The beloved Argentinian football player Lionel Messi offered a pair of his used football boots as a donation during an Egyptian television program on the private network MBC Masr — a private network.
“One of the things he does is give charity all over the world and these will be among the donations he gives,” Egyptian presenter Mona El-Sharkawy says as she sits across from the celebrity with the red and white boots held up to the camera.
“And he gave these to our program because we will start an auction for them. Messi, Thank you very very much.”
But quickly the goodwill gesture turned into a great offense against the Egyptian people.
“We (Egyptians) have never been so humiliated during our seven thousand years of civilization,” Said Hasasin, a controversial parliament member and TV presenter responded during his program Sunday, “I will hit you with the shoes, Messi,” he said, as he held up his own shoes, and mockingly said he would donate his leather lace-ups to Argentina.
CNN’s attempts to contact Messi through his club team Barcelona have so far proved unsuccessful.
The controversy centers on the significance of shoes in Arab culture. Considered one of the lowliest of items, because it literally touches the ground, many Egyptians find it a dirty and inappropriate object.
To call someone a “gazma,” the Arabic word for shoe, is a great insult. And if a family elder catches sight of your soles, say if you have your feet up, you are sure to pay the price.
Even Egypt’s Football Association spokesman Azmy Megahed chimed in on the issue, saying: “Our poor don’t need him. Shoes work for him…I am confused, if he intends to humiliate us, then I say he better put these shoes on his head and on the heads of the people supporting him. Give your shoes to your country, Argentina is full of poverty.”
In Egyptian culture, if your shoe is left overturned at someone’s doorway, it’s a great snub. If you walk into someone’s home with your shoes, it’s a disgrace. If, as happens in nearly every Egyptian soap opera, someone lifts their shoe as if to hit you, they intend to add insult to injury.
The two common articles on everyone’s feet are simply one of the strongest offenses in the Middle East.
The affront was so great that El-Sharkawy had to defend her program publicly on Monday by arguing that donations were not necessarily intended for Egypt’s poor.
“Messi did not even mention Egypt and I did not say the proceeds would go to Egypt,” the anchor said in what appeared to be an attempt to recall the scandal, “I am so surprised that people are accusing us of things that weren’t even said.”
But not all were so quick to make a villain of the 28-year old Messi. A fellow footballer rushed to his defense on social media.
“The most precious thing the writer owns is his pen and the most precious thing the footballer owns is his shoes,” famed Egyptian striker Ahmed “Mido” Hossam wrote on Twitter, “I hope we stop the false accusations.”