Mickey Mouse and Egyptian politics
Apparently Mickey Mouse has been causing a lot of trouble in Egypt lately. On October 10, renowned Egyptian activist Mona Saif of No Military Trials for Civilians broke the news of a court-martial jailing a conscript called Amr Nohan for three years over Photoshoping Mickey Mouse ears’ to a picture of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Nohan is not the first Egyptian to face trouble because of Mickey Mouse. In 2011, Coptic Christian billionaire Nagiub Sawiras was accused of insulting Islam for tweeting a picture of a bearded Mickey Mouse. The backlash against the tweet that was meant as a joke turned into a wide Islamists-led social media boycott campaign called “We are also joking, Sawiras”. The outraged Islamists called for boycotting Sawiras’s telecom company Mobinil, a move that severely harmed the company’s brand and sales. The businessman then later sold almost all his shares of Mobinil to France Telecom in May 2012, although the charges against him were dismissed a month earlier.
Both cases say a lot about Egyptian politics. Despite their wide political differences, Islamists and nationalists see eye to eye when it comes to political satire. Both groups simply consider it offensive if it mocked their icons.
The extreme measures taken against sarcasm and freedom of expression under Sisi would have been also taken under his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi, whom he ousted in 2013. That was obvious with the Islamist backlash against political satirist Bassem Yousef, who had a weekly show that usually poked fun at then president Morsi.
Yousef was prosecuted and absolved during Morsi’s one year rule, but his show went off air when it barely poked fun at Sisi in 2013.
The only difference between the crackdown on satire under both presidents, is that Morsi, unlike Sisi, lacked the support of state institutions.
Egyptian state institutions like the army, the police, and the judiciary have been blessing Sisi’s measures although some of them are similar to measures that were proposed by Morsi and the very same institutions had stood firmly against. Scrapping subsidies and expanding the president’s jurisdictions are two examples.
Since his election in May 2014, Sisi, the former career soldier has proclaimed himself on a mission to “fight terrorism” in Egypt and the region. Accordingly he has been able to cement his grip with heavy handed measures that observers say are even harsher than that of former strongman Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down in 2011 after a popular uprising against his three-decade rule.
Human rights groups say Egyptian prisons house thousands of political dissidents, mostly Islamists especially after the authorities designated Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist group”.
The case of Nohan who was doing his mandatory military service is another example of an Egyptian young man to face an extreme measure for a laughable reason. Hundreds of young men and women languish behind bars after they were arbitrarily arrested by security forces. Sometimes for reasons as silly as a t-shirt or a scarf that would get a policeman suspicious of the youngster’s political affiliation.
Some activists have been even specifically targeted for their 140 characters tweets. Renowned blogger and Twitter celebrity Alaa AbdelFattah is a living example. His satiric tweets have antagonized state institutions and pro-Sisi media. He has served a year in jail out of a five-year sentence over several criminal charges that he had allegedly committed during a peaceful protest that violated a law that bans all but police-sanctioned demonstrations.
With the counter-intuitive logic in Egypt today, one can conclude that this great country does not stand a chance to advance in the modern world before it gets over its Mickey Mouse issues.