Egyptian Batman 'Mat Nam' laughs at Americanisation of Egypt

Menna Taher, Wednesday 10 Aug 2011

Mat Nam, a satiric series of short animation films, is one of the interesting television shows this Ramadan

Mat Nam

The idea of Mat Nam (Go to sleep), an animation series screened at the time of Iftar on ONTV live, goes back to 2006 when the character created by the chemical engineer Ezzat Amin first emerged in a publication entitled Marina Rayeh Gayy. Based on that comic strip, distributed in the North Coast summer resort of Marina, the animated series draws on different social and political issues through comic situations and dilemmas. It also depicted a broad range of Egyptian everyday individuals.

“I created these comic sketches in response to those who believe that foreign intervention is the solution to this country,” Ezzat Amin said, criticising the McDonaldisation of the country by certain socio-cultural strata that adopt certain aspects of American culture, turning the country into a quasi franchise of it. “I could’ve chosen any American superhero, but I chose Batman for the wordplay and because his strength comes only from his gadgets.”

Amin’s infuriation with the penetration of Egypt by both American and Gulf culture due to the immigration of many to the Gulf and the US, which has brought about Wahhabi Islam and consumerism, is one of the key issues he is concerned in his works.

“The solution has to come from within and it shows in the series that Batman without his gadgets is not much use to Egyptians. It’s usually Bastaweesy, the Egyptian, who manages to solve the problems,” he explains. “Even the American gang can’t perform any thefts in Egypt because they don’t understand the Egyptian way.”

The animation series, however, confronted many obstacles before being this Ramadan.

The political criticism in the animation led producers to shy away from it and many channels to ask for lighter material. Other producers would just argue that it is not appropriate for children. “Who said that animation has to be for children?” Amin asks. “The problem with Egyptian producers is that they do not like to invest in anything they don’t already know. Producers always like to say, ‘Why don’t you make something like such and such’,” he said. “They don’t have the risk-taking attitude.”

However, the production company Lounge headed by Hesham Lasheen agreed to produce the series. Now it’s being aired on four channels: Rotana Masreya, Melody Drama, Dream and ONTV.

Another project Amin is currently working on is a comic series he wants to turn into a long animated film. The story Zut Ankh Amin, a pun on Tut Ankh Amen, portrays four different characters, who go back in time and witness the building of the pyramids. They reflect different realities within Egyptian society. There is an engineer, whom Amin describes as the balanced one, as well as an airhead, a microbus driver and a foreigner. Zut Anh Amin shows how modernism does not necessarily mean development.

“It is strange when I find people thinking that having Burger King or 70 types of frappe is a form of development in this country,” he mused. Amin's critical and satirical mind is not only reflected in the animated series he's working on.

It is worth pointing out that Amin was the first to come up with the term Hezb El Kanaba (The couch party) in which he refers to those citizens calling for stability from the comfort of their homes.

The term is now widely used in Egypt. “I actually belonged that party until 2005, when the theatrical elections took place,” he said. “I am publishing a book soon about that journey.”

However, that publication keeps getting postponed because of on-going developments in the events of the revolution. The 8 July sit-in was the last cause for delay. As for the Mubarak trial, Amin says it doesn’t matter if he gets a 15-year or a death sentence, but by that trial Egypt has gone from a backward country ruled by a dictator to a civilized country that suffers from economic problems.

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