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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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  • Praise God for the release of John Short, an Australian missionary who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets. John, who is 75 and based in Hong Kong, was reported to security officials in Pyongyang after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple, an act that is illegal in North Korea. Further Korean-language Christian pamphlets were subsequently found in his hotel room. John, who was released on 3 March after two weeks in custody, was required to sign a confession probably scripted by the authorities. Other foreign missionaries arrested in North Korea have been given long prison sentences. Give thanks to God that John has escaped further punishment, and pray for him as he recovers from his traumatic ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 9 hours ago

  • Pray for Barnabas Fund partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

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