Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Michelin to Mr Hyde

Among his critics both mild and harsh, Morsi’s image as president has been irreversibly shaken, Dina Ezzat reports

Egypt
Egypt
Al-Ahram Weekly

“I know you have so much to put up with and I know we have a very tight budget but I have to have private lessons because listening to the teacher in the classroom is exactly like listening to the speeches of the president — I understand nothing, I swear.” This is what a school child is saying to his parents in a cartoon printed on the front page of the daily Al-Tahrir on Tuesday morning.

Edited by Ibrahim Eissa, a long-time critic of the Hosni Mubarak regime and an all but concealed sympathiser with Ahmed Shafik, the adversary of Mohamed Morsi in the second round of last summer’s presidential elections, Al-Tahrir is by far a leading name in the firm anti-Morsi media camp.

Of late, this wide and expanding camp, in and out of the media, has been as harsh on President Morsi than anything that appears on the pages of Al-Tahrir or any other anti-Morsi paper or satellite channel.

Social media is full of Morsi ridicule. The president has, during the first few weeks of his presidency which started on 1 July last year, lost the “Michelin” title, which associated him with a spare tyre in reference to his late joining of the presidential race as a backup to Khairat Al-Shater, the second and strongest man of the Muslim Brotherhood but who had to drop out of presidential contention for a past criminal record. However, during the past few months, Morsi is re-emerging as a subject of even more consistent and harsher ridicule.

Critics have been making parallels between Morsi and some of the silliest characters of Egyptian comedies including that of Younis Shalabi, a comedian who played the role of an undisciplined and unfocussed high school student who fails to make any sense when he talks and whose chances are improved by the mere virtue of being the son of the school headmaster. Other comparisons have included Sharara, a leading character of a farce soap opera of the 1970s whose name is associated with ill-fortune.

This week, as the president was receiving an honorary PhD in philosophy by a leading Pakistani University there was the parallel with Salama, a leading character of the 1937 film played by the leading comedian Naguib Al-Rihani, whereby an office boy of a department store is found in a situation by which he has to act like the emir of Kandahar in a twisted performance that solicited confusion.

“He has all it takes for a character not to be taken seriously,” criticised Mariam Ouf, a film director-writer and activist.

Ouf was never a Morsi fan, nor for that matter a sympathiser with political Islam in general. However, she says, “I still hoped he would make it when he was elected because ultimately he was the first president after the 25 January Revolution that we started to make this country a better place for all of us to live in.”

The hopes of Ouf were firmly and quickly shattered. “He is failing miserably; he does not make much sense when he speaks and one can hardly figure out the message he is trying to give in the midst of confused metaphors and endless displays of synonyms,” she said.

For a while, Ouf was not sure whether the president was Mr Hyde or was just being his “own helpless self –- a man who ran as a spare tyre and who is now supposed to be at the helm”. Ultimately, she decided that Morsi was just Michelin and not Mr Hyde, most probably because he has no Dr Jekyll side to him.

“He just happens to be playing a role that he is simply not fit for and the performance is supremely unconvincing,” Ouf said.

Morsi’s PR image problem is associated in the words of some of his aides and those of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party as un-inherent. It is, they say, a subsequent of a political miscalculation that started when on 22 November of last year, the president, caught in the midst of a battle against state bodies that he deemed adversary and conspiratorial, decided to shock the political norms and to grant himself provisional extra-judiciary powers.

“Before that day he was really well liked; people perceived him as a good ordinary man who relates to their problems and who was pious enough to spare no effort in doing the right thing. Unfortunately, things have changed and the good image was never reclaimed,” said an FJP member who spoke on condition of anonymity. Denying that Morsi is “widely ridiculed”, this FJP member says that there are some who make fun of the president through social media “but it is not a wide phenomenon by any means; yes his popularity is declining but what you would hear in the rural areas is certainly very different from what people say around Cairo”.

According to establishment aides, Morsi’s image problem is basically the outcome of his failure and that of his group to resort to efficient state bodies in some key tasks.

“When they insist that it is the Muslim Brotherhood representatives at the presidency who observes the final cut of the president’s recorded speeches then we end up with some serious image problems because those who are doing the job are simply not trained to do it,” said one presidential source. He added, “they don’t trust us and they say we keep our loyalty to the ousted regime but then they could solicit the help of some really well trained PR people; they are not doing so either.”

Last Thursday, the president made a less than seven-minute speech addressed to the people of Port Said whereby he was supposed to be appealing to their sympathy in a bid to contain the anger of the city who is symbolically disassociating itself from the central state. The speech was full of editing goofs and it recalled the unfortunate TV interview that the president gave three weeks ago which appeared at well after midnight — with a six-hour delay from the announced time — and was also full of amateurish editing.

Then on Friday, the president decided to conduct his Friday prayers alongside anti-riot police and to make a statement that openly qualified police forces, whose brutality against protesters during the 18 days of the 25 January Revolution and beyond are still investigated, as “being at the heart of the revolution” — a statement that was edited out in the replay of the speech on state-run TV.

“Honestly, I was shocked when I heard him saying that. Of all the silly things that he has been saying, I was most shocked to hear him say that,” said Perihane, an activist. She added that, “to add insult to injury Morsi went on camera inspecting the new anti-riot acquisitions of armoured vehicles that have been used to attack demonstrators — what a shame”.

The week continued with more image issues. On Saturday, the president had to reschedule his programme during a one-day visit to the Upper Egypt governorate of Sohag that had massively voted for him during the presidential elections, to escape angry protesters. And on Monday, he arrived in Pakistan that was immediately hit by an earthquake and terrorist attacks.

“It is not funny to associate the presidential visit with an earthquake in a country that is prone to tremors or with a terrorist attack in a country that has a long history of terror but if this is to signal something that the president and his group needs to take into consideration it is the mere fact that there is considerable contempt over the presidential performance that he has been associated with whatever ill-fortune there might be,” said Ayman Al-Sayyad, a former advisor to the president who resigned in the wake of the 22 November political crisis.

Al-Sayyad is not willing to blame Morsi’s performance for problems ranging from rampant insecurity to the firmly declining economy on the basis that there was inevitable deterioration under the rule of ousted Hosni Mubarak. However, he is determined to blame him, and for that matter the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP, “for a performance that fails to acknowledge the very important fact that Morsi was elected president in the wake of a revolution that ousted a dictator and announced very clear demands that are still to be met by the new ruler who needs to firmly refrain from any dictatorial signs to which the public is hyper-sensitive”.

For Al-Sayyad, Morsi “who is yet to successfully show that he has lived up to his promise of being a president to all Egyptians” needs to also make sure that his image is spared from the errors committed by members of the Muslim Brotherhood/FJP or other sympathisers.

But above all, argues Amr Salama, a film director-writer and activist, the president needs to “stop telling us lies and to realise that we are not all members of the Muslim Brotherhood who would sympathise and agree with him for whatever he provides us”.

Morsi’s body language and speech skills are things that Salama and Ouf insist need much hard work and training. “If he needs to rehearse his speeches for example then let him do it,” said Ouf. And, added Salama, “if he needs a body language trainer then he should get one.”

However, both Ouf and Salama are of one mind: good speech will not make up for lack of good policies.

“When we took to the streets to demonstrate against Mubarak, who was not known really for speaking either — although he was not half as bad as Morsi — we were not in search of a charismatic leader but in search of a better life for all Egyptians,” Ouf said.

For Salama, “Mubarak would have been as severely ridiculed had social media been as much in vogue during his rule as they are now and had there been less inhibitions then as now.” He added, “for me the obvious source of ridicule comes from his policies and decisions; the character performance is only an added factor.”

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