Tuesday, January 04, 2011

"Three Decades of a CIA/MOSSAD Joke That Just Won't Die"

"... When Mubarak came to power after Sadat's assassination, he was received with a mixture of relief and skepticism -- relief because he appeared to be a steadier hand than Sadat, who grew increasingly paranoid in the year before his death, and skepticism because Mubarak was the opposite of anything like the charismatic leadership that Sadat and Nasser embodied. Mubarak was also, at least early on, something of a joker himself. Not long into his reign, he quipped that he had never expected to be appointed vice president. "When I got the call from Sadat," he told an interviewer, "I thought he was going to make me the head of EgyptAir." Anyone "in the know" knows that Mubarak could not survive one day in power...., without daily CIA/MOSSAD help in keeping him fully in control of Egypt's power reigns...., and of the total economic/financial/Media stranglehold of his cronies.....and his unique party and the utterly fabricated elections in Egypt for decades...., exactly like Syria's power structure of the minority Alawite Mafia in Damascus.....
For decades many derided Mubarak as "La Vache Qui Rit" -- after the French processed cheese that appeared in Egypt in the 1970s along with the opening up of Egypt's markets -- because of his rural background and his bonhomie. The image that dominated Mubarak jokes during that period was that of an Egyptian archetype, the greedy and buffoonish peasant. One joke I remember well from the 1980s played off Mubarak's decision not to appoint a vice president after he ascended to the presidency: "When Nasser became president, he wanted a vice president stupider than himself to avoid a challenger, so he chose Sadat. When Sadat became president, he chose Mubarak for the same reason. But Mubarak has no vice president because there is no one in Egypt stupider than he is."
THE JOKES TURNED BITTER in the 1990s as Mubarak consolidated his power, started winning elections with more than 90 percent of the vote, and purged rivals in the military. One oft-retold story had Mubarak dispatching his political advisers to Washington to help with Bill Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign after the U.S. president admires Mubarak's popularity. When the results come in, it is Mubarak who is elected president of the United States.
But Mubarak jokes really settled into their current groove in the early 2000s, when Mubarak entered his mid-70s and a nationwide deathwatch began. One joke imagines a deathbed scene, the ailing Mubarak lamenting, "What will the Egyptian people do without me?" His advisor tries to comfort him: "Mr. President, don't worry about the Egyptians. They are a resilient people who could survive by eating stones!" Mubarak pauses to consider this and then tells the advisor to grant his son Alaa a monopoly on the trade in stones....
The Internet has opened new avenues for humor. One-line zingers that used to be circulated by text message are now exchanged on Twitter, while on Facebook fake identities and satirical fan pages have been established for the country's leading politicians. Widely circulated video mash-ups depict Mubarak and his entourage as the characters of a mafia movie or unlikely action heroes, including one spoofing a Star Wars poster with Mubarak standing in for the evil Emperor Palpatine.
But the bulk of today's jokes simply stress the tenacity with which Mubarak has held onto life and power. Hisham Kassem, a prominent publisher and liberal opposition figure, told me this recent joke:
Hosni Mubarak, Barack Obama, and Vladimir Putin are at a meeting together when suddenly God appears before them.
"I have come to tell you that the end of the world will be in two days," God says. "Tell your people."
So each leader goes back to his capital and prepares a television address.
In Washington, Obama says, "My fellow Americans, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I can confirm that God exists. The bad news is that he told me the world would end in two days."
In Moscow, Putin says, "People of Russia, I regret that I have to inform you of two pieces of bad news. First, God exists, which means everything our country has believed in for most of the last century was false. Second, the world is ending in two days."
In Cairo, Mubarak says, "O Egyptians, I come to you today with two pieces of excellent news! First, God and I have just held an important summit. Second, he told me I would be your president until the end of time."
Kassem quips that the Mubarak regime's main legacy may be an unparalleled abundance of derision about its leader. "Under Nasser, it was the elite whose property he had nationalized that told jokes about the president," he told me. "Under Sadat, it was the poor people left behind by economic liberalization who told the jokes. But under Mubarak, everyone is telling jokes."
Yet an increasing number of Egyptians no longer think their country's situation is all that funny, and they are turning the national talent for wit into a more aggressive weapon of political dissidence. The anti-Mubarak Kifaya movement has used humor most poignantly to protest the indignity of an entire country becoming a hand-me-down for the Mubarak family, as the leader presses on with plans to anoint his son Gamal as his heir. Other protesters complaining about the rising cost of living and stagnating salaries use cartoons to depict fat-cat politicians and tycoons pillaging the country. And since the beginning of 2010, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a potential presidential challenger, has become a symbol of the kind of dignified leadership the Egyptian opposition has sought for decades. Notably, he recently scolded Mubarak for an inappropriate joke about a ferry crash that killed more than 1,000 Egyptians in 2006.
But even if Egypt's democrats fail to prevent the inheritance of the presidency, they will certainly keep making fun of Mubarak's son Gamal. One epic satire comes in the form of a popular blog called Ezba Abu Gamal ("The Village of Gamal's Father"). The blog is a collection of entries, usually from the perspective of Abu Gamal, mayor of a small village. He is constantly being nagged by his wife to promote his son, about whom he has misgivings; he doesn't understand all this talk about reform and laptops and so on. It is a biting portrait for those initiated into the details of Egyptian politics. Mubarak's "cunning peasant" persona re-emerges and Gamal is depicted as a wet-behind-the-ears incompetent manipulated by his friends, while countless ministers and security chiefs make appearances as craven village officials. Were it publishable in Egypt, it would make a hilarious book. ..."