Lionel Messi recently sat with Mona El-Sharkawy, the host of Egyptian TV show Yes I am Famous, and the two had a nice, friendly chat. When asked for a souvenir commemorating the interview—a show tradition, according to El-Sharkawy—Messi gifted her his shoes. This has since caused a huge shitstorm.
Here’s the BBC, describing what’s been lost in translation:
What Messi seems to have failed to appreciate is that in Egypt and other Arab countries in the region shoes can be used as a symbol of disrespect or insult. So some Egyptians took offence and turned to social media to express their anger.
In Arab culture, showing the soles of your shoes can be seen as especially insulting. The Arabic expression “to hit someone with a shoe” is offensive. You might remember the case of Iraqi journalist Muntasir al-Zaydi, who threw his shoes at President George W Bush in protest at a press conference in Baghdad in 2008.
Further complicating matters, the souvenirs Yes I am Famous usually collects are then auctioned off with the proceeds going to charity. Thus not only did some interpret Messi’s gift as an insult in itself, the perception that he used them as a tool to make a donation to the poor made it even worse.
One Said Hasasin, an Egyptian politician who also hosts a TV show of his own, was very, very mad. And made it quite clear on his show. The Guardian has the quotes:
“Whose shoes do you want to sell, Messi? How much do you think it will get? You don’t know that the nail of a baby Egyptian is worth more than your shoes? Keep your shoes to yourself.
“Messi, we Egyptians are 90 million people, who have pride, we have shoes. We don’t eat off the money of other peoples’ shoes. I would have understood if he donated his Barcelona uniform to the Egyptians, it’s accepted. But just the shoes?
“It’s humiliating to all Egyptians and I do not accept this humiliation. Egyptians may not find food, but they have pride. We Egyptians have never been humiliated before during our seven thousand years of civilisation.”
He concluded his statements by taking off his own shoe and promising to donate it to the poor of Argentina:
A guest of Hasasin’s had even more to say:
Azmy Megahed, a spokesman for Egypt’s FA, told Hasasin on his show: “If he [Messi] intends to humiliate us, then I say he’d 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.”
El-Sharkawy has since come to Messi’s defense, explaining that this is all just a misunderstanding. Also from the Guardian:
“This is so false. It’s a trend on our show that we take a souvenier from our guest and put it on auction for charity,” El-Sharkawy told news agency Ahram. “I am surprised, I didn’t say we will be giving it to charity in Egypt or any other place. I don’t know why they said he is presenting it to Egypt. This was never said.”
If nobody really wants these things, I’d be more than happy to have them.