Egypt’s latest terror suspect: The popular felt-and-yarn puppet Abla Fahita

Erin Cunningham — Washington Post Jan 2, 2014

The Egyptian government’s crackdown on suspected Islamists has come to this: a terrorism probe focused on a puppet.

Abla Fahita — a Muppet-style character who regularly appears on Egyptian television — went on the air Wednesday night to deny allegations that her lines in a recent commercial were coded messages to the recently banned Muslim Brotherhood organization.

“I am a comedic character,” Fahita, who plays a gossipy widow, said in an interview with Egypt’s CBC network.

The investigation of the puppet is an extreme sign of a climate of fear and paranoia in Egypt that has intensified in recent weeks.

Since a coup ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July, the military-backed government has arrested thousands of people believed to be tied to the Islamist group he was associated with, the Muslim Brotherhood. Lately, even more repressive security measures have been adopted following a spate of deadly bombings blamed on Islamist militants.

Authorities have arrested people — including a young schoolboy — simply for displaying pro-Brotherhood signs or paraphernalia. And this week, secret police detained four journalists with the Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera English, alleging the reporters – including one Australian – had joined the Brotherhood and helped incite riots. The network denied the charges.

And now, there is the investigation of the puppet. She has been accused by a little-known activist who goes by the moniker Ahmed Spider. The young man filed a legal complaint that was forwarded to special terrorism prosecutors.

“As stupid as it is, it’s very telling,” Ziad Akl, a political analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said of the puppet case.

“It says a lot about the patriotism frenzy we are in. There is definitely a sentiment of fascist nationalism that you either subscribe to, or face being labeled a traitor.”

The military has enjoyed broad public support for removing the democratically elected but deeply unpopular Morsi, who had lost support because of rising crime, a sinking economy and his courtship of hardline Islamists while in power.

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