The trial of Naguib Sawiris

Naguib Sawiris was accused of contempt for tweeting an image of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, respectively sporting a bushy beard and veil, writes Jacob Amis

The case

In June 2011, Naguib Sawiris tweeted an image of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, respectively sporting a bushy beard and veil, with the caption “Mickey and Minnie after…”. The Egyptian tycoon and founder-financier of the secular Free Egyptians Party soon found himself at the centre of a public outcry. Within days, a Facebook page calling for a boycott of Sawiris’ newspaper and telecoms businesses attracted tens of thousands of supporters. Sawiris apologised (again, via Twitter): “I apologise to anyone who didn’t take this as a joke. I just thought it was a funny picture, no disrespect meant! Sorry.”

Sawiris was accused of contempt of religion under Article 98(f) of the Egyptian penal code, which punishes “whoever exploits religion in order to promote extremist ideologies by word of mouth or in any other manner, with a view to stirring up sedition, disparaging or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity.” The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment.

Legal action was brought to the public prosecutor by two groups of lawyers, one of which was led by Mamdouh Ismail, a member of parliament for the Salafi party Hizb an-Nour. Sawiris’ lawyer described the charges as an attack on Coptic Christians, Egypt’s largest religious minority, to which Sawiris belongs.

By March 2012, both cases had been dismissed by separate courts – but the legislation upon which they were based remains unchallenged. Mamdouh Ismail declared his intention to appeal the decision.

Author opinion

Laws that criminalise insults to religion are by their very nature vague and arbitrary – especially when devised under Hosni Mubarak. MPs in the new parliament should be concentrating on repealing such legislation, rather than dredging it up to prosecute fellow citizens.

Many Egyptians will have been offended by Sawiris’ impolitic Tweet. Perhaps in a small way Egypt’s parliamentary elections, where Sawiris’ party flopped in the polls, can be seen as a dignified expression of such distaste.

Even at a time of communal tension, people must be free to voice their opinions at the risk of causing offence. Perhaps learning to live with annoying and unfunny jokes is actually an essential part of learning to live with each other. At any rate, in a post-Mubarak Egypt the criminalisation of offence should be thoroughly redundant.

- Jacob Amis

Read more:

Comments (1)

Automated machine translations are provided by Google Translate. They should give you a rough idea of what the contributor has said, but cannot be relied on to give an accurate, nuanced translation. Please read them with this in mind.

  1. muslim and christian one hand in egypt

Leave a comment in any language


Swipe left to browse all of the highlights.

Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

The University of Oxford