A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 11, 2011

An End to "Ma‘alesh"?

Generations of Egyptians and expatriates living in Egypt have joked about the "IBM syndrome," from the standard phrase " inshallah bukra, ma‘alesh." (Literally, "Tomorrow if God wills, don't worry about it.") Usually accompanied by a shrug, it was associated with the stereotype of an Egyptian people who were passive, fatalistic, resigned to the inevitable. Like all stereotypes, it is both offensive and has a kernel of truth, or has had. (Typical joke: an Egyptian explains to a Mexican friend that " inshallah bukra is like mañana, but without the desperate urgency.")

But the stereotype of Egyptians as resigned to the inevitable, as putting things off until tomorrow, as a people who shrug and say ma‘alesh because there's nothing to be done against an unresponsive state, may be gone forever. Mubarak's speech last night was fatally tone deaf to what has been going on, but never more so than in his condescending remark at the beginning that he was speaking as a father to his children. He clearly didn't get it, and the complete cluelessness of the tone may have done more than anything to bring about today's result. They're not your children, Mr. ex-President, they're your employers.

I hope the Military Council understands that they are temporary stewards of the people in the square, not the new rulers. If they misunderstand, the square will fill again. As so many have said, the fear is gone. The Egyptian people have learned they can control their fate. I do not think they will settle for a change of pharaohs.

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