A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Egypt: Never Say No to Panda the Constitution

The new Egyptian Constitution being voted on yesterday and today is a lengthy and complex document. Many polls and voter interviews show that most of its supporters have not actually read it. I've skimmed it and read multiple analyses and, given the realities of Egypt today, it may even be a fairly decent document. If I were Egyptian I might very well vote yes.

But what bothers me is that in a supposedly democratic referendum, calling for a boycott got you branded as suspicious and calling for a "no" vote has actually gotten some people arrested. On day one the well-known 2011 revolutionary and April 6 Movement activist Israa Abdel Fattah was reportedly attacked at her voting precinct by women hitting her with slippers, and was escorted away by security guards. Despite the fact that the day opened with a bombing of  a courthouse in Imbaba, most accounts say the crowds in the streets were ecstatic and celebratory. If it hadn't already been a referendum said to be about the "June 30 revolution" (though really about the "July 3 coup," though the two are not identical), General Sisi's recent remarks about a Presidential run if there's a decisive result sent the Sisi cult into high gear.

As I was trying to figure out how to comment on this, my teenage daughter in a totally unrelated context brought up the "Never Say No to Panda" TV commercials for Panda Cheese on Egyptian TV which went viral on YouTube and were shared by lots of people who had no idea they were from Egypt. In them, if someone declines Panda Cheese, a rather menacing panda variously smashes car windows, destroys an office, or even pulls out a hospital patient's IV tubes. A curious way to sell cheese, but selling the constitution isn't that much more subtle. The concluding line in each commercial is la tala'hasha (colloquial Egyptian for don't say no to it," translated as "Don't say no to the Panda." Or the constitution.

YouTube's best 7 Panda Cheese ads:

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