The latest joke being told by Egyptians goes as follows:
President Mubarak’s assistants inform him that his son, Alaa, has gained considerable popularity after his televised remarks on the recent football crisis with Algeria–to the extent that the people would like to see him succeed his father as head-of-state. The notion vexes the president, as he has already reserved that post for his elder son, Gamal.
In an effort to avoid being unfair, the elder Mubarak consults the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar on the issue. The Grand Sheikh, however, does not have the answer, advising Mubarak to consult Coptic Pope Shenouda III, who, in turn, is stymied. The pope tells Mubarak to consult a monk–know for his wisdom–at a remote monastery in the desert.
The president summons the monk, who, with a smile, assures him that the problem is easily solved. "Yousry el-Gamal," the monk explains, "has the solution."
"The education minister?" the president asks, baffled.
"Yes," the monk answers. "Go to him and you’ll find I’m right."
So the minister is summoned and, after listening to Mubarak, tells the president that yes, there is a solution.
"What is it?" asks Mubarak.
"Mr. President," el-Gamal replies, "we solved the problem at our schools by dividing the school day into morning and evening shifts. The solution, therefore, is that Mr. Alaa can rule the country in the morning and Mr. Gamal can rule it in the evening."
"That’s fair, isn’t it?"
But while the joke may be over, the real-life dilemma goes on. Egyptians resort to jokes as an alternative to organized action, and sarcasm has become their only means of confronting the rising tide of hubbub over the issue of presidential "inheritance."
There’s a reason for the sarcasm. We shouldn’t forget that, in the wake of that damned football match–which media outlets in both countries turned into a war–some people suggested nominating Alaa Mubarak for the presidency.
It’s true that Alaa did not himself indulge the idea, which absolves him from some responsibility. But his emotional remarks–which lacked both diplomacy and courtesy–set the stage for the notion of an Alaa candidacy. This testifies to the immaturity of vast swathes of Egyptian society; an addiction to hypocrisy; a state of complete ignorance; and the lack of even a modicum of understanding.
And since the idea of an Alaa presidency betrays a sort of political naivety–if not absurdity–some sly observers saw it as a surreptitious means of rejecting Gamal’s anticipated nomination.
The notion also shows up the chaos and confusion currently wracking the ruling elite over the contentious issue of presidential succession.
This became even more obvious after International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei entered the fray–a development that turned things upside down. The man soon became the target of attacks by government-run papers and regime-affiliated institutions; criticism of ElBaradei by the media quickly became as commonplace as attacks on Algeria.
State-run papers even went so far as to accuse him of being a dual-national–a charge lacking any basis in fact–even though several members of the regime hold foreign passports themselves.
And who would believe that the Nobel Prize winner had been "a poor school student"–as was claimed by the official press–when he has received Egypt’s highest honor, the Nile Sash, usually reserved for kings and presidents?
Even his performance as IAEA director came under attack, with critics accusing him of having facilitated the invasion of Iraq through his reports on Saddam’s alleged stockpiles of "weapons of mass destruction."
This allegation is patently false, and can be refuted with documents showing that ElBaradei had followed his conscience in this regard, refusing to yield to pressure and blackmail by the George W. Bush administration. The man produced impartial reports that denied the Americans the pretext they sought to legitimize their neocolonial invasion.
Whether you agree or disagree with them, ElBaradei’s views are clear and well-defined–so why the intimidation tactics?
Unfortunately, no members of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party–except for MP Hossam Badrawi, to his credit–have stood up to condemn the biased and unprofessional media campaign against ElBaradei.
So for now, it seems, jokes will remain the one-and-only outlet for an increasingly frustrated Egyptian public.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.