Naguib Sawiris, Wind Mobile Founder, On Trial For Blasphemy After Tweeting Mickey Mouse Pic
In Canada, Naguib Sawiris is known as a disruptor of the established business order, and, to some, a hero of consumers' rights.
In Egypt, the billionaire financier has been slapped with a different label: Blasphemer.
Sawiris, one of Egypt's wealthiest people and the financier who brought Wind Mobile to Canada, faces trial next week on charges of blasphemy stemming from a picture he Tweeted last summer, showing Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie Mouse in Muslim garb.
He faces up to one year in prison.
Despite apologies from Sawiris, the Tweet led to a boycott of his company by tens of thousands in Egypt, as well as accusations of blasphemy from an Islamist lawyers' group. One of those lawyers, Mamdouh Ismail, filed a complaint against Sawiris and now says the billionaire telecom mogul will face trial next week.
The Associated Press reports that there is a political dimension to the prosecution, noting that Sawiris and the chief complainant, Ismail, are leaders in competing political parties.
Sawiris is a coptic Christian and, in the wake of the Arab Spring uprising last year, founded a liberal party calling for separation of church and state. Ismail heads a party of ultraconservative Salafist Muslims.
Egypt's contempt of religion laws have been used in the past to silence critics who angered conservative Muslims, rights lawyer Gamal Eid told AP.
"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."
Imsail denied political motivations behind the prosecution.
"It's a decision showing that there is justice in Egypt," he told Reuters.
Sawiris, whose personal fortune is estimated at $2.5 billion, owns Orascom Telecom Holding, the company that bankrolled Wind Mobile, the wireless carrier that launched in Canada in 2009 and now has some 360,000 subscribers.
Along with some other new entrants in the mobile market, Wind has been credited with bringing down wireless rates in Canada by increasing competition. That was the rationale behind the Harper government's decision to overrule foreign ownership regulations and allow the company to operate in Canada.
In a recent interview on CBC, Sawiris expressed regret at the decision to enter the Canadian market, saying the country's leadership is not prepared to allow open competition in the telecom market.
"I don't know why Canada wants to be matched with China" on telecom policy, he said. "There's no real political will here to introduce competition into this closed market."