A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kandil's Remarks with Subtitles, and a Subtext Many are Missing

If you've followed any Egyptian media or, even more so, Egyptian social networks the past couple of days you've probably already heard of Prime Minister Hesham Kandil's curious discourse which has generally been reported primarily for his comments that many infants in rural Egypt suffer from diarrhea because their mothers are ignorant and nurse them from "dirty breasts." Plenty of the Egyptian elite have contempt for Kandil, a seeming nonentity elevated to head of government by President Morsi but still seemingly something of a nonentity. Kandil's critics immediately went into a sort of Middle School level of humor (OMG! The PM talked about breasts!), while his supporters said he was in fact urging better hygiene. In fact, of course, most experts say that studies show infants who are breastfed in Third World countries have much lower instances of diarrhea than those fed on formula, because of the unreliability of the water supply. Given the fact that before he was elevated to the premiership, Kandil's job was as Minister of Water Resources, one might think he would know something about this.

What is really curious, however, is how he got to the subject of nursing infants in the first place. In answering a question about police brutality and the televised beating of a man (the "Hamada" he refers to), he launches into a discourse in which he says he is 99% sure that Hamada didn't pay his electric bill (???), then starts talking about the provincial town of Beni Suef south of Cairo, and how he himself has seen, in the 21st century, those women nursing with dirty breasts . . . in other words, in context, it makes even less sense. 

Now the  video below has captions in English which are clearly intended to embarrass Kandil, but as far as I can tell the translation is accurate. (I'd be more confident if it made any sense.) But what strikes me is that the real story is not that he said something stupid about women's breasts (which is both an unusual subject for an Egyptian Prime Minister and especially an Islamist one, which is why it was quickly pounced upon), but that he's also showing an enormous amount of condescension towards rural Egyptians. Since I criticized Mohamed ElBaradei in December when he tweeted about the illiteracy of the Egyptian voter, I need to be consistent and also criticize a Muslim Brotherhood (well, FJP Party at least) member who also disdains the rural voters who, in fact, supported his party. (I wonder how the party office in Beni Suef is feeling about this?) The urban elites are having so much fun making breast jokes in both Arabic and English that they've missed the real anti-rural bias visible in the comments. Anyway, see if you can follow the thread of the Prime Minister's reasoning in what follows.

1 comment:

Liminal Zones said...

Good point about the anti-rural bias which seems an especially short sighted PR move less than two months before elections. The Nour party seem to have picked up on this and are washing their hands of Qandil, with Nader Bakkar writing an opinion piece published in ahram online on friday feb 15th entitled "When will you resign?". Yesterday's security force shenanigans in Beni Suef, with the apparent kidnapping, beating to (near) death of a man in front of senior officials and subsequent kidnapping of him comatose from hospital will hardly have improved things there. Bottom line is though, as you've noted, no one is in a position to benefit as this anti-rural bias is shared by most urban dwellers and almost all politicians and social commentators.