Originally published in The Independent, 29 April 2013
By its own lofty standards, it had been a relatively slow news week in Cairo.
True, the judiciary was locked into a life-and-death struggle with the President, and the economy was continuing its dismal downward spiral amid the familiar predictions of an oncoming summer of unrest. But that was small fry compared to the tale of Samir the turtle.
Earlier in the week the Egyptian press had reported how Samir, a resident of Giza Zoo’s reptile enclosure and reportedly a gift from King Farouk, had died at the at the unfeasibly advanced age of 270.
It was a truly extraordinary story – and the media coverage a fitting tribute for a creature born before the age of steam. Naturally there was just one problem: it was all complete hokum.
It turned out that Samir was only 80 years old when he died – not a bad innings of course, but not quite as impressive as a turtle pre-dating Napoleon.
And there was another hole in the story. It seems that the obsolescent reptile, who was indeed a onetime resident of Giza Zoo, did not die last week. He actually shuffled off his mortal coil 15 years ago.
Alaa Abdoon, the Director of Regional Zoos in Egypt, wearily explained to The Independent from his Giza Zoo office that the press appeared to have made up the tale – in his mind, to discredit Mohamed Morsi by linking Samir’s death to his hapless presidency.
If so it would be the most desperate of media smears. After all, a 270-year old turtle would have had it coming even without the beleaguered rule of Morsi’s creaking government.