In Cairo yesterday a court ruled that parts of the unexpurgated classic "The Thousand and One Nights" are obscene, and ordered 3,000 confiscated copies destroyed. Fines were levied on the publishers and distributors of the work, which contains the tales of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, Aladdin and his magic lamp, and Sinbad the sailor.

The work, said by some scholars to include stories more than 1,000 years old, also contains racier scenes, like the seduction of a poor porter by three young maidens.

The Interior Ministry had confiscated two editions of the work, and charged a publisher and three booksellers with misdemeanor violations of pornography laws for printing, importing and distributing it.

The case caused an uproar among Egyptian scholars and intellectuals, who argue that as a world-renowned classic, "The Thousand and One Nights" should not be censored.

Brig. Adly el-Kosheiry, head of the Interior Ministry's delinquents department, instigated the case, contending that "The Thousand and One Nights" is, in its unexpurgated version, a threat to Egyptian youth.

The book is not part of our heritage," he said, "and even if it were, any part of our heritage that includes dirty words should be locked up in a museum and an expurgated version should be made available to the youth."

Judge Ahmed el-Hossainy said his ruling applies only to the 3,000 copies the prosecutor initially seized and not to any other copies.