Cairo: Al Azhar, Egypt’s top Islamic institution, on Thursday condemned the craze about Pokemon Go as “harmful mania”, in the first comment by authorities in the mostly Muslim country on the top-rated mobile phone game.
“This game makes people look like drunkards in the streets and on the roads while their eyes are glued to the mobile screens leading them to the location of the imaginary Pokemon in the hope of catching it,” said Abbas Shuman, deputy head of Al Azhar.
“If such a game can deceive youngsters, I do not know where have gone the minds of adults, who can be hit by a car while being busy searching for Pokemon,” the cleric added in press remarks.
Pokemon Go was launched earlier this month by Niantic for iPhone and Android devices. The game infuses the virtual and real worlds, allowing the player to explore surroundings to find and catch as many as possible of the imaginary Pokemon characters.
“Will we find some lunatics walk into mosques, churches, prisons and military units in search of the missing [Pokemon]?” said Shuman. “Will people neglect their work and earning their living and devote themselves instead to hunting for Pokemon?”
Although Pokemon Go has not been officially launched in Egypt, many mobile users in the country reported that they have been able to download it on their phones.
Celebrated Egyptian television host Lamees Al Hadeedi appeared this week on her talk show with a mobile phone in her hand. She joined thousands of her compatriots in trying her hand at Pokemon Go.
“The Pokemon game is a real craze because it blends imagination with reality,” an enthralled Lamees told viewers as her eyes were fixed on the mobile in an attempt to catch the imaginary character inside the studio where she was hosting her popular show ‘This is the Capital’ on private television station CBC.
“This game has driven the world crazy,” she added. “It is not a mere fun. It is dangerous because of the deep concentration it requires that can cause accidents.”
In the past few days, local TV stations broadcast footage showing Egyptians walking as though in a trance on the streets trying to find and catch virtual Pokemon characters.
“Yesterday, one person who was sitting at a cafe with his daughter was angry with me because he thought I was taking snapshots of his daughter with my mobile camera,” a Pokemon admirer named Hesham said in a tweet. “I thought it would be more sensible to leave the man hitting than telling him I was catching a Pokemon.”
A newly opened restaurant in Cairo has capitalised on the fever unleashed by the game, telling potential customers to come to the place “where you can find your Pokemon”.
However, experts have sounded the alarm that obsession with Pokemon Go can result in security breaches.
“Fans of the game view it as a mere game and are overjoyed about its mixture of imagination with reality. The game involves using a mobile device to find and capture virtual Pokemon characters in real life,” Mohsen Mabrouk, a telecom specialist said. “But by switching on the camera on their mobile devices, details of the locations where they are searching for Pokemon will be seen by others. This poses a danger not to only to the user’s privacy, but also to the place of search that can be a vital installation,” he added.
There has been no official comment on the Pokemon mania in Egypt.
Yet, critics of the game have referred to a fatwa issued more than a decade ago banning the Pokemon video games.
In 2001, Nasr Fareed, Egypt’s then grand mufti, the country’s highest Islamist official, banned the Pokemon franchise, saying it is un-Islamic allegedly for promoting English naturalist Charles Darwin’s controversial theory of evolution.