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Cartoonist sparks outcry as Egyptians tally vote

Dec. 3, 2011 9:18 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 9, 2011 4:13 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A Brazilian cartoonist whose caricatures against the former regime of Hosni Mubarak won him praise in the Arab world is now in the spotlight himself amid Egypt's divisive election.

Carlos Latuff's latest illustration, pointing to a sharp surge in support for Islamic candidates, was not received favorably Saturday by many Egyptians on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Unlike his work in recent months, which has focused a critical lens on violent measures taken by Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, the latest cartoon conveyed expectations of an Islamist victory in a vote for parliament.

The image, of a menacing sword labeled "Islamists" emerging from an Egyptian ballot box, sparked criticism that the usually sympathetic artist had resorted to crude generalizations bordering on Islamophobia.

"Latuff does not respect the voters' choice," said Egyptian blogger Zeinobia, "simply as that."

Reaction on Twitter was unexpectedly harsh, considering Latuff's series of cartoons encouraging pro-democracy protesters in Egypt, and his uncompromising criticism of the SCAF. The cartoons often showed up on signs in Tahrir square, he says.

But anger directed toward the latest caricature underscores resentment that outside interests still seek to dictate to Egyptians their political affairs, while often failing to distinguish between established religious parties and fundamentalists.

Mosaab Elshamy, an Egyptian photographer and Tahrir activist, said the image reflected an orientalist worldview: "How is portraying an entire group from different backgrounds with a sword (sign of confrontation & violence) not orientalist?"

Adding fuel to the fire, Latuff shocked many of his followers by dismissing any criticism outright and responding with expletive-laden contempt, including one crude private message to a female tweeter.

Many said it was Latuff's hostility, not his cartoon, that sparked the outcry.

At the same time, Latuff said he had received multiple death threats in response to the caricature, while his supporters condemned the uproar as an attempt to stifle the artist's freedom of expression. They ridiculed as childish a campaign to "unfollow" him on Twitter.

Before the Egyptian uprising began in early 2011, along with pro-democracy protests across the region, Latuff was mostly recognized in the Middle East for his vocal support for the Palestinians.

His cartoons depicting Israeli brutality against Palestinians in Gaza took off during late 2008, when the three-week Operation Cast Lead began that would ultimately leave some 1,400 people dead.

Latuff has made two trips to the region whose cause he has championed for a decade. Supporters of Israel accuse him of anti-Semitism for comparing Israel to Nazi Germany; Latuff denies the allegations.

Of those in Egypt who were still talking about him late Saturday, several asked why Latuff was even a topic for discussion in light of happenings offline, as votes were counted in the first free election in decades.

The moderate Islamist Muslim Brotherhood took the lead, as expected. But a surprise surge in support for more hardline groups spread concerns that a future coalition could exclude liberal and secular voices.

While there is grumbling that the Salafis seized a larger than proportionate share of support, according to assumptions about the piety of most voters, fraud was not reported and the vote was likely to stand.

Latuff, however, indicated he was ready to move on.

"I think I spent too much time devoted to #Egypt," he told his Twitter followers.

"Now it's time to care about other issues as well".
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