Pop star Mohamed Fouad’s Ramadan prank show “Fo2sh Bel Moaskar” (Fouad in the army camp) is no stranger to controversy.
The premise of the prank has upset nationalists, but more recently, environmentalists were up in arms after discovering that the production company left behind mounds of garbage and construction debris in a protected area.
The show, which airs daily on the satellite channel Al-Hayat TV this Ramadan, was filmed in Ras Mohamed National Park, a protected area at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula.
The prank starts with an Egyptian celebrity taken out on the Red Sea, expecting a chatty interview. Instead, events take a dark turn when helicopters buzz overhead, shots are fired and a crew of actors dressed as Israeli commandos boards the boat. The celebrity guest is taken hostage, dragged to a fake Israeli army camp and subjected to a mock interrogation that ends with a song and dance number by Fouad himself.
In addition to its sadism, the show drew criticism for flying Israeli flags on Egyptian territory in the Sinai.
But perhaps even worse, the trash left behind on site highlights the dire state of Egypt’s natural parks, says Mahmoud al-Kaissouny, environment advisor to the Ministry of Tourism.
“They say protected areas. All our protected areas have deteriorated in a horrible way,” he says. “Where are the rangers of Ras Mohamed?”
The show finished shooting before Ramadan, but on July 12, local resident Dorothea Reinecke discovered heaps of wood, Styrofoam, barbed wire, cement and plastic in the site where the fake Israeli camp had been built.
The condition of the site was completely outside the norm for film shoots in Ras Mohamed, according to Ahmed Sherif, a freelance director and cameraman based in Sharm el-Sheikh.
“I’ve worked many times on commercials in the park over the years,” Sherif says. “We never once left anything behind.”
In order to film, the producers would have required clearance from both the Coast Guard and the Ministry of Environment, Sherif explains, a process that should have involved presenting a detailed plan for protecting the site and removing any waste.
“The rules were not followed,” he says. “There are people in Cairo who give permits but don’t understand what they are approving.”
“Nothing is being enforced when it comes to Egyptian companies, unfortunately,” Sherif asserts.
After spreading photographs of the trashed beach via social media and reaching out to former Environment Minister Laila Iskandar, local environmentalists managed to shame the park service into action.
“They removed everything almost one week ago. The place now is clean,” head of South Sinai Parks Mohamed Salem argues.
“We filed a report. They will be fined almost US$2,000,” he adds.
However, Salem downplayed the scale of the mess left behind. Although photos of the site show large piles of garbage spread across the beach and desert, Salem claims the show left behind just two small containers of garbage, no more than two cubic meters worth, which they intended to pick up.
The trash was strewn around after people started rummaging through the containers, Salem asserts.
“They played with those boxes, searching for something valuable,” Salem says, adding that the show was fined for leaving the containers unguarded until pick-up.
But Reinecke and Sherif say that even after the park was declared clean, a crew of local volunteers who visited the site on Saturday found more garbage.
The camp itself was cleaned up and large debris was carted away, but bits of wood, cement, plastic and Styrofoam were still scattered across the site and in the sea. They even found trash the clean-up crew had buried in the hills near the site.
“They found the garbage and then just covered it with sand,” claims Sherif.
The volunteers were unable to unearth the buried garbage, but managed to collect around 10 garbage bags of trash from the sea and the shore, according to Sherif.
Park head Salem denies that any garbage was left behind.
“No, this is not true. I have some pictures of the car carrying out the garbage,” he says, asserting that any garbage found over the weekend would simply have blown in from nearby communities.
“This answer in itself, made by the manager of the park himself, is a scandal,” Reinecke says, adding that she would be more than happy to drive Salem out to the dumpsite herself.
“I blame the park for not doing their job right,” Sherif argues. “They have the authorization to stop them and they didn’t.”