It started with a funny Facebook post that went viral attracting the attention of thousands of Egyptians, generating memes across other popular social media networks.
It attracted not only young people but also marketing campaigns and megastars who all spoke about the "Battle of Helwan for real Batman" to be held on 13 August in the heart of the city of Helwan at 11pm to decide who is the real Batman.
Egypt’s Ministry of Interior on Wednesday announced that it arrested four people for launching an event on social media calling for a costumed fight in front of Helwan Metro station, on the basis that it was for financial gain by attracting advertisements and promotional materials.
But this statement by the interior ministry is less exciting than what has been circulating on Egypt’s internet.
As far as can be determined, it started with a two-week-old Facebook post when a young man claimed that he was the real Batman in a post then his friend replied on the post saying he was the real Batman, not the first friend.
A third friend replied, saying he was the true Batman, followed by a fourth, and so on until tens of people were claiming that they were the real Batman. In the end there was an agreement that on 13 August, all those claiming to be Batman would show up at 11pm outside Helwan Metro station for a battle royale till death, till the real Batman defeats all the other Batmen.
Thus, the legend of the Battle of Batman in Helwan, or as commonly known Batman in Helwan, was born and it became Egypt’s top trend on the social media in the past few days.
Ahram Online was unable to find the original post that launched the trend before it was sunk under an ocean of memes and jokes.
Egypt’s Gotham: Helwan
Hosting over 500,000 people currently, Helwan is one of the suburbs in Greater Cairo with a very old history that is even older than Cairo itself.
Located in South Greater Cairo, Helwan is one of Egypt’s oldest cities historically as it hosted one of the earliest recorded human settlements during the stone age in the Nile Valley.
The region continued to play a role throughout Egyptian history, but officially the city of Helwan was founded in the Umayyad era in year 689 by then Governor of Egypt Abdel-Aziz ibn Marwan who died and was buried there.
Some historical sources say that Abdel-Aziz ibn Marwan’s son, famous Caliph Umar ibn Abdel-Aziz or Umar II was reportedly born and raised in Helwan.
In the 19th century, Helwan began to attract the attention of Western travelers and tourists for its famous therapeutic sulfur water springs, leading the Khedive Ismail to order the construction of the famous Capritage Helwan, the first sulfur bathhouse in the Middle East as well as resorts to accommodate the foreign tourists.
In the 1960s, the suburb, known for its sulfur water and lavish gardens, was turned into an industrial city by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser with the construction of steel and cement factories.
The decision was an economic blessing and an environmental curse at the same time because the city that built a reputation for being a therapeutic haven has been suffering from huge environmental repercussions.
Following three decades of neglect, the Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism announced in January that the Capritage Helwan was registered as a monument and it would be renovated to restore its old glory.
Now, though, millions of young Egyptians do not associate middle and working class Helwan with therapeutic bathhouses or factories but rather with the American caped crusader himself, Batman.
Following the initial post, memes were posted on sarcastic Egyptian Facebook pages turning Helwan's famous landmarks, chief among them being the Helwan Metro station, into the centre of Gotham city.
The creativity did not stop at photoshopped photos, comics or illustrations. It went to another level with video clips and short cartoons that found their way to YouTube and TikTok platforms.
The video made by Aly Al-Din Abou Eid about “Batman in Helwan” in Arabic went viral on all social media network after hitting nearly 60,000 likes on Tiktok.
Joining the Bat-trend
Popular Comedian Mohamed Hennedy joined the trend and published his photo earlier this week on his official Facebook page wearing the famous Batman mask with the words “To Helwan”
Comedian Ahmed Fahmy who gained huge popularity after depicting Egypt’s goofy superhero El-Ragol El-Ananb in 2013 said that his character was the true hero.
Famous actress Rania Youssef also participated in the social media trend claiming she was the "True batman” on TikTok despite her wearing the Catwoman costume that she appeared in during the second season of Shahid TV’s comedy The Game in 2021.
Despite not being covered by mainstream media, Egypt has a young growing subculture of comics lovers in addition to the fans of superhero films and series. For the past couple of years, Cairo has witnessed its own small version of the famous Comic-Con called “EgyCon” where hundreds of cosplayers and anime otaku fans gather as their own favorite characters.
There is no accurate number of comics sales in Egypt. The original DC and Marvel comics in English are sold for an expensive price in big stores. Meanwhile, unoriginal pirated comics are sold in other places in Cairo, above them the famous Abzakeya market for cheaper prices.
Batman and his nemesis, the Joker are still among the bestselling comic characters, according to both sellers and readers.
Cinema and TV shows are still the most popular and easiest way Egyptian comic lovers get to see their favorite characters. Earlier this year, Batman solidified his popularity in Egypt when The Batman film managed to stay for nearly 23 weeks in cinemas, raking in over EGP 18 million in the Egyptian box office according to El-Cinema website.
A fear, an alarm from the dark knight’s meeting
On Monday, popular ONTV host Lamis El-Hadidy warned on her show The Last Word against the unpermitted assembly for fear that it would be used politically. An expert on social media spoke in the segment about the Batman trend, warning that the banned Muslim Brotherhood may hijack it to turn the event violent.
Following El-Hadidy’s segment on the Battle of Batmen in Helwan, the Facebook events page disappeared in less than 24 hours.
Those concerns about the event are not without reason.
The 13th of August coincides with the date of the forceful dispersal of Morsi sit-ins in Cairo and Giza that left hundreds of his supporters dead in 2013.
Also, when it comes to the Batman’s universe, the memory of a now self-exiled pro-Brotherhood media figure Tamer Gamel appearing in disguise as the Joker character, calling on the Egyptian people to revolt against the government in 2019 is still vivid despite its failure to attract any support on the ground.
In addition, Helwan has been in the news lately, but not in a positive way.
Last week, the Security Criminal Court sentenced 10 people to death and 56 others to life imprisonment for carrying out premeditated deadly attacks on police personnel and civilians among other terror crimes in the case known as “Helwan Brigades.”
Designated a terrorist group, the Helwan Brigades first appeared in a video posted and circulated on social media in 2014, which showed 15 masked armed men warning that they would carry out an attack against the police in southern Cairo.
The defendants have been accused of a range of criminal charges connected with the group’s activities in the period between August 2013 and February 2015.
It was out of this milieu that the call for a Batman battle royale rang alarms for some.
That concern reached its peak with the Ministry of Interior’s arrest of four people that were responsible for the Batman event, without providing further details.
Nevertheless, those arrests have not stopped the event from continuing to gain the attention of young Arab men across the region.
Here is a Facebook post of young man from Iraq who wanted to join the battle in Helwan expressing his disappointment after realising that Helwan is not in Iraq.
Below the post, an Egyptian commenter tells him that it is okay and that other Iraqi batmen can hold their own battle in Iraq and then face the Egyptian Batman in a final in Algeria like in football.
Between concerns and memes, the Battle in Helwan is generating enough buzz that Helwan hospitals have announced that their ERs are ready for 13 August.
One pizza restauraunt is even offering a lifetime discount for whoever is declared the real Batman.