Egypt crackdown

A Vodafone Egypt ad featuring a Muppet-like character called Abla Fahita plays on computer screens in Cairo. (Khaled Desouki / AFP/Getty Images / January 2, 2014)

CAIRO -- Officials of an Egyptian telecommunications provider have been summoned by state prosecutors for questioning in connection with allegations that Muppet-like characters in one of the company's advertisements made coded references to acts of terrorism.

Vodafone Egypt, in a statement relayed to the Associated Press on Wednesday, confirmed the prosecutors’ summons, and called the accusations “irrational.”

Though widely mocked on social media, the authorities’ move was a reminder of the widening scope of the official crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, which last month was designated a terror organization. It also underscored the appeal of even the most fanciful of conspiracy theories among certain segments of Egyptian society. 

The ad that landed the company in trouble stars a puppet character called Abla Fahita, or Aunt Fajita. In it, she is searching for a SIM card that belonged to her late husband, while discussing another puppet character. She mentions getting a sniffer dog at a shopping mall to search for missing objects.

The ad was little noticed until a blogger and self-styled activist who goes by the name Ahmed Spider brought it to the attention of authorities. Spider, who was a critic of the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak nearly three years ago, voiced the theory that the ad’s true subject was a terror attack.

"The dog, garage, guard, mall ... these elements tell us that there will be a big mall and an explosion after a dog fails to find the bomb in a car," Spider told Egypt’s Tahrir television channel late Tuesday. He made an official complaint that was subsequently referred to state security prosecutors, who deal with cases involving terrorism and security threats.

Vodafone Egypt stressed that the ad was only for marketing purposes, and that its only intended meaning was an explanation of how to reactivate a SIM card.

Social media users scoffed at the blogger’s theory. “The next accusation could be made against Grendizer,” one Facebook commenter wrote, referring to a Japanese outer-space cartoon robot. “Now I’m really worried for the guys at ‘The Muppet Show,’” wrote another.

In other online satires, the face of Abla Fahita has been Photoshopped to appear in the background of famous historical images like that of late President Anwar Sadat on the day of his assassination, as well as depictions of the puppet character being tortured by security forces.

On Wednesday, another TV channel, CBC, purported to interview Abla Fahita via Skype, and the interviewee described herself as a comic character. The blogger Spider then phoned in to the show and vowed to send her to prison.

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Twitter: @laurakingLAT

laura.king@latimes.com

Hassan is a special correspondent. Staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.