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Egypt Alcohol Case Stirs Controversy - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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In this Saturday, July 26, 1997 file photo, an Egyptian worker inspects a bottle of Stella beer rolling down the line at a factory in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)

In this July 26, 1997, file photo, an Egyptian worker inspects a bottle of Stella beer rolling down the line at a factory in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Enric Marti)

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—An Egyptian judge ordered a man to receive 80 lashes in punishment for being drunk, in the first judicial decision of its kind in the modern Egyptian era, raising a storm of controversy.

A well-informed judicial source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that this was an unprecedented verdict supposedly based on Egypt’s new constitution, but did not go into specifics.

The defendant in this controversial case, Mohamed Ragab, quickly became a media star. The decision to penalize him represents the first attempt to legally criminalize alcohol consumption in Egypt on religious grounds since the January 25 revolution that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power.

Ragab informed local media outlets that he had consumed a single glass of beer while attending a wedding. He added that he left the wedding shortly after, before being arrested for being “inebriated.”

Despite Egypt’s Islamic heritage and the recent political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, most so-called shabbiyya (lower-class) weddings in urban areas, include traditions of not only alcohol consumption, but also of hashish. There is also the tradition of the shabbiyya singer, most often accompanied by a belly-dancer, singing songs of romance and love.

Such weddings usually last well into the night and are usually overlooked by the local police force, owing to their traditionalist nature. Mohamed Ragab had been attending a wedding in Al-Minya governorate when he was stopped by the police. The police administered an blood alcohol test and arrested him on charges of public inebriation.

The state prosecutor on duty, Hussein Anan, sentenced Ragab to 80 lashes, reportedly basing his verdict on Qu’ranic verses rather than Egypt’s Penal Code.

In a later development, a deputy public prosecutor annulled the punishment and ordered Ragab’s release. In addition to this, the DPP ordered an investigation to be launched into Anan’s conduct.

One Egyptian prosecutor, speaking to local media on the condition of anonymity, explained that while Anan possessed the legal right to place the defendant in custody, he had no legal right to order the police to commit a crime and physically assault an Egyptian citizen.

Although Anan’s verdict was overturned and Ragab released, it indicates a dangerous escalation in post-revolutionary Egypt. Since the Brotherhood-dominated government swept to power less than a year ago, Egypt has witnessed a number of Islamization measures, including increased taxes on alcohol. In addition to this, laws banning the issuance of liquor licenses are on the books in a number of major cities, including Cairo and Alexandria.

Secularists fear that an anti-alcohol drive could harm Egypt’s vital tourist industry. Presently, vendors require a special license to sell alcohol. Such establishments include duty-free shops and businesses offering services to tourists such as hotels, restaurants and bars.