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Egyptian Bank Note Design Cause of Objections


Iconography on coins and vignettes on bank notes can be controversial. There are coins on which the designer may have taken license when depicting a border on a map. That border may inappropriately show disputed territory as belonging to the government issuing the coin.

Coins have never been free of religious beliefs. Without much fanfare the United States added the legend ‘In God We Trust’ to its coins beginning in 1864. When in 1907 that same legend was omitted on the $20 double eagle there was an uproar that resulted in that oversight being corrected.

A similar situation arose in Canada in 1911 when the legend ‘deo gratia’ or by the ‘Grace of God’ was omitted from coins of King George V. King George’s 1911 1-rupee coins of India didn’t fare much better. The initial coins depict the monarch wearing royal robes with the Order of the Indian Empire about his neck. The order is supposed to depict an elephant, however Islamic religious leaders in India objected that the design looked too much like a pig. The ‘pig rupees’ were recalled and the elephant on the following issue has longer legs and a longer tail.

Bank note vignettes have also caused an outrage. Canada’s initial bank notes on which Queen Elizabeth II were poorly designed, with what can be interpreted as a devil’s face appearing within her hair.

Many followers of Islam adhere to a rule that no image of a person should appear on coins or bank notes. This is a reason so many pre-20th century coins issued by countries in which Islam is the official religion depict attractive calligraphy rather than humans.

Iran officially defaced pre-Islamic Republic of Iran bank notes on which a vignette of the deposed shah appears. Today a vignette of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini appears on bank notes of the same country.

On August 1 the Central Bank of Egypt unveiled its new ‘plastic’ bank notes, notes planned to replace paper composition notes in November. The unanticipated backlash was swift. As the August 12 issue of al-Monitor newspaper put it, “Many viewers were offended by the £20 note’s watermark of the Great Mosque of Muhammad Ali, which appears rainbow colored in pictures some said resembles the LGBT pride flag.”

The same article presented both sides of the argument. “Others said that the colors of the rainbow are often used for aesthetic purposes and should not be considered controversial, stressing that the £20 note appears rainbow-colored in pictures because the watermark is reflective, a property that protects against counterfeiting.”

Back peddling for the central bank Egyptian Forum for Economic and Strategic Studies head Rashad Abdo said, “We still have three months before the bank notes are printed and that is plenty of time to create a design that pleases everyone.”

Lawyer and human rights activist Negad el-Borai acknowledged, “Egyptian society is still in the rejection stage.”

Egypt would rather focus on the advantages of the new plastic bank notes than what designs may appear on them.

Senior Economist at SHUAA Capital Esraa Ahmed said, “Switching from manufacturing the Egyptian pound using copper, steel, and other materials to using polymer bank notes is a matter of efficiency rather than an ‘economic’ move, and they are widely used worldwide [Canada, Vietnam, New Zealand and others use polymer bank notes, and other countries will join them soon.] It is all about more efficient coins, as they are more durable and less costly when it comes to issuance feasibility and the material used. Using conventional copper and other relatively expensive materials proved inefficient, especially after the high level of cumulative inflation that caused the value of the coin material to exceed the value of its denomination.”

In his recent article “The Future of Plastic”, International Monetary Fund Communications Officer Ping Wang wrote, “In all categories and phases, polymer outperforms paper. For example, the study found, a polymer bill promises a 32 percent reduction in global warming potential and a 30 percent reduction in primary energy demand compared with paper. Most important, polymer notes last more than twice as long as paper notes—and higher denominations, which are handled less frequently, last even longer.”

Paper composition bank notes are usually shredded, burned, or taken to a landfill as the notes end their lifecycle. Polymer bank notes removed from circulation have a much longer lifespan. Worn polymer notes are cut into granules and used as raw material in plastic products.