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Egyptian writer defends story of early Christians

Tuesday December 23 2008

ALEXANDRIA, Tuesday

Egyptian novelist and scholar Youssef Ziedan has angered the Egyptian Coptic Church with his best-selling novel Azazeel, the story of a 5th-century Egyptian-born monk who witnesses early Christian disputes.

Bishop Bishoy, the secretary of the church’s Holy Synod, said Ziedan “intended to destroy authentic Christian doctrine” and accused him of interfering in internal Christian matters.

But in an interview with Reuters, Ziedan said church elders were upset he had challenged their authority as the heirs of St Mark the Apostle and their exclusive claim to Egyptian history between the end of paganism and the arrival of Islam.

“The Egyptian Coptic Church imagined for years that the centuries that preceded the arrival of Islam (in 640 AD) are a history private to the Coptic Church, and I cannot accept that, and I see no meaning or logic to it,” he said.

The novel, shortlisted for the Arabic Booker prize, is now in its fifth edition less than a year after it appeared.

The novel, with its lively recreation of the period, strong plot and persuasive characters, has quickly won a following among the growing Egyptian reading public. (Reuters)