Egypt: Vodafone Egypt Advertisement Stirs Controversy

A new advertisement for Vodafone Egypt has stirred controversy on the Egyptian blogosphere. The advert for a new internet USB bundle, is thought to be mocking a Muslim scientist who attempted to fly using a set of wings – Abbas Ibn Firnas (810–887 AD).

In the advert, Ibn Firnas is portrayed as a crazy man who insists on flying, and three men – who are famous for acting in the Egyptian version of “Back to the Future” film – trying to convince him to browse the internet first to see how his trial was going to fail, but he refused to listen to them.

Zeinobia explains in her post “Learn From Google Egypt, Vodafone Egypt !!”:

Vodafone Egypt has aired its a new ad for its new internet bundle whatever it is using both humor and celebrity […]
Now that supposedly “funny'” is making fun about the failed attempt of Abbas Ibn Firnas to fly !! The ad is making fun of a scientist who got great contributions in the history of science instead of reminding the public with him and his other great achievements !!

The ad, which was uploaded on to YouTube, has since been removed.

Immediately after airing the advert, many angry messages spread like fire on Twitter, Facebook and other social networking platforms. One of these messages sent by @MostafaMourad, he for instance asks people to change their mobile operator if Vodafone did not stop airing its advertisement:

Call 888 to complain and give them one week. Ad not removed. convert ur number to another operator

In her blog post Think twice before going public, Amira Salah, a 25-year-old female, asks:

What are we trying to tell the new generations?!!
What are we trying to shout out to the whole world about how we respect our great pioneers?!!
How do we ask others to respect us while we don't know how to respect our culture?!!
How come we don't know what we can/can't make fun of?!!

Amira adds that companies should think twice before releasing public campaigns.

In the social media world, you have to revisit your choices many times before going public. People are now more active and positive, thanks to the social media channels who made expressing your opinions so easy. Vodafone Egypt has fallen into the trap of social media when they broadcasted their Abbas Ebn Fernas Ad.

On the other hand, she says people can use the same social media to launch an anti-campaign:

What messages were they trying to deliver by such a shallow ad?!! No one knows till now because they ignored the mass comments who complained and were against the ad. Moreover, instead of responding, they deleted some comments and only then people shouted out loud with the hashtag, #VodaFly

After word spread that comments on the advertisement on YouTube were deleted, @aymanrb said:

Glad @vodafoneEgypt with their smart team won't b able to delete all those tweets about the #vodaFly Ad like they did on fb & youtube #fail

Some people clarified they are particularly angry because of being a Muslim scientist, like @anas3qeel

جدير بالذكر إن ابن فرناس مش عربي وإنما هو بربري، لكن الي يستفز الاستهزاء بعالم مسلم وكأن جهوده كلها ولا حاجة وكأنه كان مجنون #VodaFly
It's worth mentioning that Ibn Firnas is not an Arab, but a Berber. But what's irritating is mocking an Islamic scientist, as if all his efforts are in vain, or he was insane. #VodaFly

But that was followed by a question from @ShadySamir asking:

Why is support to Abbas Ebn Firnas going back and forth between him being Muslim or Arab? #VodaFly

Many people, including Zeinobia, thought that Vodafone is wrong, and that an apology is required:

Now I think Vodafone Egypt owes us an apology to the educated who knew that that man was truly a scientist and the uneducated viewers who need to know who that man was.

The barrage of blog posts and tweets made in response to the advertisement meanwhile continued on social networks.

Some Twitter users were angry:

@aymanfarrouh: @VodafoneEgypt You better take this advertisement down! People are so mad about it and gonna hate you. #VodaFly
@MAswad: I have been a loyal client to @VodafoneEgypt for 8 years now and never thought I'd change.I can never tolerate #Ignorance & #Racism. #VodaFly

On the other hand, other netizens maintained their cool. Gemyhood [Ar], for instance, had a different point of view, which was seconded by a handful of other Twitter users. Gemyhood suggested that the whole issue did not deserve the buzz it created, and was most likely part of the campaign, quoting an article that was published in a European newspaper, at the time of the Danish cartoons:

الأمر إما موجه ( من منافسين أو من الشركة نفسها ) أو نحن أمام حالة رائعة وعصر جديد لإستخدام الشبكات الإجتماعية فى دعم الأفكار والإنطباعات الشعبوية عبر الشبكة التى من الواضح إنها دخلت مرحلة النضج التكنولوجى […]
بصراحة لا أريد الخوض فى قضية إن كانت فودافون مخطئة فى حق عباس إبن فرناس، ومشروعية وحلال و قدسية و إحترامية – إن صح قولها- إستخدام الإيقونات التاريخية والعلمية العربية فى إعلانات كوميدية وهل تناولهم بهذا الشكل يقلل مما قدموه من تاثير تاريخى أو إختراعات و إكتشافات علمية جليلة يحترمها ويقدرها العالم؟؟؟ بالقضية على بعضها تافهه
It's either an organized campaign (from Vodafone itself, or its competitors) or we are suddenly in front of a magnificent case of randomly making use of new technology by normal people, which apparently has entered a new mature phase […]
Frankly, I don't want to discuss whether Vodafone is guilty to mock Ibn Firnase, or using a holy figure in a comedy advertisement would belittle him or his historical achievement and scientific breakthroughs or not??
The whole case is trivial.

Echoing Gemyhood, @Moftasa tweeted:

I hope people taking vodafone's ad seriously aren't serious.

And @Bluefish80 adds:

انا عاجبنى اعلان
عباس ابن فرناس … استرجل وخليك فودافون
@Bluefish80: I like that Abbas Ibn Firnas advertisement … be man enough and stick to Vodafone.

You can follow the rest of the on going conversation through the hashtag #VodaFly on Twitter.

Tarek Amr contributed to this post.


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