A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 25, 2013

President Morsi's Tin Ear (or Incredible Bad Judgtment) Strikes Again

Back when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was ruling Egypt we frequently had to address the question of whether the SCAF was genuinely oppressive or just mind-bogglingly incompetent. Since the ascendancy of Muhammad Morsi, there is accumulating evidence that, while he may lean toward the first, he is exceptional at the second. I could go back and enumerate the incidents since last summer when he has said the wrong thing at a time that demanded diplomacy. Sometimes it's a gesture or the absence of one — skipping the funeral of the dead border troops or the enthronement of the Coptic Pope — or stupid denials for his Brotherhood constituency (denying that Egypt thanked Israeli President Shimon Peres for Ramadan greetings, though Israel published the greetings delivered by the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv), and many instances of Mr. Morsi saying things that alienate people. His foot in mouth disease has not abated, unless hejust really doesn't care,

Yesterday, Morsi was speaking to a conference dedicated to an Initiative to Support Women's Rights and Freedoms. Please note that audience. Over the past few days there had been a series of clashes between the Brotherhood and its opponents around the MB headquarters in Muqattam. These descended into violent clashes, with each side blaming the other. Morsi chose the opportunity of his  public speech to denounce those who riot and use violence as seditious, and to promise extraordinary measures if the troubles continued. So far, pretty standard rhetoric and bluster. Both Husni Murbarak and. after him, SCAF, used to then blame foreign hands, "outside agitators," agents of some foreign power. The rhetoric may suggest, or even name, Israel and/or the US, or (under Mubarak) Iran, or (today) the UAE. Morsi didn't name names, but he used a rather bizarre, and arguably indelicate, image in evoking outside meddling. The Egypt Independent:
President Mohamed Morsy threatened Sunday that “whoever sticks his finger inside Egypt, I will cut it off.”
“I can see a couple of fingers getting inside by nobodies who have no value in this world, thinking that money can make them men,” Morsy went on in a remark that could have sexual connotations in Egyptian dialect, something that has raised criticism and led to a wave of jokes on social networking websites.
Let's come back to those "sexual connotations in Egyptian dialect" in a moment. Here's another version:
"No one in our neighborhood wants this nation to stand on its feet. I will cut off any finger that meddles in Egypt," he said alluding to alleged foreign interference. "I can see two or three fingers that are meddling inside," he said without elaborating.
Longtime readers of this blog, and most Egyptians (especially Egyptian women) should see the problem immediately. Consider:

1) President Morsi is addressing a women's rights conference.

2) This is a delicate subject. Almost nothing has angered Egyptian women more than the so-called "virginity tests" administered to unmarried female demonstrators two years ago, in which the army manually examined the women to determine if they were virgins, by, essentially, inspecting them digitally. Neither Morsi nor the Muslim Brotherhood had anything to do with that, but (while the courts denounced it and the Army said it won't do it any more), no one has ever been convicted in the violations which Egyptian women justly equate with digital rape. (There's a cruder two-word term, alliterative, that starts with "finger.")

3) Now, class, can anyone tell me why many Egyptian women might find it offensive when their President, speaking to a women's rights conference, might use imagery like "a couple of fingers getting inside" and "two or three fingers that are meddling inside"? As the Egyptian Independent article delicately puts it, it's "a remark that could have sexual connotations in Egyptian dialect."

Two questions:

1) Is there any language in which it  doesn't have sexual connotations?

2) Is Morsi: a) a misogynist deliberately insulting his audience; b) a failed comedian; c) didn't realize what he said because he is too c1) dumb, c2) incompetent, c3) naive, c4) the Manchurian candidate, or c5) all of the above?

For those who know Arabic:

No comments: