A popular toy poking fun at the Egyptian president prompted security officials to arrest 41 vendors selling 'Sisi's balls'
CAIRO - Egypt’s Interior Ministry launched a crackdown last week arresting toy vendors and confiscating clackers widely known in Egypt as "Sisi’s balls," referring to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s testicles.
On 7 November, the Giza security directorate issued a statement announcing that security forces had arrested 41 shop owners and vendors and confiscated 1,403 pairs of clackers in several districts across the governorate in order to stand against “negative behaviour that has upset citizens”.
A security official who preferred to remain anonymous confirmed to Middle East Eye on Monday that those arrested remain in custody and have not been officially charged yet.
"This country has dignity and we have to defend it,” he said, without elaborating.
The step came “as part of the interior ministry’s policies to maintain security, order, public morals, in addition to protecting lives,” according to the official statement that was carried by local media.
The crackdown aimed to “stand against the negative behaviour affecting children and the psyche of citizens,” the statement added.
This is crazy, it’s a toy not political leaflets
– Ahmed, shop owner
The interior ministry posted a photo of scared street vendors detained with big bags of colourful clackers stacked in front of them. The image spread on social media, sparking criticism, but was later removed from the interior ministry’s official Facebook page.
فى ضربة موجعة للارهابين تم اعتقال خلية ارهابية لترويج بيضان السيسى
عاشت شرطة البلح pic.twitter.com/mZ6MHXbXgr
— كشرى ابو دقة (@nafaad) November 7, 2017
Translation: In a strong blow to terrorists, authorities have arrested a terrorist cell promoting Sisi's balls. Long live the incompetent police forces
بيضان السيسي جننتهم يا ولداه https://t.co/i6yorce2um
— Hossam عمو حسام (@3arabawy) November 7, 2017
Translation: Sisi’s balls are driving them [the authorities] nuts people
The retro toy
Clackers, a retro toy, recently made a comeback in Egypt and was at the centre of the controversy.
The toy consists of two plastic balls tied on a string that can be bounced off one another causing a "clack". Around since the 1960s and 1970s, the toy was banned in countries like the US after it was deemed "hazardous" and potentially harmful for children, since they could break into many small pieces of sharp plastic when the balls collide with each other.
But recently people started calling the toy "Sisi’s balls” and it spread quickly among children. Social media users were quick to poke fun at the president.
لعبة بيضان السيسي اشهر من إنجازاته
— الواقــــع فســـــتك (@FASTOKII) November 8, 2017
Translation: Sisi’s balls’ toy is more popular than his achievements
مستني ايه من رئيس باع بضانه ب٥ جنيه
— Mahmoud Tharwat (@mahmoudThaarwat) November 8, 2017
Translation: What do you expect from a President who sold his "balls" for 5EGP
Toy shop owner Ahmed told MEE that he had sold more than 3,000 of the popular clackers during the summer, and an additional 2,000 since the beginning of the school year in September.
“It’s very cheap and there was high demand on the toy from school children,” he said, adding that each pair is sold for five Egyptian pounds (30 US cents).
Due to the increase in demand, Ahmed ordered a large shipment of 7,000 pieces of clackers from China, which arrived earlier this month.
“I was very hopeful to sell more and more especially that [the] recession left us almost bankrupt,” he said, referring to the economic crisis.
It’s crazy that a regime feels threatened by a toy
- Ahmed Mostafa, engineer
Yet his hopes were shattered when he woke up on 6 November to the news of police forces raiding toy shops in his area of Giza.
Around since the 1960s, clackers were banned in some countries after they were deemed potentially harmful for children (Facebook)
Luckily Ahmed did not open his shop until later that day after the raids had finished.
“I wasn’t harmed [and] nothing was confiscated from my warehouse, but I almost lost 15 thousand EGP ($830) in no time,” he said.
After the toys were banned, Ahmed stored the clackers out of sight, but he is terrified that someone will report him to the police.
It shows how weak and fragile the regime is. They can't accept jokes or sarcasm
- Ahmed Mostafa, engineer
“This is crazy. It’s a toy not political leaflets,” he said.
Ahmed hopes that one day authorities will forget about the fiasco and he will be able to sell his stock, otherwise he “will have to burn them”.
Some teachers in public schools told MEE that they were instructed by principals not to allow children to play with the clackers.
“No one told us to snitch on the kids for sure, but to tell them that this is impolite and inappropriate behaviour,” explained a teacher in a public school in Minya in Upper Egypt, who asked to remain anonymous.
Can’t take a joke
Ever since Sisi came to power in June 2014, he has not taken kindly to jokes at his expense.
“[The] Sisi regime may appear to less-trained eyes to be a strong dictatorship, but this current fiasco is part of a larger dynamic of showing weakness beneath the surface,” political analyst and journalist Amr Khalifa told MEE. “The government could have easily ignored a game made for children. But whoever thought of the name recognised the brittle ego of the autocrat."
This country has dignity and we have to defend it
– security official
“Safe to say it's not the first time the regime has chased any attempt at sarcasm or criticism. The jail cells are and have been full of such examples,” he added.
In October 2015, a military conscript was sentenced to three years in prison after posting a photo of Sisi with Mickey Mouse ears.
Amr Nohan, a law graduate, was just five days away from finishing his compulsory military service when he was charged with misconduct as a soldier in a military trial in Alexandria. According to the court's ruling, he was deemed to have “thoughts inside of him that run contrary to that of the ruling regime”.
In May 2016, authorities arrested members of a band called “Street Children” on charges including "promoting ideas calling for terrorist acts" and inciting protests to disturb public order, after they released a satirical video mocking the government. The group used a smart phone camera to film their short performances on the streets of Egypt.
The government could have easily ignored a game made for children. But whoever thought of the name recognised the brittle ego of the autocrat
- Amr Khalifa, political analyst and journalist
In the last video before their arrest, they talked about how the Egyptian pound plunged against the dollar and about the deal to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.
They were all released by September 2016, but they have stopped posting any videos since then.
Ahmed Mostafa from Cairo, a father of two children, is angry that the authorities are focusing on such petty issues, while people are suffering from deteriorating economic conditions.
“We need them to focus on the economic and social issues. The prices are still soaring since last November,” said the 35-year-old. “It shows how weak and fragile the regime is. They can't accept jokes or sarcasm.”
“It’s crazy that a regime feels threatened by a toy,” he added.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.