CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court on Tuesday tossed out a lawsuit by ultraconservative Islamists who accused a Christian tycoon of insulting Islam by posting an online cartoon of Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie in a face veil.
Telecom and media mogul Naguib Sawiris angered Muslim hard-liners in June by relaying the cartoon on his Twitter account. The picture was a parody about the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising last year.
The case and the debate surrounding it highlighted the growing influence of Islamists in Egypt and discomfort among liberals, who are concerned about threats to freedom of speech.
In its ruling, the court dismissed the suit and fined the plaintiffs less than $10 for the court's time. The court ruled the plaintiffs were not eligible to file a religious defamation lawsuit.
A separate court is expected to see another case on Saturday related to the online posting. This case was filed by newly elected lawmaker Mamdouh Ismail, who also accused Sawiris of contempt of religion. He sent his complaint to the attorney general for investigation.
Ismail belongs to the Salafi Al-Nour party that won 25 percent of elected seats in both houses of parliament.
In the broad spectrum of Islamic thought, Salafism is on the ultraconservative end. Saudi Arabia's puritanical Wahhabi interpretation is considered its forerunner. Saudi preachers on satellite TV and the Internet have been key to the spread of Salafism in Egypt.
After the cartoon sparked an uproar among conservatives, Sawiris tweeted an apology and removed the post. "I apologize for those who don't take this as a joke; I just thought it was a funny picture; no disrespect meant. I am sorry," he tweeted.
Ultraconservative Islamists blasted the cartoon as a mockery of Islam.
Salafis launched an online campaign in June calling on Muslims in Egypt to boycott Sawiris' mobile phone company, Mobinil. Shares of Mobinil and Orascom Telecom, which Sawiris founded, fell briefly on the Egyptian stock exchange that month.
After Mubarak's ouster, Sawiris helped found a political party that advocates for a secular state. It is part of a liberal coalition in the newly elected parliament, but it won just 9 percent of the seats in the more powerful of the two houses.
Earlier this month, one of the Arab world's best known Egyptian comedians was sentenced to three months in jail for offending Islam in his films.
Adel Imam, who has appeared in dozens of films and 10 plays in a career that spans nearly 50 years, has the right to appeal.