31 July 2011
Trouble on account of Mickey and Minnie
No one would have imagined that the cartoon character “Mickey Mouse”, a children’s favourite, was to become an Egyptian headache.
The story began when the Egyptian Coptic business tycoon recently-turned-politician Naguib Sawiris, posted a cartoon on his Twitter account a few weeks ago showing Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie Mouse in niqab. His comment was: “Mickey and Minnie after…” The beard, minus moustache, is endorsed by Islamists in a style said to emulate the Prophet Mohamed. Their women wear niqab, a veil that shows the eyes at most, rather than the hijab headscarf.
Mr Sawiris is one of the most successful businessmen in Egypt, famous for founding the first mobile service provider in Egypt, Mobinil. He has enormously contributed to boosting the national Egyptian economy, and has expanded with projects in Arab, African, Asian and European countries. Mr Sawiris was recently awarded the Star of Italian Solidarity in recognition of his company’s success and achievements in the Italian telecom market since 2005. His companies offer huge employment opportunities; 80 per cent of the employees are Muslim. He recently founded the liberal Al-Misriyeen al-Ahrar (The Free Egyptians) political party.
All this counted for nothing with hardline Muslims, who used the cartoons as another tool in the sectarian strife which has exploded into violence on a number of occasions in the chaotic, post-Mubarak transition.
Islamists in Egypt opened fire on Sawiris when he posted the cartoon on his Twitter account, even though the cartoon was first published on a Saudi Arabian website to mark the inauguration of Disney City in the capital, Riyadh. The artist was the Muslim cartoonist Leithy.
The Islamists insisted the cartoon represented a mockery of and an offence to Islam. Observers said it was certainly not a smart move from a politician, and could very well lead to loss of respect and support.
After the vicious attack Sawiris wrote on Twitter, “I apologise to any who didn’t take this as a joke, I just thought it was a funny picture, no disrespect meant, and definitely not any intention to mock any religion.”
The Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ali Gomaa, commented that Islam cannot be reduced to niqab or a beard which, he insisted, are still subject to wide debate among Islamic scholars.
For the sake of Islam
This is clearly a political war in the guise of religion. Mohamed Mursi, head of the MB-leaning Justice and Liberal Party called for a boycott of Sawiris’s businesses, branding the tycoon as ‘corrupt’. “Boycott Sawiris” groups were launched on both Twitter and Facebook. The Facebook group, “We are also joking, Sawiris”, urged people to boycott his company products. “If you are a real Muslim, if you cherish your faith, boycott his [Sawiris’s] products. Spread the message; we have to cut the tongues of those who insult our faith.”
A Facebook group which called itself: “We hate you, Mickey Sawiris”, insisted its motto was: “No to mockery of Islam.” Another online campaign called for boycotting Mobinil. And in the heavily populated middle-class Cairo district of Shubra, a kilometre-long wall on a main street was sprayed with slogans urging the boycott in the name of Islam.
The question which begs an answer is why these campaigns are being launched against Sawiris, but were never launched against the cartoonist who created the cartoon?
Following the campaign, shares of the Sawiris-founded Mobinil and Orascom Telecom fell on the Egyptian stock exchange. According to a Mobinil executive who wished to remain unnamed, the company did lose subscribers, but not seriously enough to pose any threat. “The loss can be easily regained,” he said.
In defence of Sawiris
Sawiris, however, is not short of defenders. Among these is the activist Wassim al-Sissi, who stressed that campaigns are targeting the national economy before it targeted Sawiris.
Dr Sissi reminded that Sawiris ransomed an Egyptian Muslim engineer who was kidnapped while working for a Sawiris company in Iraq.
Among other supporters of Sawiris is Sheikh Ibrahim Reda, the Imam of the Khazendar mosque in Shubra, Cairo. “I cannot see any reason for this campaign against this patriotic man, who kissed the hand of the Grand Imam of al-Azhar and said that al-Azhar is the safety valve that protects Egypt,” Sheikh Reda said.
“And whoever is proud of being a Muslim, does he not know that Islam is a religion of tolerance and accepting ‘the other’.” Sheikh Reda said he would not change his Mobinil phone account.
Hazem Hosni, professor of economics and political science at Cairo University sees the campaign as political, aimed at mobilising sentiments for personal benefit and an attempt to activate religious sensitivities. It is, Dr Hosni believes, an endeavour by Islamists to dominate society.
Maged al-Raheb, manager of the Egyptian Heritage Centre, asked: “Has Islam become endangered? And can Egypt’s economy go to hell for the sake of Mickey Mouse? Has the Revolution that got rid of tyranny fallen prey to despotism and oppression?”