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Egyptian cartoonist sued over drawing deemed anti-Islamic

Cartoon by Doaa Al Adl
Cartoon by Doaa Al Adl

Cartoonists Rights Network International

(CRNI/IFEX) - 29 December 2012 - Last weekend, Salafist lawyer and the new Secretary General of the National Center for Defense of Freedoms Khaled El Masry filed a lawsuit against businessman Naguib Sawiris, newspaper editor Yasser Rizk and cartoonist Doaa El Adl. (Some reports indicate that the lawsuit was initiated on Saturday December 22, 2012, while other reports indicate that the lawsuit was initiated on Sunday.)

In the lawsuit, the Secretary General claims a cartoon, drawn by Al Adl and published online by the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, insults the Bible's Adam, a prophet figure in the Muslim religion. Shortly after the filing, Attorney-General Talaat Abdallah ordered an investigation.

Doaa Al Adl is a trailblazer. She is the first female editorial cartoonist in the post-Mubarak Egypt to reach the top of this male dominated profession. Yasser Rizk is the editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. Naguib Sawiris is a Coptic Christian businessman. The Secretary General's lawsuit lists Sawiris as the publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm. At this time, we cannot definitively confirm this. Media reports do however claim that Sawiris is a co-owner of the newspaper. Sawiris is a well-known opponent of the Islamists. An outspoken critic of the Muslim Brotherhood, he co-founded the Free Egyptians (Al-Masryeen Al-Ahrar), a political party that advocates the separation of church and state. In early January of this year, Sawiris was charged with showing contempt for religion for tweeting a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and a veiled Minnie Mouse. The case was eventually dismissed.

Al Adl's cartoon that the Secretary General deemed insulting, features an Egyptian man with angel wings lecturing Adam and Eve. The three are on a cloud beneath the infamous apple tree. The man is telling Adam and Eve that they would never have been expelled from heaven if they had simply voted in favor of the draft constitution in the recent Egyptian referendum. Some of the supporters of the referendum were quoted as saying a “yes vote” guarantees one a spot in heaven, while a “no vote” guarantees one a spot in hell. Neither Adam nor Eve in Al Adl's cartoon is uttering a word. In short, the cartoon is critical of Egyptians who have recently politicized religion. It is not critical of Adam and Eve.

While Doaa Al Adl is the first Egyptian cartoonist to be charged with blasphemy under the new regime, she was not the only satirist charged this past weekend. Television satirist Bassem Youssef, the host of the weekly show Al-Bernameg (The Programme), and his network, the Capital Broadcasting Center (CBC), were charged with insulting President Mohammad Morsi. The Programme's show deemed offensive featured Youssef holding a pillow with a picture of President Morsi surrounded by hearts. Fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart may recall Youssef's June 21, 2012, appearance on The Daily Show.

When asked for comment, Cartoonists Right Network International's (CRNI) Executive Director Dr. Robert Russell said, "Doaa is not the first cartoonist to report free speech harassment in Egypt. It is ironic that the person bringing charges in her case is the head of the National Center for Defense of Freedoms under the new regime.

Other cartoonists report being told that people who hold opinions contrary to the Salafists are anti-Islamic. This is all consistent with efforts by certain Islamic parties and organizations (since the publication of the 12 Danish cartoons in 2006) to change the United Nations human rights policies that currently protect blasphemy, or insult to religion, as free speech.

In Egypt, the Salafists are quickly establishing the rule that any criticism of the ruling party, of its senior officials, or of Islam in any way, will not be protected free speech under the new constitution. This may open a new era of confrontation between those new Arab Spring states adopting constitutions dominated by Islamic law, and, the United Nations' Article 19, which protects freedom of speech and freedom of expression for the citizens of all signatory countries. Apparently, in Egypt they like Pharaohs on top of their pyramids.

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