CAIRO — A prominent Christian Egyptian media mogul faces trial on a charge of insulting Islam, lawyers said Monday, based on his relaying a cartoon on his Twitter account.
The case dates back to June, when Naguib Sawiris posted a cartoon showing a bearded Mickey Mouse and veiled Minnie. He made a public apology after Islamists complained, but his action set off a boycott of his telecom company and other outlets. He said it was supposed to be a joke and apologized, but lawyer Mamdouh Ismail filed a formal complaint against him.
After investigation, the prosecution set the trial for Jan. 14. Sawiris was not available for comment.
The case is linked to developments in Egypt after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak last February. Sawiris and Ismail belong to competing political parties, and sectarian violence between Christians and Islamists has been on the upswing. In Egypt's parliamentary elections, Islamist parties have won a large majority, leaving liberals far behind.
Sawiris co-founded a liberal party, and Ismail heads a party representing ultraconservative Salafi Muslims.
The case has added to fears among many that ultraconservative Islamists may use their new found powers to try to stifle freedom of expression.
Ismail countered that, saying he took legal action against Sawiris because he wants the law to be respected by all, even a famous businessman and politician, in the post-Mubarak era
"The revolution came about because we all are seeking the rule of law without any exceptions," he said. The charge is punishable by up to one year in prison.
Rights lawyer Gamal Eid said the contempt of religion law, in place even before Mubarak came to power, has been used against scholars and activists whose comments about Islam angered conservatives.
He warned that the wording of the law is vague, and it can become a tool in the hands of prosecutors to punish opponents and appease authorities.
"Contempt of religion is a very vague term, and the prosecution has taken the radical interpretation," he said, "raising questions of whether this is a legal or a political matter."
Last week, a Coptic Christian student was arrested and referred to trial for posting a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. That triggered two days of violence in southern Egypt.
Muslims generally oppose any depiction of the prophet, even favorable ones, for fear it could lead to idolatry. This drawing showed four women asking for the prophet's hand in marriage.