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Christian businessman charged with blasphemy in Egypt over tweet

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt

A prominent Christian businessman and liberal political leader in Egypt has been charged with “blasphemy and insulting Islam” for tweeting an image of Mickey and Minnie Mouse dressed in Islamic clothing.

Telecommunications executive Naguib Sawiris, who also heads the secular liberal Free Egyptians political party, will face a trial after a group of Islamist lawyers filed a lawsuit against him. He could face a year in prison if convicted.

Naguib-Sawiris-4X3.jpg
Naguib Sawiris

The picture of a bearded Mickey Mouse wearing a traditional Islamic robe and Minnie Mouse in a niqab, posted by Mr Sawiris on Twitter last June, prompted thousands of complaints on the internet.

He apologised saying, “I just thought it was a funny picture; no disrespect meant. I am sorry.”

But the apology was not enough to placate the offended Muslims, and various Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, led a nationwide campaign calling for a boycott of products and services offered by Mr Sawiris’ companies.

He is the chairman of Orascom Telecom and a major shareholder in mobile phone service provider Mobinil. Around 300,000 customers have left Mobinil, accusing Mr Sawiris of insulting Islam.   

Political dimension      

There have been suggestions that the legal action against Mr Sawiris could also have a political dimension. Criticising the charges and trial, human rights lawyer Gamal Eid said:

Contempt of religion’ is a very vague term, and the prosecution has taken the radical interpretation, raising questions of whether this is a legal or a political matter.

Advocating a secular, liberal future for Egypt, Mr Sawiris has openly opposed the Islamists’ plan to draft a new constitution heavily influenced by sharia law.

And that prospect looks increasingly likely as the country’s two leading Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party and the Salafist al-Nur party, emerged from the parliamentary elections with around two-thirds of the vote. Mr Sawiris’ Free Egyptians party came a distant third with around ten per cent.  

The blasphemy charge against Mr Sawiris raises further concerns about the direction in which post-revolution Egypt is heading. While the uprising was characterised by calls for a secular democracy, key principles of such a state – freedom of speech and religion – appear to be lacking in this case.

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  • On this Good Friday, give thanks to God for the death of Christ and for His gift of eternal life. Praise Him too for the example of those Christians who have persevered in their faith at the risk of their lives and who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Pray that their martyrdom will inspire their suffering brothers and sisters in Christ to endure whatever hardships befall them and will convince their persecutors of the truth and power of the Gospel. Pray too that their bereaved families and churches will not grieve without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Fri, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Cry out to the Lord for Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) who have been driven from their homes by the violence that has engulfed their country. Attacks by Islamist Séléka militants and retaliation from “anti-balaka” militias has generated a huge humanitarian crisis in which around two million people, many of them Christians, are in need of emergency assistance. Give thanks for the work of Barnabas partners who have been providing food rations to hundreds of displaced believers in the capital, Bangui, and distributing food, medicines, clothing and seeds to thousands in various regions. Pray that the aid will reach those who need it most, and that the Lord will comfort the relatives and friends of the thousands who have been killed in the fighting. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Apr 2014 00:00

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  • Pray for a church leader in Sri Lanka, S.S. Johnpillai, who was threatened at gunpoint by attackers who claimed to be Special Forces officers. The minister was in a hut next to his church building in Guadalupe, Trincomolee when, he said, the men “appeared out of nowhere”. The intruders put a gun to Johnpillai’s head and accused him of holding a Communion service in honour of the founder of the Tamil Tigers, the government’s opponents in the country’s long and bloody civil war. The government had that day made it a criminal offence to commemorate the group. The gunmen ignored Johnpillai’s protests that he had not dedicated Communion to the group’s founder, and they threatened to shoot him. Ask the Lord to support and strengthen Johnpillai as he recovers from this terrifying ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

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