THE CELEBRATION seemed innocent enough. A group of old Egyptian women gathered at the posh Gezira Sporting Club in central Cairo to mark a birthday. For some reason, it seems, they wanted to shake things up. So for dessert they indulged in cupcakes topped with sweets shaped like genitalia (male and female). They also gobbled a cake that looked like a pair of buttocks. Pictures posted on social media show the women chuckling; one holds a pastry up to her mouth, its phallic confection menacingly close to her lips.
When the photos went viral, things got sticky. Egypt’s government does not think sexy cupcakes are funny. The baker was quickly arrested. She reportedly admitted, through tears, to making the pastries. Her customers had allegedly provided her with photos for guidance. She could face a charge of insulting public decency, punishable by up to two years in prison. “This won’t be taken lightly,” said a spokesman for the ministry of sports, which oversees the Gezira club. “Everyone involved will be held accountable.”
Egyptian officials may be struggling to deal with covid-19 and a stagnant economy, but they somehow find time to police patisseries and protect the public from bawdy tarts. The sports ministry has formed a committee to investigate the party and decide what charges to recommend to the public prosecutor. An MP called for the minister to testify before parliament. State media have shown blurred-out photos of the depraved desserts. Sharing photos of sweets with sexual themes is forbidden by Islam, tweeted the state’s Islamic advisory body, without specifying where in the Koran it says so.
Egypt likes to talk about female empowerment. A new quota ensures that a quarter of the seats in parliament are held by women. President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has a similar proportion in his cabinet. But when it comes to morality, men judge and women must obey.
A burgeoning #MeToo movement was crushed last year after a number of women accused men from wealthy families of sexual violence. Some of the men were arrested—but so were witnesses, and even some of the accusers. The authorities have used a cyber-crime law to crack down on women dancing on TikTok, an app for sharing short videos. At least ten have been arrested for inciting “indecency” with mildly suggestive gyrations. Two were recently acquitted, but are still being held on human-trafficking charges somehow related to their dancing.
Mr Sisi presents himself as a moderate alternative to the stern Islamists he toppled in a coup in 2013. But Egypt remains deeply conservative. If the president really wants to set a different tone, perhaps he should let his people eat cake—even if it has a sugary penis on top.
This article appeared in the Middle East & Africa section of the print edition under the headline “Hot cakes”
This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.