Egypt's constitution referendum

A banner meant to depict "all Egyptians" is displayed at a news conference to kick-start the campaign to win approval of an amended constitution. (Khaled Elfiqi / European Pressphoto Agency / December 15, 2013)

CAIRO -- The pictures were supposed to depict a cross-section of Egyptian society. But they somehow didn’t look quite right -- and as it turned out, they weren’t.

A massive banner that was displayed Sunday during a nationally televised news conference kicking off the campaign to win popular approval for a rewritten version of Egypt’s constitution showed five people, at least three of whom turned out to be non-Egyptians.

Facebook and Twitter users swiftly posted links to stock photographs of the three, depicting a doctor, a businesswoman and a young man. 

The doctor appeared in an advertisement on a website that sells treatments for stretch marks.

The professional woman’s photograph turned out to be an image licensed for free use by Getty Images and was used on the home page of the website Network Ireland, a business network for Irish women.

The photo of the young man may have been taken from the Arizona-based AZ Business Magazine, which posted it in an article about a clinical trial for Down syndrome patients.

The two remaining figures -- a soldier and an elderly farmer -- appeared to be Egyptians, but their images carried no photo credits. To make matters worse, the slogan on the banner contained a spelling mistake in the Arabic version, with one letter missing from the word for “Egyptians” -- “Masreyeen.”

Social media users had a field day, posting satirical Photoshopped versions of the banner. But commentators also complained of unprofessionalism and disrespect in a banner meant to call attention to crucial national decision-making. Egyptians are to vote on the amended constitution in a referendum that will be held Jan. 14 and 15.

"Maybe they are promoting a constitution for all Irishmen, not all Egyptians," one user wrote sarcastically on his Facebook page.

"What type of a constitution will that be if they can't even portray photographs of real Egyptians?" another tweeted.

The head of the state information service, which organized the event, apologized Monday for what he called an “unintended error.”

"The banner was sent to us by an organization advertising the constitution, and we will open an investigation with the person responsible for revising the banner before it was displayed," Amgad Abdel Ghaffar told official Egyptian media.

Hassan is a special correspondent.