Quranist detained at Cairo airport, banned from travel

Quranist writer Abdel Latif Said was banned from leaving the country and detained for questioning at the Cairo International Airport, his wife and lawyer said on Wednesday.

According to Mrs. Abdel Latif, her husband was preparing to travel to Sudan to watch the decisive Egypt-Algeria World Cup football match when he was stopped by airport security only one hour before boarding the plane. She told Al-Masry Al-Youm English Edition that the incident was the latest in a series of government "bullying" that began in 2007 with Said’s arrest for "maligning Sunni Islam." He was subsequently held in police custody for five months only to be eventually released without having charges leveled against him.

Said is a member of the "Quranist" school of Islam, which relies exclusively on the Quran for guidance and jurisprudence. Contentiously, Quranists do not adhere to the sunna, or "traditions," of the Prophet Mohamed. These traditions, which include numerous sayings of the prophet passed on by his followers, are considered by Sunni Muslims a cornerstone of Islamic belief.

Quranists, however, are outspokenly critical of the sunna. The group recently came to prominence in cyberspace through several websites and blogs set up by its members. This led to a spate of online clashes with more established Islamic groups, such as the banned Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, both of which are generally literalist and staunch proponents of the sunna.

Said has written prolifically in support of the Quranist ideology and is a member of a Cairo-based Quranist center. His wife believes this is the main reason, among others, that he is regularly targeted by the state security apparatus.

On Wednesday, after an exchange of phone calls from 11 AM to 2 PM between Said and his wife, Said’s mobile phone was abruptly turned off and all contact with him halted. His wife told Al-Masry that she feared for his safety and suspected that he had been taken from the airport to another location.

"In our last conversation, he told me he had been questioned by a State Security officer and that his passport had been taken from him," she said. "He also said they were taking him away but he didn’t know where. His phone was switched off two hours ago and I can’t reach him anymore."

This is the second time Said has been banned from traveling this year. In April, he was similarly stopped before boarding a plane to the United States, where he was due to speak at a conference about his religious beliefs. According to Adel Ramadan, his lawyer, Said was outraged and took his grievance to court.

The court case challenging his travel ban is still pending, said Ramadan. But in the most recent session, a government representative assured the court that Said had not been blacklisted and that "he has the freedom to travel."

"We relied on the government’s assurance that he’s not on the list carrying the names of those banned from leaving the country," said Ramadan. "So we’re very surprised that he was detained this morning."

Attempts to reach Said on his mobile phone were not successful.

In recent months, the authorities have repeatedly stopped government opponents, citizen journalists, bloggers and Islamic activists — whose names are checked against a pre-flight list — from leaving Egypt. Prominent opposition personalities — such as former presidential contender Ayman Nour and blogger Wael Abbas — have a history of being banned from travel or being "harassed" at the airport. This includes detention, hours-long questioning, and a thorough search of personal belongings.

Abbas recently had his laptop confiscated, while Nour was stopped from visiting the United States last week.

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