The Fahita affair: Egyptian puppetry and terrorism
Activists have posted pictures of local and international puppets declaring their support for Abla Fahita.
“Egypt’s latest terror suspect: The popular felt-and-yarn puppet Abla Fahita,” read a Washington Post headline. It was referring to a complaint filed against a cellphone provider for allegedly using the popular character in an internet ad to send coded messages that instruct Muslim Brotherhood members to carry out terrorist operations.
There have been similarly sarcastic headlines in the international press, such as “Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita accused of terrorism” in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Silly season in Egypt: Hounding the Muppet Brotherhood” in The Economist, and “Egyptian puppet called terrorist mouthpiece” in the New York Times.
This gives an insight into the general reaction to the investigation into the alleged collaboration between Vodafone and the Brotherhood, now officially designated a terrorist group. Such sarcasm is also apparent in the local media, and especially on social networking websites.
Activists have posted pictures of local and international puppets declaring their support for Fahita. There is a cartoon in which an interrogator shows Fahita a photo of Kermit, the frog from the Muppet Show, and accuses her of receiving funding from an American puppet. The hashtag #freefahita has been created on Twitter.
Sarcasm, however, is giving way to alarm as fears grow over the ominous nature of such a step by the authorities. “It says a lot about the patriotism frenzy we’re in,” said political analyst Ziad Akl of Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies. “There’s definitely a sentiment of fascist nationalism that you either subscribe to, or face being labeled a traitor.”
He added: “We’re laughing about the puppet now, but replace the puppet with anything else - another symbol, another figure - and the media can manipulate and do anything with it in this climate.”
British-Egyptian blogger Sarah Carr wrote in her entry “Laughing till we cry”: “The current mood is almost fascistic in its reverence for the state and for state hegemony and for state opponents to be eliminated.”
In her article “Egypt adds puppetry to its enemy of the state list,” published in Foreign Policy, Katelyn Fossett wrote that the government is especially clamping down on popular satirists. She gave the example of Bassem Youssef, whose TV show was terminated for making fun of the military. Fossett sees the “the puppet witch-hunt” as a continuation of that policy. “It hasn’t been an easy year for satire in Egypt,” she wrote.
The Interior Ministry’s media department published on its Facebook page a statement that “unintelligible codes and symbols have been published on Abla Fahita’s pages on social networking websites in violation of the law.” The statement added that even though it is still not known whether those codes and symbols are real, the creators of the puppet have to be arrested and questioned.
The former deputy head of general intelligence, Tharwat Gouda, said Fahita is “American-made,” and is “a code channel” used by the Brotherhood and the revolutionary April 6 Youth Movement “to coordinate acts of violence against the police and the army and for mobilization.
"Gouda added that Khairat al-Shater, the imprisoned Brotherhood deputy supreme guide, has given instructions from jail to members and supporters of the groups to use Fahita to send coded messages “to wreak havoc in the country.”
Journalist Mohamed Ramzy asked in his article “Abla Fahita and cryptography”: “Is it possible that the media can be used by secret organizations for sending coded messages?” He did not answer the question, but said the majority of prominent American TV networks and newspapers are owned by Jews and Zionists.
“There is no doubt that there is a close relationship between the tycoons of Western media and secret Zionist organizations, on top of which are Masonic organizations which are known for using symbols and cryptic messages and these are well-connected with most if not all secret organizations that are known and unknown to us,” he wrote.
Vodafone has issued a statement denying all allegations listed in the complaint, refusing to get involved in “the details of such irrational interpretations and accusations,” and calling the charges “mere imagination.” Vodafone spokesman Khaled Hegazy said: “I’m sad we’ve reached this level of thinking.”