A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hazemania: Candidate Abu Isma‘il's Poster Overkill Invites Parodies

Hazem Salah Abu Isma‘il is a popular Salafi preacher who is running for President of Egypt. To the surprise and alarm of many, his rallies are drawing large crowds and he is showing considerable charismatic skill in public speaking, despite taking rather extreme positions on hijab and other social issues. (See Khalil al-Anani's "The Advent of Informal Islamists.") Although his popularity may be overshadowed if the Muslim Brotherhood does field a candidate, he is enjoying his moment of fame. And now, he os enjoying his moment of being the butt of Internet jokes. He's become a meme in his own right.

Although the official campaigning period is still a few weeks away, Abu Isma‘il's supporters put up campaign posters this week. No, I mean they really put up campaign posters this week. Everywhere:

Before I start stealing the great creations of a lot of clever people, I should note that the phenomenon has been written up in the last couple of days by Global Voices and by The Egypt Independent, both of which have many illustrations, and there's a Facebook  page (in Arabic) for mock Abu Isma‘il posters. Of course there's a Twitter hashtag, #AbuIsmail (and perhaps others). There's also a Tumblr of "Abo Ismail Doing Stuff," which is slightly different but in a similar vein. Many of these that follow appear in several of those sites, so I credit them collectively.

Though this has swept the Egyptian social media in a little over 48 hours, there are dissenters: someon Twitter are alarmed that the Abu Isma‘il mania is giving the man free publicity and may even help his campaign. Needless to say, the creators of these parodies are not likely to vote for the man,

The sometimes ingenious, sometimes hilarious (and often neither, which I'm not including here) include the fairly predictable:

 ... Obama's complaining someone put a poster on his car, and of course the George Washington painting on the oval office wall has changed a bit ..

Then there are historical references:  the cornerstone of the Qasr al-Nil bridge ...

and cultural ones ...

Then there's the new design for the Egyptian one pound note:

Some of the jokes are a bit meta, in that they invoke other Internet themes. Some readers may remember a bit over a year ago, just before and after the fall of Husni Mubarak, all the talk about "the guy behind ‘Omar Suleiman." "The guy" was a military officer who stood behind the then Vice President in his last few appearances, including the announcement of Mubarak's departure. Not identified at the time, it wasn't clear if he was Suleiman's bodyguard, or his minder, to make sure he said what he was told to say. He seems to have been SCAF's man.

Well, yes, you guessed it. The Guy Behind ‘Omar Suleiman is back:

Nor has Field Marshal Tantawi been forgotten:

If you browse through the sites linked above, you may be mystified by a large number of them involving Pepsi Cola: Pepsi bottles, Pepsi cans, versions of the Pepsi logo, etc. These all refer to one of Abu Isma‘il's more dubious achievements: a TV talk in which he asserted that "Pepsi" was an acronym for "Pay Every Penny Saving Israel." No, I am not making that up. I don't like quoting MEMRI since they tend to cherry-pick the Arab broadcasts they translate in order to show the most offensive, most lunatic, and most anti-Israeli, but since this talk is all three of those things and let you hear Abu Isma‘il's discussion in the original and with subtitles, I'll make an exception:

That should help explain this:

And one of my own favorites, this:

Actually, if you watch the video, he doesn't approve of Coke either, but it's funny.

So will this ridicule help puncture Abu Isma‘il's rising political balloon, or is all publicity good publicity?

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