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Judicial CP - November 1996


The Independent, London, 20 November 1996

Christian who was flogged for falling in love with a Muslim

by Robert Fisk

BEIRUT -- Grotesque. Unprecedented. Bizarre. Though true, the journalists' adjectives cannot quite define the latest excess of a Muslim court. Yet Mona Ghalib's voice was determined down the phone line from her exile in the United States. What else would you expect from a Muslim woman whose Lebanese Christian husband is waiting to be flogged after legal sentencing in the Gulf for the "offence" of marrying her?

"When I sleep -- if I can sleep -- all I see is the sight of my husband being whipped," Mrs Ghalib told me yesterday.

"I know my marriage was legal in 1995. We have the official papers from Lebanon where we were married in St John's Church in Jbeil. But the court in the United Arab Emirates has sentenced him to 39 lashes. This is not Islamic law."

Alas for Mrs Ghalib, it appears to be the law in the impoverished emirate of Ras al-Ain.

Elie Dib Ghalib, a Christian Maronite from northern Lebanon, faces the lash for his marriage in June of last year to Mona Junaidi, a 25-year-old Yemeni- born citizen of the Emirates who studies at Francis Marion University in South Carolina.

The couple met 10 years ago at the Intercontinental Hotel in Al-Ain, where her future husband was -- and remained until his arrest -- the restaurant manager. "Even when I called my husband's defence lawyer, he wouldn't talk to me," Mrs Ghalib says, the indignation in her voice scarcely suppressed. "He said 'Why are you calling me? You're not his wife any more.' I could not believe it."

It is only a few months since an Egyptian court ordered a university professor and his wife to divorce on the grounds that his Islamic research work constituted "apostasy".

But the Ghalibs have neither the power nor the influence to stand up to a government in the Arab Gulf. Mr Ghalib was helping to finance his wife's university course, but, she says, she has now been forced to sleep in churches and friends' homes for lack of funds. Her personal appeal to Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan -- the fabulously wealthy Emirates ruler -- for a pardon for her husband has gone unanswered.

"When I ask the Emirates embassy here for help, all they could offer was a one-way ticket back to the Emirates. If I took that, I'd go back and receive the death penalty."

Under Islamic sharia law, a non-Muslim man may not marry a Muslim woman unless he converts to Islam -- something Mr Ghalib has reportedly offered to do in prison -- but Mrs Ghalib is in little doubt as to what lies behind this most disgraceful of judgments.

"I'm from Yemen and wasn't born in the Emirates, where they wouldn't dare to touch the big families. The purpose of punishing my husband for marrying me is to tell all the other Muslim women in the Emirates "if you have it in mind to marry a Christian, we don't want you to have the courage or the guts to do it."

Since her husband's arrest, Mrs Ghalib has been studying Islamic law interpreted by scholars of Al Azhar university in Cairo. "Islamic law doesn't say that a husband must be beaten or flogged. God loves all of us."

Amnesty International believes he has already been whipped several times during interrogation.

Mrs Ghalib said: "He has called a couple of times from the prison, just for two minutes. I can hear yelling and screaming in the background. His voice has changed."

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