A charitable gesture by Argentinian football star Lionel Messi has provoked outrage in Egypt, where a lawmaker and football official took umbrage at the donation: his sneakers.
Messi, in an interview with the private satellite channel MBC Misr, had donated his shoes to the channel to auction them off for charity.
“Messi, I really thank you,” said the interviewer as she sat across from the Barcelona player, dangling his shoes, in the segment aired on Saturday.
While no one would consider being hit with a shoe or being labelled a shoe a compliment, it is especially insulting in Middle East cultures.
Donating shoes, it emerged, was equally insulting to Egyptian member of parliament Said Hasasein, who attacked Messi on his television show.
“This is my shoe,” he said, holding up a beaten loafer. “I donate it to Argentina.
“This is an insult to Egyptian people,” he elaborated, thumping his fist on his desk.
Egyptian Football Federation spokesman Azmi Mogahed phoned in to the show to express his outrage.
“Even in our religion..” he began to say, when Hasasein interrupted: “His religion is Jewish!”
Mogahed agreed. “I know he’s Jewish, he donates to Israel and visited the Wailing Wall and whatever … we don’t need his shoe and Egypt’s poor don’t need help from someone with Jewish or Zionist citizenship.”
“People in Argentina sleep in parks!” Hasasein added.
Messi was born into a Catholic family, and has made the sign of the cross after scoring goals.
Some Egyptians criticised Messi, and his interviewer, on Twitter, using the hashtag “Messi’s shoe for the Egyptian people.”
“It’s not your fault, Messi you dog. It’s the fault of that son-of-a-shoe channel, and that daughter-of-a-shoe interviewer,” wrote one.
Others, including former Egyptian football star Mido, defended Messi.
“The most precious thing a writer has is his pen, and the most precious thing a football player has is his shoes,” he wrote on Twitter.