'Islamic Mickey Mouse' provokes anger in Egypt

Hardline Islamists have reacted with fury after a millionaire Egyptian telecoms mogul posted online cartoons of Mickey and Minnie Mouse wearing Islamic clothes.

The pictures, which were published by the high-profile businessman-turned-politician Naguib Sawiris, showed Mickey Mouse with an Islamic-style beard and his fictional wife, Minnie, wearing a face veil. Since being circulated a few days ago they have provoked ire among Egypt's Salafists – followers of a fundamentalist branch of Islam that has become increasingly visible after the uprisings this year.

An online campaign has now been launched calling on Egyptians to boycott Mr Sawiris's mobile-phone company, Mobinil. More than 60,000 people have also signed up to a Facebook group whose creators have threatened to "cut out the tongue" of anyone who insults Islam. According to Mahmoud Fathi, a leading figure in one of the newly formed Salafi political parties, Mr Sawiris is "playing with fire".

Mr Fathi told The Independent: "I'm upset. It's not acceptable to do these things."

A Salafi cleric called Mazen el-Sersawi has also appeared on television to berate Mr Sawiris. "Shame on you," he said. "How can a man like this make fun of Muslims, in a country on the brink of sectarian discord."

Mr Sawiris, who launched the liberal Free Egyptians Party in April, has since posted an apology on Twitter and claimed the cartoons were just a joke.

Mr Sawiris tweeted: "I apologise for those who don't take this as a joke; I just thought it was a funny picture; no disrespect meant. I am sorry."