believe in Prophet Mohamed," he told Al Arabiya. "Let them file whatever lawsuits they want to withdraw the award. The award did honor me; I honored it."
Qimni accused those who filed lawsuits against him of seeking profit and not attempting to understand Islam correctly.
"My writings make Islam simpler and explain it to people. Those who sue me and accuse me of apostasy do this for a living and will go bankrupt if they stop it."
Qimni has advocated for crossing out Article 2 of the constitution which states that Islamic law (sharia) is the main source of legislation in Egypt. He initially refused the prize in a statement of support to secularism.
Although there were many objections to Qimni's candidacy for the award from inside the arbitration committee, he received 37 votes out of 48 which qualified him for the award, Salah Eissa, Editor-in-Chief of the Ministry of Culture's al-Qahira (Cairo) newspaper and member of the committee explained.
"It is normal to have disagreements about prizes," Eissa told Al Arabiya. "People differ regarding who deserves them best. I personally voted for him. I find Qimni a hard worker and a diligent thinker."
Eissa added that the State Award of Merit is usually given to creative intellectuals who conduct thorough research in their fields regardless of the ideas they promote.
"Many of the committee members who voted for Qimni do not agree with his ideas. Giving him the prize is not necessarily an endorsement of everything he says."
Eissa labeled those who hurl accusation at Qimni "intellectually bankrupt" and stressed that no authority has the right to call someone an apostate.
Al-Azhar's Center for Islamic Research had called for banning Qimni's book Rab Haza al-Zaman (A God of this Age) because it contained apostasy but the court ruled in favor of Qimni.
"Islam forbids accusing people of apostasy and there is nothing in Qimni's writings or ideas that demonstrate he is an apostate."
Prominent writer Gamal al-Ghitani, member of the Supreme Council of Culture, refused to comment on the accusations against Qimni.
"I will not comment on these allegations and I have my own reasons," he told Al Arabiya.
Sayed al-Qimni has always stirred controversy in Egypt for arguing that Islam is a political system rather than a religion and his harsh criticism of political Islam earned him many death threats.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).