EgyCon was the brainchild of Islam Risha, 27, the self-proclaimed “godfather of Egyptian anime events.” He is a big bear of a man with a charming baritone and zebibah (the marking on the forehead of devout Muslims).First, I wouldn't take that part about "not caring" about the "Arab spring" at face value. That could be taqqiya, and what if some of the local otakus took part in all those riots?
Risha discovered anime 10 years ago, when he walked into a cyber café and became intrigued by a bunch of hirsute men watching cartoons. After peeking over their shoulders for a bit, he was hooked. He began connecting Egyptian anime-lovers through Facebook and organizing small get-togethers – the second of which took place one day after the Arab spring protests broke out at Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011.
“The country was having a revolution, but we were sitting somewhere else talking about anime,” Risha recalls. “We didn’t care.”
Now, here's an example of how Islam is not left at the door of anime fandom there:
Doha, 27, is dressed as Ahri, a voluptuous fox-lady with nine white tails and flowing blue hair from the video game “League of Legends.” But instead of showing cleavage and wearing a miniskirt, she is modestly wrapped in a long-sleeved dress over thick white leggings.Gee, in that case, why be a fan at all? Surely the character's styling and what the creators stand for goes against her thinking?
It was only when Egyptians gained access to the natural habitat of the otaku – the Internet – that they learned about the broad subculture that surrounds manga. But in Egypt, access to the Internet is not widespread, so to be a manga fan usually requires being financially well-off.The reason internet access isn't so easy to get in Egypt is because of the religious/socialist structure - coupled with anti-western hostility - that's rendered the country poor. And it wouldn't surprise if there's mutawa (religious authorities) still prevalent around Egypt who'd persecute the attendants for taking up hobbies that represent democratic countries, or anything they consider anathema to Islam. Speaking of which:
“It’s a matter of social classes,” explains Noor, 18, who wears a hijab and a hoodie from “Avenger.” (Many of those interviewed for this article asked that only their first names be used for reasons of privacy.) “The majority of Egypt is poor,” she says, “and doesn’t have access to culture or the Internet.” So the otaku are middle class? “Upper-middle,” she laughs.
Cosplay can be a costly hobby, especially without local specialty stores. Most costumes at EgyCon are handmade, with a few purchased from Amazon (reluctantly, admits one participant, because it represents the West). The attendees all enjoy a level of social comfort; one of them, Ziad, 17, says he travelled to Japan recently on a family vacation.When some early anime products were subject to editing in the USA, it was never anything as severe as this. I have no doubt, however, that what enraged the Islamic censors had to do with sexuality, whereas in the USA, it would be more along the lines of jarring violence, and even in the early phases, there were plenty of anime series full of that. Don't be surprised if a lot of those situations remain intact over in Egypt.
Content broadcast on state television is subject to censorship; parts of shows that might offend the country’s more pious Muslims are scrapped. “In Egypt, the government has to watch a show before airing it,” Noor explains. “When we watched ‘Detective Conan,’ there would often be missing scenes, and some episodes weren’t broadcast at all.” But the Internet has given Egyptians access to newer, edgier and, more importantly, uncensored shows.
At EgyCon, there is no contradiction between faith and fantasy: the overwhelming majority of otaku are practicing Muslims. Men excuse themselves to pray during the salat (the five obligatory daily prayers) and women have skillfully incorporated the basic dress codes of Islam (covering their hair; not showing skin above the wrists or ankles) into their cosplays. Even women in full-body niqabs make it work, dressing up as masked characters, robed sages or ambiguous ninjas.And there we have further proof how there's Islamists in Egypt who won't put their differences aside and recognize the legitimacy of sexuality. Who think the "culture" they go by is something to be proud of. And, who think beauty is bad. I'm sorry, but anybody that opposed to creativity and freedom is not a real otaku.
However, the competing forces of the precepts of Islam and the cultural trends of Japanese otaku – which can be sexually suggestive – do create some tensions.
Abdul, 17, who is dressed as the ninja Kakashi from “Naruto,” is clearly upset about how some women don’t wear a hijab for their cosplay because they want to look more like the Japanese.
“It’s just not right,” he says. “You can’t be a Muslim only on the days you feel like it ... I love anime and come here to show my love for it, but we also have our own culture. We should also celebrate and be proud of it.”