A Coptic Christian who is a billionaire telecommunications mogul is on trial in Egypt over allegations of “blasphemy and insulting Islam.”
Naguib Sawiris, the man on trial, posted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse alongside a veiled Minnie Mouse. If convicted, Sawiris could face a year in prison.
“This is a religious agenda being acted out,” said Dr. Carl Moeller of Open Doors, a ministry that focuses on supporting persecuted Christians.
“It was never socially popular to do what he did,” said Moeller, who added that putting Sawiris on trial for expressing an unpopular religious opinion was “problematic.”
Kamal Nawash, founder of the Free Muslims Coalition, said it would be “a very sad day for Islam and rational people if Naguib Sawiris is actually tried for ‘insulting’ Islam.”
For many onlookers, including Fr. Bishoy Andrawes of St. Mark Coptic Church in Washington, D.C., this is yet further proof that Christians have it worse now than when dictator President Hosni Mubarak was in power.
Andrawes, who was raised in Egypt, said that the situation in Egypt was worse because of the lack of proper police protection and the efforts to advance Sharia law, or Islamic law, by powerful political groups like the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“As of now, they are making their intentions clear,” said Andrawes.
“Things will get a lot worse as the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafii associates control the government.”
Andrawes noted that since the ousting of Mubarak, efforts by groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have included imposing a special tax on Copts for not converting to Islam.
Outside of Egypt, Andrawes said that Coptic Christians were taking these developments “with considerable sadness and anger,” with a fear that Egypt will experience an exodus of Christians similar to that of Iraq.
“The main and necessary first step is to ensure that the new constitution protects all minorities. If it is left in the hands of the new government, representing the Muslim majority, it will not do that,” said Andrawes.
Nawash of Free Muslims Coalition believes that although the current government of Egypt “probably opposes discrimination,” it is “too weak to vigorously defend the rights of any segment of the population, including Christians.”
“It is yet too early to conclude what is the status of religion and political freedom in Egypt,” remarked Nawash.
“However, it does not appear that it will be any better than it was under Mubarak which will be terrible for the future of Egypt.”
Persecution of Coptic Christian in Egypt is nothing new, as sporadic violence occurred under the Mubarak regime. Since the overthrow of Mubarak, however, observers have been troubled by the rising tide of anti-Christian violence in the country. On Oct. 24, 2011, for instance, several Coptic Christians were killed in clashes with the military over the rights of the religious minority.
In the case of billionaire telecommunications mogul Sawiris, however, another factor besides being a Copt may have played a role. Sawiris is also head of the Free Egyptians political party, a secular political group.
“No doubt, it’s political,” said Moeller, who noted that given the blur of religion and politics in Egypt the two issues overlapped in this incident.