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Egypt's garbage collectors threaten to sue Ramadan comedy for 'insulting' depiction of their trade

Zabaleen are originally informal waste pickers, often stigmatised by Egyptian society. [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 May, 2020

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Egypt’s 'Zabbaleen' said they were angered by a series airing this Ramadan about refuse collectors.

Egyptian garbage collectors have slammed an Egyptian satire series that depicts a group of binmen they deem "insulting", Erem News reported on Monday.

The sanitary workers, known as  'Zabbaleen', said they were angered by the second series of "2 fi al-Sandouq" ("Two in a box") airing during Ramadan due to its portrayal of garbage collectors, according to the report.

Zabbaleen were originally informal self-employed waste pickers who collect garbage from people's homes and disposed it in "Garbage City".  

Now, under the syndicate - established eight years ago - some refuse collecters have self-organised and registered dozens of companies which can hire 'zabbaleen' with daily wages.

The head of the Garbage Collectors Syndicate, Shehata El Mekades, told Erem he has observed "bullying" - with people poking fun at the smell of waste workers. 

Mekades said he has tasked the syndicate lawyer with following up on the show and monitoring its content, threatening to sue if "a line is crossed."

Mekades criticised the show, additionally claiming some episodes mirrored his life and career, and said he would press charges if a clear personal link was established through the storyline. 

Other waste workers were cited saying the series caused a "bullying campaign" by some social media influencers aimed at cleaners and garbage collectors.

The two main fictional characters of the show, Zika and Shouqa – played by actors Hamdy El-Merghany and Mohamed Osama – work in garbage collections, but dream of becoming famous established singers and actors. 

One scene, which highlights Egypt’s social inequality through classicism, has particularly stirred debates on social media. In the scene, Zika is insulted for his job by his fiance’s father, who deems him not good enough for his daughter due to his profession.

Read also: 'This is what God wanted': Top Egyptian actor reveals son is transgender

The backlash has prompted a response from Merghany, who told Erem News on Tuesday that he was "sick" of hearing accusations, and apologised for any "misunderstandings". He added that the coming episodes of the comedy series will "reveal the real intent of the show's creators."

Some of the show's audience attacked perceived insults to those working in the cleaning industry many have said it reflects the irky reality of Egyptian society.

"It reveals a dark side in the human psyche ... Even those who are stigmatised by people because of their work and social status do the same to others when they can to prove they are in a relatively better position,” Ghazi Sherrif wrote in a tweet.

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