CAIRO — Egypt needs a superhero, and the entertainment industry has been busy obliging. Since the outbreak of the January 25 Revolution in 2011, Egyptians have seen swift changes at the political, economic, cultural and social levels. Many articles have been written about the need for a hero or leader to save the country from its current deadlock.
During Ramadan this year, a series called “The Hibiscus Man” hit Egyptian television. The show is about a normal man who is transformed into a flying superhero after a car accident. The state initially fights him until it becomes unable to fight crime by itself, at which point his supernatural intervention is required.
In early December 2014, an Egyptian Spider-Man made his first appearance on the street through the lens of photographer Hossam Farouk, who came up with the idea of “showing that even superheroes can't survive in Egypt.” Farouk photographed Atef Saad, dressed as Spider-Man, in an attempt to visualize what life might be like for a superhero in Egypt. He chose Spider-Man because his suit was the cheapest and easiest to find in stores.
Farouk's photos — posted to a Facebook page dedicated to the character — show Spider-Man trying to fit into everyday Egyptian society. He tackles the mundane, including running after a public bus that won't stop for people to board, working to try to make a living and praying at a mosque. Farouk highlights Egyptian society as rejecting anything unfamiliar or out of the ordinary, as when Spider-Man gets beaten up on the street.
The idea went viral on social networking sites, which prompted Farouk to make a short film, “SpiderMan in Egypt.” Farouk said Spider-Man came to achieve justice in Egypt, as he does in Europe and the rest of the world, but he fails his mission in Egypt. He noted, “Spider-Man disappears under mysterious circumstances. We have been looking for him everywhere. He could not survive Egypt.”
“SpiderMan in Egypt” debuted Dec. 16, 2014, a day after another video starring a superhero appeared — “Batman Egypt,” filmed by Omar al-Sherbini, another Egyptian photographer. Batman comes to Egypt to spread joy and awareness. Sherbini's idea was also received well on social media. Other short movies about Batman followed.
Sherbini said, “Batman’s mission is to raise awareness in a humorous way for adults and children about different social and moral issues, such as hope, work, cooperation and helping one another.” Things did not stop there, however. The creators had Batman visit juvenile cancer patients in hospitals and promote Egyptian tourism.
Religion also entered the mix of superhero frenzy with the December 2014 appearance of Abdul Rahman al-Makki's “The Meccan Knight,” a historical Islamic character. Makki said that as a child, he loved the Islamic knights and heroes and that he wants today's children to love them as well, instead of the international superheroes from cartoons. His idea did not find much support.
In January of this year, the production company Global Media Egypt launched a trailer for “El-Joker vs Egyptian,” which features the Joker roaming around Egypt. The actor who plays the Joker, Bassem Fouad, said that the idea behind the movie was to explore whether the Joker "could handle Egyptians.” The idea has not been particularly popular, and the movie has not yet been released.
On June 28, “Hulk” arrived in Egypt. In an advertising campaign by the real-estate company Mountain View, the Hulk embodies the rage of Egyptians, who are transformed into monsters because of the suffocating traffic and harassments they face in the streets. The character in the first campaign was a huge success, as it was still a new idea in the Egyptian ad market, and so was used in additional spots.
The Heliopolis psychiatrist Yahia Gaafar explained the emergence of this phenomenon from a psychological perspective. He told Al-Monitor that superheroes reflect an archetype that exists in the collective subconscious of communities.
“People summon these characters when they feel oppressed, suppressed or helpless. They see them as saviors who will come to their rescue when they are frustrated and have reached rock bottom,” Gaafar said. “People are receptive to archetypes as they are seen as a temporary palliative, like daydreaming. Children are even more receptive to these characters given their young age.” In short, he explained, “They balance the psyche for children and adults.”
According to Gaafar, the Meccan Knight was unpopular because it was too contrived. He said, “The collective unconscious is not associated with religions, but with absolutist humanitarian values, which existed before religions.”
On June 11, Minister of Culture Abdul Wahid al-Nabawi called on Egypt's creative minds to submit innovative ideas to the state for its war against terrorism. He said that their ideas would be considered for approval through an initiative launched in June called Culture in the Face of Terrorism. It is to feature different literary and artistic events. Nabawi said intellectuals need to join hands in fighting terrorism in the society.