Article from Business Today - March 2005
It’s a Small World

After a short absence, the world’s most recognizable cartoon character comes home. Nahdat Misr’s successful re-release of Mickey proves the mouse has massive potential for growth in the Arab world

I recently attended a dinner party with some Cairene friends. Naela, an NGO director, was moving to Sweden with her family, and we had all gathered to bid her farewell. As the evening progressed, Naela casually mentioned how she wished there were a way to get her favorite Arabic comic book, Mickey (or Meekee, as it’s pronounced) while abroad. Suddenly, talk of politics and society took a radical turn as everyone around the table discovered a shared love of the magazine.

Hours later, guests were still overcome by teary-eyed laughter as they reminisced about their favorite weekly adventures of Mickey, Batoot (Donald Duck) and Bondock (Goofy).

Having grown up in the United States, I can sing along to old songs from the Mickey Mouse Club and even name the original Mouseketeers. I’ve seen Mickey’s debut film, the 1928 black-and-white Steamboat Willy, more times than I can count, but what I witnessed that night was unlike anything I have ever seen in America, the birthplace of Mickey Mouse and friends.

However popular the Disney characters are in the United States, they occupy a unique position in Egypt’s collective memory: Mickey is one of the few childhood memories common to virtually all Egyptians living today. Tastes in music, movies, art and politics have changed over the years, but Mickey remains largely unchanged, retaining the same nationwide allure as it had when it was first introduced more than 40 years ago.
They were victorious

In January 2004, after a nine-month hiatus, the Egyptian publishing house Nahdet Misr launched a new, revamped Mickey under license from Disney. The new magazine looks a bit different than it did when it first hit the local markets in the 1950s. For starters, the flimsy newsprint paper on which it was printed has been given a pricey facelift with glossy, smear- and odor-free pages. Each Nahdet Misr issue runs approximately 20% longer than the old Dar Al-Hilal standard and artists use bolder, more advanced methods of illustration, much of it computer-aided. What’s more, Mickey and friends have abandoned their old, colloquial Egyptian conversations in favor of Modern Standard Arabic dialogue.
Everyone’s a critic

It’s a fine line to walk. Mickey’s begins in the imagination of Disney illustrators and writers, most of them based in the United States. But with the magazine distributed in more than 30 countries, individual publishers are bound to come across issues that don’t necessarily fit the value system of their societies.

“We have artists who touch-up the illustrations,” admits Farrah. “There are some things that we will remove, such as a bottle of alcohol, for example, things that don’t fit with our society. The retouch artist fixes it up.”
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