Since the January 2011 uprising, Egypt has weathered a number of absurdities, including rumors about a spy stork, an Israeli spy shark, and subliminal messaging in Vodafone commercials. But the most damaging and fantastic absurdity is set to come to a head on June 30.
In February 2014, Major General Ibrahim Abdul Atti announced that the Egyptian army had developed technology to detect and cure AIDS and hepatitis C. The “Complete Cure” (conveniently abbreviated “CC”) would be made available to the public exclusively in military hospitals starting June 30, the one-year anniversary of the Tamarod movement that ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
After Atti’s strange comments at the initial press conference, the unfolding scandal surrounding CC’s debut was dubbed ‘Kofta Gate.’ “I take AIDS from the patient, and feed the patient on AIDS. I give it to him as a kofta skewer for him to eat. I take the disease, and I give it to him as food, and this is the pinnacle of scientific miracles,” Atti said.
An official later clarified that Atti had been making an analogy he hoped would help Egyptians understand the complex processes by which “electromagnetic waves convert the virus to amino acids in the form of proteins.” But it was too little, too late. The moniker had already stuck.
Many have doubted the veracity of the army’s claims about the so-called cure. Former Presidential Adviser for Scientific Affairs, Dr. Essam Heggy, alleged that interim president Adly Mansour had not been informed prior to the announcement, and suggested that the technology was an embarrassment for the country. “In my opinion, a sensitive subject like this harms the state image and will have negative effects on scientific research,” Heggy told Al-Watan. Cambridge University educated virologist and MIT research scientist, Islam Hussein, posted a detailed lecture on YouTube, questioning the science behind the technology. Bassem Youssef, host of the now canceled ElBernamag program, vowed to remind his audience of the army’s promise to cure the two diseases every week until the army delivered a “respectable response.”
Yet, Egyptian officials have continued to insist they are on course to treat an estimated 10,000 patients this year. The government has allegedly received over 40,000 requests for treatment from Egyptian citizens. To date, however, the research team has released scant information on the two devices, including the cost of treatment.
In a recent article on AlMasry AlYoum, Alaa Ismail, the former director of the National Liver Institute of Egypt, conceded there was still a “problem related to the treatment [aspect]” of the technology. Nevertheless, the research team claims to be participating in a medical conference in China from June 26th to 29th where they will deliver a presentation on the undoubtedly bogus technology.
The Egyptian device has had a short, but astonishing history. The technology appears to be based on a machine peddled by James McCormick, a retired UK policemen, to a number of developing countries. It remains unclear, however, how Egyptians acquired the technology.
In its first iteration, the device was called the Quadro Tracker Positive Molecular Locator. Wade Quattlebaum, a South Carolina-based car salesman, invented the technology, claiming it could detect balls lost on a golf course. Quattlebaum insisted the device could also be recalibrated to detect drugs and explosive materials. It was a bald-faced lie, however, and a federal judge later banned the manufacture and sale of the fraudulent product in 1996.
McCormick initially became involved with the spurious technology in 2000. In 2005, he began buying the failed golf baller detectors at less than $20 each. He pasted new labels on the faulty technology, describing them as Advanced Detection Equipment (ADE) 651 for locating unexploded bombs. McCormick sold the devices at prices ranging from $5,000 to $40,000 each to governments in Georgia, Romania, Niger, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia. McCormick’s largest market was Iraq. As the country reeled from explosions on an almost daily basis in 2008 and 2009, Iraqi officials were desperate for a device that could locate bombs before they detonated.
In 2009, two BBC journalists investigated McCormick’s company. Their reporting prompted the British government to ban the equipments’ sale in Iraq and Afghanistan. In May 2013, McCormick was sentenced to ten years in jail for selling the fake bomb detectors. “The device was useless, the profit outrageous, and your culpability as a fraudster has to be considered to be of the highest order,” the British judge in the case told McCormick.
After even the lowliest checkpoint guards realized the device was a hoax, officials in Bagdad insisted the technology was valuable. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself maintained this fiction, claiming in late May 2013 that an official investigation demonstrated “the devices detect between 20 and 54 percent [of bombs] under ideal conditions.”
“There were only two ways of interpreting the prime minister’s comments,” wrote Zaid Al-Ali in his The Struggle for Iraq’s Future: “[E]ither he believed what he was saying (which would mean that he was incapable of understanding what was painfully obvious to just about everyone else) or he was deliberately twisting the truth (which would mean that the security and wellbeing of Iraqis was for him secondary to protecting his own reputation).”
Equally damning conclusions could be drawn from the actions taken by the Egyptian leadership thus far. No one appears to have determined, however, how McCormick’s technology was rebranded as a device for detecting AIDS and hepatitis C in patients as far away as 500 meters away. While it initially seemed incredible to think the government’s device was one and the same as the bogus bomb detector, pictures surfaced of the Egyptian army using an identical device to “comb the area around voting stations” for explosives, during the recent presidential elections.
It is unclear how the Egyptian leadership will save face on June 30. What is certain, however, is that it is beyond disturbing that such a callous lie could be perpetuated against a population with one of the highest rates of Hepatitis C in the world—the result of a botched, government-led inoculation effort. Egyptians deserve better.