I don’t know how old Naguib Sawiris is, but he’s probably old enough to know better. Nevertheless, earlier this summer some reckless impulse apparently caught hold of the founder of EMCS (Mobinil), Egypt's #2 mobile operator. Because he thought it was funny – or so he said afterwards – he tweeted a cartoon of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Mickey with a full black beard, Minnie with just her eyes, ears and pink hair bow showing past a black niqab.

Sawiris, a Coptic Christian who was beginning to gain some political prominence in post-Mubarak Egypt, soon found himself the target of lawsuits charging religious contempt, as well as death threats. Mobinil has been the subject of a boycott;  the company says it expects to show the loss of more than 300,000 subscribers in Q3, out of approximately 30 million. (To be fair, mobile number portability has just been introduced to Egypt, so the losses aren’t necessarily all boycott related.)  

Clearly, the joke is not turning out to be very funny.

I’m not going to take any position on freedom of expression, respect for religious tradition, or any other Great Principle that may be associated with this unfortunate episode. Well, OK, maybe just one Great Principle: however absorbing the abstract world of telecoms may be, the spreadsheet neatness of ARPUs and erlangs should not cause us to forget that we are all working in the real world, and it’s a messy one at that.

(I’m also not going to post a link to the cartoon – my momma didn’t raise any fools – but it’s not that hard to find. ) 

For more on Mobinil, see “Orascom: Shrinking, Growing, or Becoming Something Different?” and” Plus ça change… The North African Status Quo Proves Tenacious


29 Feb 2012. This just in: the court has thrown out the contempt for religion lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs lack standing.