Egypt's most bizarre news of 2014

Sherif Tarek , Hatem Maher , Monday 29 Dec 2014

Terrorist puppet, AIDS cure, Ronaldinho's Zamalek move, US-Egyptian military confrontation, arresting people for talking politics, others for speaking English, 'Atheist Café', exorcism over the phone, among other incidents


Enjoy Ahram Online's selection of the most bizarre news in Egypt throughout 2014.

Puppet terror suspect (January)

The year started with a fuss around well-known puppet Abla Fahita for dropping hints in a Vodafone Egypt ad that bombings would take place, or so stressed her accuser, a wannabe artist known for his conspiracy theories.

Such outlandish allegations are often made in Egypt, only this time Egyptian prosecutors took it seriously enough to order an investigation into the complaint of Ahmed Zebidar (a tacky pronunciation of spider), who later appeared in a number of TV shows to explain the basis of his accusation.

He said Fahita used a four-branched cactus as a Christmas tree to symbolise the four-fingered Islamist salute used by ousted president Mohamed Morsi's supporters. An ornamental ball dangling from the tree represented a bomb, he assured.

The puppet has never been arrested or summoned for questioning but while skyping in once to defend herself, she had a live altercation with Zebidar who vowed to put her in jail.

Abla Fahita
A screenshot from the one air confrontation between Abla Fahita , the puppet and wannabe singer Ahmed Spider who was on the phone with CBC

Sovereign Military Order of Malta (February)

Over three years after the 2011 18-day uprising, ex-officer in Egypt's Republican Guard Ayman Fahim revealed new killers of protesters while testifying to the court: the embassy of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), the fourth oldest religious order in the Roman Catholic Church -- based in Rome and has missions in many countries across the world.

Again, Egyptian prosecutors later ordered an investigation after receiving from different people similar accusations against SMOM, which has come from obscurity to ubiquity with media reports fuelling speculation over its role.

Speaking in a TV interview, Fahim consolidated the claims by saying that some of the countries that have SMOM missions are hit by turmoil, such as Lebanon, ignoring the fact that there are many other common embassies among these disturbed countries.

Ayman Fahim
Ayman Fahim (Photo: Al-Ahram)

AIDS, Hepatitis C cure (February)

Physician and military officer Major-General Ibrahim Abdel-Atti hit the headlines when he announced that he and his crew had invented devices to detect and treat HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, among other viruses and diseases, with a 100 percent success rate. The cure, however, was not available in June on the due deadline, which was extended for more experiments.

Abdel-Atti said the treatments were the fruit of 22 years of hard work. This means he started five years after his Egyptian compatriot, surgeon Ahmed Shafiq had invented along with a scientist from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) another cure for AIDS, which was unveiled in 1987 but has also never materialised.

While the new deadline for the release of Abdel-Atti's cure ends on the New Year's Eve, Egypt imported in October Sofosbuvir drug – commercial name Sovaldi – for the widespread Hepatitis C, just in case.

Abdel-Atti with his Complete Cure Device; the C-Fast Device detecting viruses in a patient’s body (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Ronaldinho's Zamalek move (June)

That was a widely circulated rumour that triggered a wave of sarcasm against the Cairo club on social media, since such a fate for one of the best footballers of all time is less likely to happen than Egypt's new AIDS cure.

But it was no rumour, stressed controversial club chairman Mortada Mansour, who unilaterally confirmed in June that his outfit were indeed in talks with Ronaldinho's agent, saying in a TV interview the Brazilian legend "is coming to play in Egypt."

The claim has brought nothing but more sarcasm against Zamalek and Mansour, an ex-presidential hopeful who had earlier decided to take no part in the election after seeing in a dream two military officers on a bus heading to the "new Egypt," or so he said, without ever clarifying if Ronaldinho was on the same bus.

A photoshopped picture mocking reports on Ronaldinho's move to Zamalek (Photo: Facebook)

Clinton's book, again (August)

The US was so upset over the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi to the extent that it sent navy forces to the Mediterranean, only to be surprised by a fleet of Egyptian jet fighters and frogmen who managed to capture a captain of one of the American battleships. The US navy retreated after an anonymous Egyptian General threatened Barrack Obama.

That was mentioned in Clinton's book Hard Choices, revealed TV presenter Mohamed El-Gaity. He was the first to make the earth-shattering claim, although the book had been released over two months earlier, which meant the hundreds of journalists who reviewed the book and the thousands who bought it have all miraculously missed that part, or thought it was too trivial to be mentioned.

Since the book is available for everyone to read, it should have been quickly realised that Clinton never said that, as much as she never mentioned she had agreed with Morsi on establishing the Islamic state in Egypt as previously rumoured. For a while, however, local media dealt with both rumours as unequivocal facts.

Hillary Clinton
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Photo: Reuters)

Suez/Panama Canal stamps (September)

Stamps supposedly commemorating the excavation currently underway for the new branch of the Suez Canal turned out upon release to bear a photo of the Panama Canal.

The stamps were withdrawn from post offices a few days later and replaced by a new corrected edition. No clear explanation was provided for why the Panama Canal photo was used in the first place.

While the incident caused a considerable amount of embarrassment, the only winners were those who bought the faulty stamps bearing the photo of the South American waterway. The quick withdrawal has made these stamps rare and thus significantly valuable among collectors.

Panama Suez Canal stamps
Suez Canal stamps (L) and a photo of Panama canal (R) (Photo: Facebook)

People destroying Egypt (November)

"You want to destroy the country!" screamed a woman at a group of three who were talking politics at a cafe, before instigating their arrest by bringing the police to the downtown venue.

What the anonymous lady obviously did not know is that talking politics in public, or expressing views she doesn't like is definitely less harmful to Egypt than arresting journalists for doing so, especially if one of them is the chief editor of a renowned international publication.

Egyptian-French Alain Gresh, the editor in chief of France's Le Monde Diplomatique, was one of the arrested trio, making what happened globally newsworthy. They were quickly released but the incident, like similar others, raised serious questions over freedom of expression in Egypt.

Alain Gresh
French writer and Journalist, Alain Gresh (Photo: Ayman Hafez)

1984: Anti-authoritarianism evidence (November)

After arresting a Cairo University student on suspicion that he's a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood or involved in intermittent violence on and near campus, the police reportedly registered George Orwell's anti-authoritarianism novel, 1984, that he had on him as evidence supporting the accusations.

It was reported the novel was intensively acquired in Egypt after the infamous incident, while the police didn't comment whether or not the numerous buyers have all become potential suspects.

Maybe not, since the Cairo University student was released shortly after his arrest.

George Orwell's novel, 1984 (Photo: Al-Ahram)

One-armed driver (November)

A driver with one arm reportedly tried to convince the police that he's driving much better than "healthy people."

At a time when road accidents have reached very alarming levels in Egypt, with an ensuing police crackdown on illegal drivers, the one-armed man did too little to dissuade them from arresting him.

While accidents and traffic problems are rife in Egypt, job opportunities for the handicapped in Egypt are extremely limited.

Café where atheists worship the devil (December)

A café in Abdeen, downtown Cairo was raided and closed upon an order from the district's mayor on grounds that its customers were atheists who used to hold regular "devil worship celebrations."

The mayor also said the café was operating without a license, but that seemed to be a lesser reason for the closure in comparison to the alleged rituals of its patrons.

Questions about the devil worship celebrations at the café remain unanswered, like what kind of music was played or what special beverages were served to please the devil. It's also not clear if believers would be allowed in during the rituals, or that would fend off Satan.

Britons arrested for speaking English (December)

Two Britons of Egyptian origin paid the price for speaking English in Cairo's subway after a man overheard them talking about the upcoming fourth anniversary of the 2011 January revolution.

They were detained by police and questioned by the National Security apparatus over whether they have any links to terrorist groups.

They were later released but probably they have learned the lesson: it's safer to learn Arabic before visiting Egypt.

Exorcism fever (December)

TV presenter Reham Saeed shot an episode about a possessed family who regularly beat each other, a scene that looked pretty similar to a wrestling royal rumble match, only a lot less professional. After many people found it hilarious Saeed was widely panned for weeks, yet her episode got different media outlets to ride the possession wave.

Apart from several articles that were written on possession and TV shows that went through the topic, an Egyptian sheikh spoke to a supposed demon on the phone during a show on a television channel called Al-Fath, as he persistently tried to exorcise it to relieve the phone caller, a woman who kept screaming incessantly for around ten minutes.

The live efforts of Ahmed Awad, an Islamic and linguistic sciences professor at Tanta University, proved a success to the extent that not only did he drive the demon out of the noisy phone caller, but also convinced the demon to convert to Islam.

Egyptian parliament in Turkey (December)

A number of Egyptian journalists thought it was a spam -- since Egypt's doesn't have a parliament for the time being -- when they received an invitation for a parliamentary session that would mark the re-convention of Egypt's parliament.

Others then thought it was a typo since it says the session will take place in Turkey, but again it doesn’t make much sense that Egyptian journalists would receive an invitation to attend a session of the Turkish parliament.

That was actually a number of MPs of the Islamist-dominant parliament whose lower house was dismantled in 2012 for being unconstitutional, and upper house in 2013 when Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was ousted. But in a parallel world, the parliament is still operating and Morsi is still a president.

Ungrateful smoking chimpanzee (December)

A chimpanzee viciously attacked a keeper in an Egyptian open zoo, though it accepted a Christmas gift from him moments earlier: a lit cigarette.

Both were on good terms until the chimpanzee threw the tip on the ground after smoking the cigarette. The keeper, who was on a boat with visitors, thought it was a good idea to put it out with water since it was close to straws, reported private daily Al-Masry Al-Youm, citing an eyewitness.

That did not go down well at all when the splashed water touched the animal. Jumping on the boat, the chimpanzee beat up and bit bloody the head of the keeper who sustained serious injuries and was hospitalised, an unpleasant twist to a story that started with a nice gesture.

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