One of Egypt’s richest men is to face trial for blasphemy after tweeting cartoons of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing conservative Muslim attire.
Telecoms mogul and Coptic Christian Naguib Sawiris re-posted the images on Twitter last June.
The tweeted images showed Mickey Mouse wearing a traditional Islamic robe with a full beard, while Minnie Mouse is wearing a niqab – a full-face veil – with just her eyes showing.
Sawiris subsequently apologized on twitter (see below), saying he meant no offense but a formal complaint against him has now been referred to court.
I apologise for any who don’t take this as a joke , I just thought it was a funny picture no disrespect meant! Assef!!
— Naguib Sawiris (@NaguibSawiris) June 24, 2011
Tensions between Egypt’s Muslims and minority Christian community have worsened in recent months.
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Marco Werman: In the uncertain cultural terrain of post-revolution Arab nations, a tweet can land you in deep trouble. A prominent Egyptian media mogul found that out the hard way. Naguib Sawiris tweeted a picture of Minnie and Mickey Mouse last June, but it wasn’t just any picture of the two Disney characters. Minnie is wearing a face veil, and Mickey sports a beard and traditional Islamic robe. And the mogul behind the tweet? Naguib Sawiris is a Christian. Egyptian authorities have charged Sawiris with contempt for religion. He is due to appear in court this Saturday. Correspondent Noel King is in Cairo. Noel, describe these Mickey and Minnie pictures for us.
Noel King: Well, they’ve been described as a cartoon, but if you see the image online you’ll see that they almost look like a painting with a little bit of a cartoonish aspect. Mickey Mouse is wearing Islamic robes and he has a long beard, and Minnie Mouse is wearing an niqab, the black face veil. And you can tell that it’s Minnie Mouse because she’s wearing the pink bow that we all know so well from the Disney character.
Werman: We’ll have a link to the pictures at theworld.org. I’ve got to say that Mickey Mouse with blue eyes seems unconventional, but the rest of him looks like Mickey as a Madrasah student, perhaps. These pictures were already out there online, Noel, and who knows where else. How are Caireans reacting to this? Because Sawiris is getting charged and getting tried for tweeting something that was already out there on the web.
King: That’s right, and that’s been one of his main defenses from the beginning, since he tweeted out the picture in June. Look, the cartooon has been out since 2008; it was out there; I thought it was funny. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. It was supposed to be a joke. But when he tweeted the picture, a couple of prominent Islamists picked up on the tweet and they said to their followers, we’re going to boycott this man’s business. He’s a very wealthy man. He’s got his fingers in every pie from construction to tourism to science and technology. But the biggest hit that he took was with his mobile phone company. The numbers that we have seen so far suggest that about three hundred thousand subscribers ditched his company Mobinil and went to other companies as a way of expressing their outrage. So he did take a pretty big hit in his business. His stocks did fall. That said, three hundred thousand people out of an estimated maybe 55 to 60 million cell phone users isn’t an overwhelming number, but there is some displeasure there.
Werman: Sawiris is a Christian, as we’ve mentioned, and Christians are a minority in Egypt and there have been attacks on Christians since the ousting of Mubarak last year. Did Sawiris have another agenda by tweeting this image or was it just a case of poor judgment?
King: There are two things here. It was likely a case of poor judgment, of a joke gone wrong. At the same time, Sawiris has clashed for years and years with Islamists in Egypt. He’s a very outspoken critic of anything that to him smacks of religious conservatism. He has said in the press and publicly again and again that he despises the idea of Egypt moving toward a conservative religious society. So this is a man who, in a sense, has been a flash point for many years now.
Werman: Are Egyptians saying this is a sign that the country is moving toward a more conservative society?
King: If you ask me, Marco, that’s really the whole story here. Here’s what’s happening. Egypt Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the more conservative Salafi parties are doing very well, as we all know, in the parliamentary elections. Egyptian liberals, Christians, and secularists have said for the past couple of weeks, this is something to really be concerned about. This country is moving in the wrong direction. Their critics, including many ordinary Egyptians have said: Look, Egypt is not Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood are not mullahs, they’re dentists; they’re businessmen. They’re not going to change Egypt in any great way. What the liberals and Christians and secularists are pointing to since Monday is, they’re effectively saying this is the writing on the wall. If you want an example of how this country is moving in the wrong direction, look to this, the fact that a prominent businessman made a joke and now is being hauled into court. So for many people here in Egypt, this is a disturbing sign that things are moving in a conservative direction.
Werman: Correspondent Noel King in Cairo. Thank you, indeed.
King: Thank you.
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