Former Islamist Egyptian lawmaker’s sons detained for antiquity theft

Arrest is third scandal to hit the Salafi Nour Party coalition’s members

Supporters of Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail in Cairo (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)
Supporters of Salafi presidential candidate Hazem Abu-Ismail in Cairo (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil)

CAIRO (AP) — A former Egyptian lawmaker’s sons were briefly detained Sunday on charges of illegally digging for artifacts in the ancient city of Luxor in the latest scandal involving an ultraconservative Islamist who served in parliament.

Two sons of Gaber Abdel-Monem Ali, who goes by the name Gaber Gahlan, were arrested and then released, antiquities officials said.

Neighbors notified police when they heard drilling coming from inside the home owned by Gahlan, who resides in another governorate. The officials said police found four men digging inside.

The officials said the lawmaker’s sons face charges of illegally digging in the artifact-rich area of el-Karnak in the city of Luxor. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

Antiquities theft is a persistent problem for Egypt, which is rich in ancient Egyptian and Greco-Roman artifacts. The problem has intensified since last year’s uprising and the security lapse that has followed.

Gahlan is a member of the ultraconservative Gamaa Islamiya party and was part of the Salafi Nour Party’s coalition before parliament was dissolved.

It was at least the third scandal to hit the Nour Party coalition’s members who served in parliament. The party won 25 percent of seats, making it the second largest group after the Muslim Brotherhood.

The legislature was dissolved in June after Egypt’s high court ruled that a quarter of its members were illegally elected.

Since earlier this year, a former lawmaker, religious scholar Ali Wanees, has been on the run from police after a court found him guilty of public indecency. Police say they found him fondling a woman in a parked car at night.

Wanees denied the charge before disappearing.

He was also found guilty of contempt of police and sentenced to a year in prison. The woman is in jail, serving a six-month prison term for the incident.

The case is especially embarrassing for Salafis, who advocate the segregation of unrelated men and women. Salafis are known for a no-compromise, literal interpretation of the faith.

The most prominent scandal came when the Nour Party was forced to issue an embarrassing apology after one of its lawmakers, Anwar al-Balkimy, was reported to have lied to cover up a nose job. Salafis oppose cosmetic surgery.

He left the hospital where he had the nose job and checked himself into another one that same day, claiming he sustained injuries to his heavily bandaged face from a carjacking and beating.

A few days later, he was kicked out of the party and resigned from parliament.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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