Coptic Billionaire Not Guilty of 'Insulting Islam,' Egypt Court Rules

A Coptic Christian billionaire who was sued for posting a controversial cartoon did not insult Islam, an Egyptian court ruled Tuesday.

Media mogul Naguib Sawiris should not be sued, the court ruled, ordering the plaintiff in the case to pay the court an amount equal to $10.00 in fees.

Geoffrey Mock, Egypt Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA, told The Christian Post that this was one of many similar cases in the Egyptian court system regarding freedom of expression and charges of insulting Islam.

"The charges brought against Naguib are part of article 98(f) of the Penal Code that have been used by Egyptians to restrict freedom of religion and expression of people of several different faiths," said Mock.

"What all these cases show is that the old laws under Mubarak that muzzled freedom of expression are still in strong play and need to be eliminated."

Mock also told CP that although some may see the court's decision as an indicator that the political situation in Egypt is improving, he did not believe this was necessarily the case.

"I think Naguib probably had some fortune in getting an independent judge, but at least he had the opportunity to present a defense," said Mock.

"Parts of Egypt's judiciary have always shown a vigorous independence from political authority, which is why both the Mubarak and the current regimes have to put so much energy into building their own military court system where they could better control outcomes."

The controversy began in June 2011, when Sawiris tweeted a cartoon portraying Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie Mouse with a black veil covering her face. The cartoon was meant to showcase the concern many people had with the growth of conservative Islamic politics in Egypt. The tweet prompted much outrage and in response to the backlash, Sawiris removed the cartoon and issued an apology.

"I apologize for those who don't take this as a joke; I just thought it was a funny picture; no disrespect meant. I am sorry," tweeted Sawiris.

Last month, Sawiris was brought to court for his post, with the charge of "blasphemy and insulting Islam" put against him. Many saw the incident as yet another example of how the situation in Egypt for Christians had become worse since the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. Others also felt there was a political component to the trial, as Sawiris had helped found a liberal political party coalition that held a small number of seats in the Egyptian Parliament.

Although the trial has been dismissed, Sawiris' legal issues have not yet ended. Mamdouh Ismail, recently elected lawmaker belonging to the Al-Nour Party, also filed suit against Sawiris in a separate court. The Al-Nour party is a political group that subscribes to Salafism, an ultraconservative branch of Islam closely related to the Wahhabist ideology that is established in Saudi Arabia.


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