Arab authorities freaking out over Pokemon Go

Arab authorities freaking out over Pokemon Go
Religious cleric compares the game to alcohol, as authorities in region to clamp down on the smartphone-enabled hunt for fictional creatures.
3 min read
15 Jul, 2016
Some Middle Eastern authorities have clamped down on the smartphone game [AFP]

While many have been swept up in the thumb-twiddling frenzy by smartphone game Pokemon Go, one Egyptian official has taken a more serious view on matters.

Speaking to local news website Youm7, Hamdi Bakhit - an Egyptian national defence and security official - said that the game "is among other computer programmes and "viruses" that disguise as innocent applications for entertainment while in fact they have other hidden purposes".

Bakhit continued to say that the public must be "aware of such things and be able to distinguish between what is entertainment and what is a tool for spying on people and countries."

Although many may be too busy catching Pikachus to thank the security specialist for his eagle-eyed foresight, Bakhit is not the only person raising concerns about the Poke-madness.

On Wednesday, Egyptian cabinet spokesman Hossam al-Qawish said that all downloaded smartphone apps - including Pokemon Go - will be probed in order to ensure that they don't pose a threat to national security.

These investigations will go towards informing a bill being prepared by Egypt's legislature that aims to restrict social media platforms and prohibit "dangerous" smartphone apps.

Pokemon Go will be probed by Egypt in order to ensure that they don't pose a threat to national security

Causing drunkenness

A cleric from Egypt's top Islamic authority has also weighed in on the matter, saying that the game is "prohibited" for Muslims.

According to Abbas Shouman, the deputy chief of Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's foremost religious authority, spending time on the game is on par with drinking alcohol, which is prohibited in Islam.

The al-Azhar University in Cairo is one of Islam's oldest and renowned seats of learning [AFP]

"It negatively influences the mind and harms the player or others without being aware of that," Shouman said.

Balancing out his statement, Shouman praised the positive time and effort-saving benefits of modern technology. The "obsessive" behaviour displayed by some towards it, however, was criticised by the Azhar official who said that it leads to a neglect of prayer and work.

Although many will consider this to be a harsh edict, its practical considerations seem more reasonable than past rulings on the franchise's merchandise.

Saudi Arabia's grand mufti – the kingdom's highest ranking religious official – once ruled that Pokemon cards were forbidden, citing the fact that the children's playing cards displayed crosses and stars of David that are indicative of religions other than Islam.

Saudi's mufti prohibited Pokemon cards for containing crosses and stars of David that are indicative of religions other than Islam

Kuwait says Pokemon- No

Kuwait also added to the regional clampdown on the 'pocket monsters' on Friday, issuing a statement warning users not to take photos of sensitive security locations in the country.

Pokemon GO NYC
Gamers gather to play Pokemon Go in New York City [Anadolu]

Users were also cautioned away from digital critter catching in mosques, shopping centres and oil installations. 

"No excuses will be accepted by anyone claiming ignorance of the law," said Lt. Gen. Sulaiman al-Fahad.

The Pokemon Go game follows on from the Pokemon cartoon series, allowing players to catch over a hundred different species of fictional creatures. In the game, users can capture, train and battle virtual Pokemon characters who appear in real-life locations.

Although Pokemon Go is yet to be rolled-out in Egypt and the Gulf, many smarphone users around the world have found ways to bypass restrictions and download the app.

The game has already gone viral in Arab countries like Lebanon, according to local press.