- By Katelyn FossettKatelyn Fossett is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy. A native of Kentucky, she has previously written for the Inter Press Service and Washington Monthly. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University.
It has been said already that the Egyptian government’s increasingly zealous campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood has reached absurd heights. But it’s one level of ridiculous to pin terrorist attacks already claimed by a group of Sinai militants on the embattled Brotherhood; it’s quite another to investigate claims that the group transmitted coded messages via a puppet.
But that is exactly what happened when Vodafone officials faced investigation on Wednesday following a complaint that accused the company of using such a ploy in a recent advertisement. The advertisement, which was posted on the company’s Youtube channel last Friday, features Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita, an Internet star in recent years. The character is a widow often seen milling around the house in pajamas and curlers with a phone to her ear, gossiping with friends.
But this screwball housewife act becomes much more insidious when placed under the microscope of Ahmed "Spider," a Hosni Mubarak supporter, little known rap singer, and famed conspiracy theorist responsible for the claims. Spider has been known for nutty theories before and first presented his Fahita hypothesis to the prosecutor general, who reportedly went on to refer it to the state security prosecution (other accounts refute that the prosecutor general referred the case further).
The puppet code he was presenting was striking in its complexity: the cactus in place of a Christmas tree signaled a threat, made more specific by the ornament on top which symbolized a bomb, and Fahita’s search for her deceased husband’s old phone line was deduced as a sweeping reference to intelligence plots. The four cactus branches are also, according to Spider’s cryptographic expertise, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood’s "four-fingered salute": the Rabaa hand gesture that was displayed by demonstrators last year in support of deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi. The complaint seems to have been prompted by Amr Mostafa, an Egyptian singer, who said that Vodafone’s slogan, "The power is in your hands," was a message sent by the British company that encouraged Egyptians to protest against Mubarak in 2012.
The ridiculousness behind the accusations need hardly be expounded upon, and the debacle was quickly picked up by Twitter under the hashtag #FreeFahita in English.
Late Wednesday, journalist Khairy Ramadan hosted Fahita for an on-air exchange with the puppet’s accuser himself.
It hasn’t been an easy year for satire in Egypt. In 2013, the country’s most famous political joker, Bassem Youssef, had his contract terminated for allegedly mocking the country’s military leadership. But, if the latest puppet witch-hunt is any indication, it seems enthusiasts of dark comedy won’t be wanting for long: the Egyptian government is proving to be the most inventive satirist of them all.