The cartoon character is ubiquitous in Egypt and beyondby Raphael Cormack / March 26, 2013 / Leave a comment
On a recent trip to Upper Egypt, Andrew Leber went into a shop near Sohag train station. He wanted to take some photos for a project that started a few months ago. A bystander, leaning against his motorcycle, took exception to this and strode purposefully over to Leber. Producing a pistol from his belt, he demanded to know what was going on. Frantically both Leber and the shopkeeper told the man what this project entailed. His manner changed completely. Breaking out into a broad grin, he insisted Leber take another photo.
The project: a Tumblr website called “SpongeBob on the Nile.” Run by American students Andrew Leber and Elisabeth Jaquette, it attempts to document every appearance of SpongeBob SquarePants in Egypt and the region at large. If you’re not familiar with modern American children’s cartoons, SpongeBob SquarePants is a small, yellow, anthropomorphic sponge who lives at the bottom of the sea with a group of marine chums. More importantly for Leber and Jaquette, his popularity in Egypt and across the Arab world has exploded over the past two years. A recent Vice article even asked: “Is SpongeBob SquarePants the new Che Guevara?” SpongeBob on the Nile, with the help of Egyptian and international contributors, collects photos of this cartoon character’s appearances in Egypt and the wider region. These range from the prosaic (t-shirts, stickers, stuffed toys) to the bizarre—SpongeBob’s perfume range is a personal favourite.
In Egypt, the response to the site has been almost universally positive. Since its inception on 10th December, it has already been featured in three Egyptian online newspapers and dubbed “the best blog in Egypt” by Cairo360, a lifestyle website. Leber tells me, “I’ve been amazed at the reaction. People are mostly amused by the whole thing and have often gone to lengths to find every single SpongeBob-related item in their store for me to photograph.”
Leber and Jaquette have run photos of the happy-go-lucky sponge and his pals in Palestine and of a man in a full SpongeBob costume in Libya, amidst celebrations of the anniversary of the revolution in Martyrs’ Square. But they have only scratched the surface.…