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EGYPT: Christian tycoon faces wave of Muslim anger over bearded Mickey Mouse photo

June 28, 2011 |  6:54 am


A picture of Mickey Mouse with long beard and Minnie with a full-face veil posted on businessman Naguib Sawiris’ Twitter account has enraged Muslims and prompted 15 lawyers to file a lawsuit against him for blasphemy and insulting Islam.

The Christian Copt telecommunications mogul, who has emerged as a provocative voice in post-revolutionary Egypt, apologized on Twitter, saying that he meant the picture to be humorous, not an affront to the country's majority population of Muslims. "I apologize for those who don’t take this as a joke. I just thought it was a funny picture no disrespect meant! I’m sorry,” the magnate tweeted.

Nonetheless, Sawiris’ apology wasn’t enough to halt the fury and criticism from many Muslims, especially the ultraconservative Salafis, whose lawyers have already sued the billionaire. A Facebook group launched under the name “we are also joking, Sawiris” gathered no less than 90,000 members in recent days, calling for boycotting products or services sold by any of the businessman’s companies, especially the Mobinil mobile phone company.  

"If you’re a real Muslim ... boycott his (Sawiris’) products if you love your religion. We have to cut the tongue of any person who attacks our religion,” the group writes. Several other Facebook groups under the same name or the moniker “we hate you Mickey Sawiris” also collected thousands of members angry at what the called “Sawiris’ mockery of and disrespect to Islam.”

The Internet campaign coincides with another offline effort by Islamic clerics, who have spoken to Egyptian and Arab media channels to denounce Sawiris’ act. “We can’t stay silent at any defaming campaigns towards religious symbols. Would Sawiris accept that a nun or a priest gets ridiculed?” Islamic preacher Safwat Hegazi asked in Al Quds al Arabi newspaper.

The flap follows recent attacks by radical Muslims against Christian institutions in Cairo, including the May burning of the Virgin Mary Church and ensuing clashes that left 12 people dead and 230 wounded in the poor neighborhood of Imbaba.   

Shares of both Mobinil and Sawiris’ Orascom Telecom fell on the Egyptian stock exchange Monday. This is the second time Sawiris has indirectly provoked Salafis.  The first clash came in 2007, when the businessman said that he was “not against veil, but when he walks in the streets of Egypt, he feels like a stranger" due to the growing number of veiled women.

Sawiris recently helped start the Free Egyptians political party, announcing that he would give up his role as Orascom’s executive chairman of the Orascom Telecom Holding Co. to focus on political and social work. The current row, however, might dent his party’s chances in the upcoming parliamentary elections, as Salafis and Islamic clerics have a notable influence on the votes of many Egyptians who base their perspectives according to religious convictions rather than political directions.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris. Credit: AFP