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Egypt telecom magnate sparks debate, fatwa with veil comments

ICC Note

Naguib Sawiris, an Egyptian Christian tycoon came under fire for commenting on the Islamic headscarf. Sheikh Yussef al-Badri issued fatwa urging all Muslims to boycott Sawiris’ companies.

By Alain Navarro

December 18, 2007 Egypt (Middle East Times) Comments by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris on the Islamic headscarf have sparked a heated debate on freedom of speech and prompted a conservative sheikh to issue a fatwa urging Muslims to boycott Sawiris’ companies.

The businessman, who ranks among the world’s 100 richest men, had criticised the growing influence of religion, such as the Islamic hijab, or veil, worn by women in the street.

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That sparked a torrent of reactions culminating in a fatwa on Monday by Sheikh Yussef al-Badri, famous for his fervent and furious religious edicts, urging all Muslims to boycott Sawiris’ companies, which include Mobinil, the leading Egyptian mobile company.

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Last year, Culture Minister Faruq Hosni caused a furore by saying that wearing the veil was a backward trend.

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Hamdi Rizq, a columnist in the independent daily Al-Masri Al-Youm, urged everyone to “calm down” for fear of raising tensions between Muslims and Christians.

“Sectarian strife is worse than murder. And the morgue is already full of corpses,” he wrote recently.

Egyptians against Religious Discrimination, a local NGO, denounced the fierce campaign against Sawiris, saying he had the right to express himself as he pleased.

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Sawiris himself wrote a letter to the Al-Masri Al-Youm defending his comments.

“I expressed my opinion on the phenomenon of the spread of the Iranian veil (chador) in Egyptian streets, and I challenge whomever would pretend otherwise. I never said I was against the veil because I believe everyone can think and wear whatever they like as long as they do not harm others.”

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In November, the group which holds 20 percent of seats in parliament, said a Christian could not become president and rule a country which is 90 percent Muslim.

Sawiris lashed back saying it was not up to the Brotherhood to grant him his rights as a citizen.

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