Egyptian Newspaper Sued and Accused of Islamophobia Over Cartoon

Naguib Sawiris, the prominent Egyptian telecom mogul listed by Forbes as the second richest man in Egypt, is being sued a local NGO after publishing a cartoon in his newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm. Depicting a scene in which Adam and Eve are scolded by a tank top-wearing Egyptian angel for not voting in favor of the referendum on the country’s new constitution, the cartoon has been described by critics as insulting to Islam, and has been compared to another image tweeted by Sawiris last year of Minnie Mouse dressed in a niqab. The suit was filed by Salafist lawyer Khaled El-Masry, secretary-general of the National Centre for Defense of Freedoms (NCDF), and names both Sawiris and the cartoonist Doaa El-Adl as defendants.

Speaking to the English-language Daily News Egypt, El-Adl has said that his cartoon was meant not as an attack on religion but as a comment on the encroachment of religion on the political process. Earlier this month, with approximately a third of the country participating, about 60 percent of Egyptians voted in favor of the new constitution, even as moderates voiced fears that the new government would override concerns like a free press, an independent judiciary, and rights for minorities with the centrality of Sharia law.

“These people will tell you if you vote yes you will go to heaven but if you vote no then you will go to hell,” El-Adl said, adding that “Anyone who tries to draw something with a beard will have it interpreted as an attack on Islam.” Though he hasn’t criticized the newspaper for swiftly removing the cartoon from their online edition after screenshots and derisive comments began to accumulate on Facebook, El-Adl referred to the lawsuit coolly, saying that it was ironic for a group called the National Centre for the Defense of Freedoms to take aim at another group’s freedom of speech.

El-Masry, for his part, asserts that the most recent cartoon is an abuse of free expression. “Naguib Sawiris is a Christian, but the people working at his newspaper are Muslims,” he told the Daily News. “It should not be allowed.”

— Reid Singer