Egypt businessman Naguib Sawiris faces blasphemy trial

Naguib Sawiris Naguib Sawiris is a leading secularist and formed a liberal political party after last year's revolution

One of Egypt's richest men is to face trial for blasphemy after tweeting cartoons of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing conservative Muslim attire.

Telecoms mogul and Coptic Christian Naguib Sawiris re-posted the images on Twitter last June. He subsequently apologised, saying he meant no offence.

But a formal complaint against him has now been referred to court.

Tensions between Egypt's Muslims and minority Christian community have worsened in recent months.

"It's a decision showing that there is justice in Egypt," Mamduh Ismail, one of a group of lawyers who filed a legal complaint against Mr Sawiris, told Reuters.

The tweeted images showed Mickey Mouse wearing a traditional Islamic robe with a full beard, while Minnie Mouse is wearing a niqab - a full-face veil - with just her eyes showing.

She was identifiable by her large ears and trademark pink hair ribbon.

After an angry reaction from people who said they were offended, he later tweeted: "I apologise for those who don't take this as a joke, I just thought it was a funny picture; no disrespect meant. I am sorry."

But tens of thousands of people joined groups on Facebook and other social media condemning him.

Conservative Muslim groups also called for boycotts of Mr Sawiris's companies, including mobile phone provider Mobinil.

Growing alarm

Mr Sawiris, whose father is the richest man in Egypt, is a champion of secularism and has spoken out against the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the country, including the increasing number of women wearing full-face veils.

An Egyptian woman wearing a full face veil and a girl stand by campaign posters for a candidate from al-Nur The Salafists' election wins have surprised many Egyptians

After the anti-government protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak from power last February, he founded a liberal political party, the Free Egyptians.

The party struggled to make gains in recent elections for the lower house of parliament, which were mainly a contest between the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and the Salafist al-Nour party.

Salafists are Muslims who take their inspiration from the early generations of Muslims who were close to the Prophet Muhammad and his message.

The Free Egytians Party has announced in a statement that it will be boycotting upcoming elections for the upper house of parliament because violations in polls for the lower house had not been properly dealt with.

Many Egyptian Christians and liberals have been worried by the growing influence of conservative Islam in the country, in particular the strong showing of al-Nour in the elections.

A string of anti-Christian attacks after the overthrow of President Mubarak also led some Christians to accuse the governing military council of being too lenient on the perpetrators.

In October, 24 protesters - most of them Christians - were killed by security forces during protests in central Cairo over the issue.

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