CAIRO: Defense and prosecuting lawyers clashed in the courtroom Saturday as the case the case of Naguib Sawiris, the Coptic billionaire tycoon who tweeted images of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in Muslim garb, was adjourned to next month.
The legal teams had to be physically separated after Sawiris’ camp reacted angrily to the prosecution’s reference to their client as “a criminal.”
“We objected to the word [the prosecution] used to describe our client,” Naguib Gobrail, Sawiris’ lawyer, told Daily News Egypt. “That word should not be used in a court.”
The hearing was suspended for several minutes after Judge Sharif Kamel exited the courtroom.
Sawiris, one of Egypt’s richest men and founder of the secular Free Egyptians Party, is accused of blasphemy after he posted a picture of the Disney characters dressed in a niqab and gabaliyya on micro blogging site Twitter in June. He subsequently apologized, claiming he had shared the image in jest, but the incident has inflamed religious tension throughout the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood quickly expressed disapproval of the posting and the Salafi movement called for a boycott of Sawiris’ companies, which include Egypt’s largest telecoms provider.
Mahmoud Ismail, lawyer from the once-banned Gamaa Islamiya, has brought a case against Sawiris using a “contempt of religion” law dating back to the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Hatem Mostafa Mahmoud, a member of the prosecution, said the fact that Sawiris being a Coptic Christian was not a factor in the case.
“If a Muslim man had done what [Sawiris] had done, our actions would have been the same," he told Daily News Egypt. "Neither Muslims nor Christians should make fun of Islam nor the Cross."
The image that the business tycoon tweeted had reportedly circulated on social networks earlier in the year to poke fun at the rise of Islamists in the wake of the Jan. 25 uprising.
The prosecution has offered to drop the charges if Sawiris appears personally at the Boulaq Abu El-Ela court, something not being considered by the businessman’s legal team.
“Mr Sawiris cannot come personally to court,” Gobrail said. “It is enough that his lawyers are here representing him.”
Judge Kamel adjourned the case to Feb. 11.
If convicted, Sawiris could face up to a year in jail.
Sawiris and his party have threatened to boycott the forthcoming Shura Council elections, claiming “hundreds” of violations by Islamist parties during voting for the People’s Assembly.