Egypt's religious authorities raided book stores and stands on Saturday, confiscating hundreds of publications as well as audio and video tapes they claim do not conform to Islamic teachings. \nThe raid came only three days after Justice Minister Faruq Seif al-Nasr granted Al-Azar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious institution, wide-ranging powers to ban and confiscate material it deems violate religious principles. \nNovels by secular writers and even unorthodox versions of the Islamic holy book, the Koran, were seized in the raids, raising concerns the religious establishment might use its new powers to suppress free thought. \nHuman rights groups and the liberal intelligentsia condemned the move, spearheaded by Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Center (IRC), as an attempt to stifle freedom of expression and warned that it could encourage violence against secular writers. \nThey mentioned two individuals in particular whose publications were targeted in the raids: Egyptian feminist writer Nawal Saadawi and researcher Ahmed Ismail. \nAccording to the Egyptian Human Rights Center for Legal Aid, Ismail was assaulted by members of the extremist Salafist group, who denounced him as being an infidel. \nThe IRC demanded the confiscation of Saadawi's The Fall of the Imam, published nearly 20 years ago, for allegedly violating Islamic precepts. \nThe novel tells the story of a dictator surrounded by Islamic scholars, who use the Koran to justify the dictator's actions, even if that means giving false interpretations of verses in the holy book. \nAlaa Abd El-Zaher, head of the IRC's videotape department, however, argued that the confiscations were only "limited to religious publications" and did not cover "literary works." \nIn the mid 1990s, the IRC recommended the suspension of renowned Egyptian film director Yussef Shahine's Al-Mohageer (The Emigre) and the banning of author Alaa Hamed's Voyage into the Human Mind, a philosophical reflection on faith and atheism. \nThe author was later jailed for six months. \nIslamists also filed a case in court against Cairo University professor Hamed Abu Zeid, demanding that he be divorced from his wife. \nThey alleged that anti-Islamic writings had made him an apostate and therefore could not remain married to his Muslim wife, Ibtehal Yunis, a Spanish lecturer at Cairo university. \nThe couple was later forced to flee the country and live in exile in the Netherlands. \nThe Egyptian Organization for Human Rights expressed fear on Tuesday that the Justice Ministry's decision would lead to violations of freedoms, including of thought and expression, which are enshrined in the constitution.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and