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Poking fun, US-style, in Egypt

Fake news in the style of The Onion and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart risks upsetting the Cairo hierarchy.

An Egyptian gets a shave as he reads the morning paper in Cairo June 26, 2002. In a country where information is strictly controlled, and which is seen as the top-10 worst countries to be a blogger, readers of a new satirical English-language publication come from a very particular segment of upper-class Egyptian society. (Aladin Abdel Naby/Reuters)

CAIRO, Egypt — In Egypt, where the government keeps a close eye on the media and most other forms of expression — an alternative has emerged: fake news.

Similar in style to Western satirical newspapers and websites, such as the The Onion, the English-language website El Koshary Today (EKT), puts an ironic twist on Egyptian current events and makes light of more serious societal ills plaguing Egyptian society. The increasingly huge gap between Egypt’s upper and lower classes, discrimination felt by Egypt’s minority Coptic Christian community, and even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s health are all fodder for stories with a humorous bent.

“ElBaradei reveals he is a trained Jedi master,” reads a headline on EKT’s main page in reference to the former International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei who has stirred up Egypt’s political scene since announcing in December that he may be a candidate in Egypt’s 2011 presidential election.

“Indeed, some are already speculating whether ElBaradei's mastery of the 'force choke' had something to do with a recent gall bladder incident,” reads the story in reference to a recent surgery undergone by Mubarak in Germany.

While another article facetiously commemorates Police Day, a national holiday meant to honor a police force who in reality spend the majority of their day playing with their mobile phones, whistling at foreign women and, at times of civil disobedience, using violence against demonstrators.

“Samir was an unfortunate victim of spontaneous human combustion, whereupon his body suddenly caught fire for no reason in the middle of a peaceful demonstration. Here you can clearly see the zeal and care with which the police tried to stamp the fire out,” is EKT’s caption under a photo of Egyptian police beating an unarmed protester.

“Our intention is to talk about things openly and freely, and push the boundaries of things considered taboo,” wrote Makrona, one of EKT’s writers, in an email. “Is pushing the bar a motivation? Definitely. But not for its own sake, but for the sake of having a more open, easy going society.”

EKT was launched last October by a group of three Egyptian 20-somethings who use pseudonyms corresponding to the ingredients of their website’s namesake: koshary, arguably the national dish of Egypt that consists of different types of pasta and rice mixed with lentils, fried onions and tomato sauce.