In yet another twist to the Egyptian authorities ongoing "anti-terror" campaign, international media are reporting that Egyptian prosecutors have summoned Vodafone Egypt, the nation's largest mobile carrier and majority owned by the UK-based holding company, over accusations that one of its advertisements is inciting terror.
According to the British newspaper the Financial Times, the mobile phone operator was questioned over "allegations that it planted secret pro-Muslim Brotherhood messages about a terror attack in an online ad featuring a maternal puppet character, Abla Fahita."
The British Telegraph newspaper reported that: "The advert features a mother and daughter puppet duo, named Abla Fahita and Karkoura." In the advert, the two are searching for the sim card of a deceased relative as Fahita chats away on her mobile about using a sniffer dog from a shopping mall to aid the search. A decorated cactus appears in the background.
Although such an advert would appear innocent to most eyes, the newspaper revealed that: "According to the instigator of the lawsuit – a self-styled youth activist known as 'Ahmed Spider' – both props and script are laden with references to a forthcoming bomb plot by the Muslim Brotherhood. A staunch supporter of ousted president Mubarak, 'Spider' has previously accused revolutionary activists of being members of a secret masonic cult."
The young activist is suggesting that, "These elements tell us that there will be a big mall and an explosion after a dog fails to find the bomb in a car," reported the Financial Times.
However, "Spider" is not the only Egyptian who suspects the mobile phone operator of using puppets to carry out a malicious plot. The prosecutor is taking the case seriously, and the Telegraph noted that: "On Wednesday night, Egyptian television channel CBC attempted to decode the 'real' meaning of the puppets' actions. Talking heads were particularly incensed at the appearance of a four pronged cactus bedecked with baubles."
Apparently the pundits thought the cactus "represented the four-fingered salute" that symbolises solidarity with the thousands of anti-coup protesters who were injured or killed by Egyptian security forces during the brutal dispersal of a peaceful sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square on 14 August 2013.
Since the military coup that deposed Egypt's first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, an Egyptian athlete has been banned for displaying the four-fingered Rabaa salute and a 15-year-old student was arrested after a ruler with the symbol was discovered in his backpack. His father was also arrested for incitement.
The Financial Times noted that while the allegation "has been mocked by some Egyptians", it has also been embraced by others, and "comes amid a stepped-up official campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamist groups which is portrayed by the interim government as a battle against terrorism."
On 25 December 2013, Egypt's interim government officially declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation. The designation followed an explosion at a police headquarters in the Egyptian city of Mansoura in the Nile Delta, killing 16 people and injuring more than 100. The military authorities immediately blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, even though the group strongly denounced the attack and Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, an unrelated jihadist group, claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The following day, private television networks encouraged Egyptians to phone state security hotlines if they suspected their neighbours of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The interim authorities also warned that holding a leadership post in the group could now be grounds for the death penalty.