Billionaire Sawiris Says Egypt Risks Becoming Iran

· Egypt

Source / Courtesy: Bloomberg

From his 33rd-floor penthouse apartment with sweeping views of the Nile River, Naguib Sawiris, Egypt’s best-known billionaire and most prominent Christian, can hear the chants of Friday prayers in the distance. As he sits down to a breakfast of taameya and ful, dishes made from fava beans, demonstrators are gathering in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for a planned protest, this time aimed at stopping military trials of thousands of civilians arrested during the revolution that brought down the regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

Sawiris says his new political party, the Free Egyptians, is backing the demonstration, although he won’t be attending, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its December issue.

“I would love to go, but the problem is, my life is threatened,” he says.

The death threats started in late June after Sawiris, 57, posted an image on his Twitter account of Mickey Mouse in a beard and Minnie Mouse in a niqab, or full veil. The cartoon, sent to him by a Muslim friend after circulating in the blogosphere, was titled “Mickey and Minnie after …” — meaning after Egypt’s November parliamentary elections, in which a September poll suggested Islamist parties would win the biggest share of the vote.

Sawiris thought it was funny. Muslims accused him of mocking their religion.

Sawiris, the founder of Orascom Telecom Holding SAE, apologized to his 139,000 Twitter followers, saying he meant no disrespect. That wasn’t enough to prevent a boycott of mobile phone company MobiNil, a joint venture between Orascom andFrance Telecom SA, which lost 800,000 subscribers in the months following the tweet.

It also prompted a televised rant on July 7 by Islamist preacher Abu-Ishaq al-Huwaini, accusing people like Sawiris of insulting the Prophet Mohammed. “We will kill him even if he repents,” Huwaini shouted.

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