Egypt Adds Puppetry to its Enemy of the State List

It has been said already that the Egyptian government's increasingly zealous campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood has reached absurd heights. But it's one level of ridiculous to pin terrorist attacks already claimed by a group of Sinai militants on the embattled Brotherhood; it's quite another to investigate claims that the group transmitted coded messages via a puppet.

But that is exactly what happened when Vodafone officials faced investigation on Wednesday following a complaint that accused the company of using such a ploy in a recent advertisement. The advertisement, which was posted on the company's Youtube channel last Friday, features Egyptian puppet Abla Fahita, an Internet star in recent years. The character is a widow often seen milling around the house in pajamas and curlers with a phone to her ear, gossiping with friends.

But this screwball housewife act becomes much more insidious when placed under the microscope of Ahmed "Spider," a Hosni Mubarak supporter, little known rap singer, and famed conspiracy theorist responsible for the claims. Spider has been known for nutty theories before and first presented his Fahita hypothesis to the prosecutor general, who reportedly went on to refer it to the state security prosecution (other accounts refute that the prosecutor general referred the case further).

The puppet code he was presenting was striking in its complexity: the cactus in place of a Christmas tree signaled a threat, made more specific by the ornament on top which symbolized a bomb, and Fahita's search for her deceased husband's old phone line was deduced as a sweeping reference to intelligence plots. The four cactus branches are also, according to Spider's cryptographic expertise, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood's "four-fingered salute": the Rabaa hand gesture that was displayed by demonstrators last year in support of deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi. The complaint seems to have been prompted by Amr Mostafa, an Egyptian singer, who said that Vodafone's slogan, "The power is in your hands," was a message sent by the British company that encouraged Egyptians to protest against Mubarak in 2012.

The ridiculousness behind the accusations need hardly be expounded upon, and the debacle was quickly picked up by Twitter under the hashtag #FreeFahita in English.

Late Wednesday, journalist Khairy Ramadan hosted Fahita for an on-air exchange with the puppet's accuser himself.

"I am a mere comedic sarcastic character," Fahita said via Skype. To no avail, though: Spider continued his crusade with a vow to jail the puppet.

It hasn't been an easy year for satire in Egypt. In 2013, the country's most famous political joker, Bassem Youssef, had his contract terminated for allegedly mocking the country's military leadership. But, if the latest puppet witch-hunt is any indication, it seems enthusiasts of dark comedy won't be wanting for long: the Egyptian government is proving to be the most inventive satirist of them all.



The World Takes on a Common Enemy: The Hangover

"First you take a drink," wrote American author F. Scott Fitzgerald, "then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." That final 'taking' is less obliquely described as a 'hangover,' and it's a bugbear which revelers the world over have long sought to slay. Chinese poet and inveterate alcoholic Li Bai preferred the hair of the proverbial dog: His 8th century Tang-dynasty poem Waking From Drunkenness on a Spring Day describes how Li emerged from a sloshed slumber to find wine nearby; so he filled his cup, and "wildly singing I waited for the moon to rise/when my song was over, all my senses had gone." The fruitless search for a hangover cure, or at least a serviceable placebo, borders on universal. Below are some of the most interesting -- we won't say most effective -- sourced from the FP editors:

China: Chinese often turn to herbal teas to ameliorate a hangover. But researchers at the country's prestigious Sun Yat-Sen University in the southern city of Guangzhou have studied the effects of 57 popular liquid remedies, and they aren't impressed. In a report published Sept. 2013, they claim that only two of the dozens analyzed are "suitable for drinking by humans who consume alcohol excessively." One is a Chinese brand of soda water, the other: humble Sprite.

Germany: The first meal of the day after a night of heavy drinking is called Katerfrühstück, and Germans think it does the trick. Katerfrühstück usually comprises marinated herring, pickled cucumber, or food with a sour smack.

Japan: Umeboshi, pickled plums high in vitamin C, are a favorite antidote. So is green tea, although traditionalists may now wish to consider Sprite as a suitable replacement. 

Korea: Sulguk is a specially-formulated genus of guk , or soup, which literally means "soup to chase a hangover." It usually contains dried cabbage, other vegetables, and ox blood.

Philippines: The ostensibly hangover-busting balut is no ordinary egg; those making first contact with the Filipino street food, a duck embryo that's been boiled alive, are advised to swallow the thing whole rather than hazard a chew.

Russia and Poland: Russians and Poles both drink pickle or sauerkraut juice on those miserable mornings, although some of Poland's more daring revelers imbibe soured milk instead.

United States: As with so many matters of culture and cuisine, U.S. citizens are eclectic, generally willing to borrow whatever works. One southern mainstay: Chicken tenders, biscuits, spicy fries, and water at chain restaurant Bojangles. Such traditions may eventually have to make way for UCLA researchers, who claim in a paper published Feb. 17 to have found the particular enzymes that break down alcohol. All that's left is to find a way to turn them into a pill.

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