Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bonbon for the People

The new Prime Minister of Egypt is a very sophisticated man. Mr. Shafiq can’t finish most of his sentences in Arabic. He searches for the words, and his English comes to the rescue faster than his Arabic.
I have to confess that among a certain group of my friends, Arabic and English are consumed in equal measures. There are ideas, concepts and expressions that are better found in one of the two languages more than the other. Like Spanglish in the US, in Egypt we have Arabish, and more often we have what I term “Englic” when the English is more dominant than the Arabic.
The prime minister says that president has to leave in a “respectful way”, and he uses the English language to express that, though there are many good, solid, easy Arabic words to express the notion of respectful. A friend suggested that since most Egyptians don’t understand English we can convince the public that what Mr. Shafiq said means the president has to leave immediately, or dragged out of office!  
The PM’s pompous attitude and language are generally condescending, not just toward the population, but even in his dealings with the journalists, media, and even when referring to his own cabinet.
He recently said in a television interview that demonstrators could hang out in the square if they wish, like people do in Hyde Park, and he’d bring them food, tea and “bonbon” as well. He didn’t use the French word “bonbon”, he used an Egyptian word derived from it “bombony”. But regardless of the language he chose, his attitude infuriated many people. His belittling comment is insulting a popular revolution that is changing the course of history. Suggesting that the millions gathered in the square are kids that he could appease with some sweets, is very arrogant!
In the next few days, the security around the square allowed so many street vendors to enter the square. There are people selling all sorts of sandwiches, biscuits, making tea etc. The intense atmosphere of defiance has been diluted, with people calling out for their merchandize, kids selling cigarettes, or cards to charge cell phone. If you don’t follow the crowds shouting or chanting together: “Go Mubarak Go”, or “The People Want to Topple the Regime” you could easily mistake the large crowd for a street fair. Especially with a couple of carts selling fresh popcorn and oven baked sweet potatoes by the main entrance to the Square.
I guess the shrewd Prime Minister was not just trying to annoy the demonstrators by saying he will bring us “bombony”. He was up to his word and there are many vendors selling it inside the heart of the revolution, sweating up the square. Now we are only missing the cotton candy!
9 Feb 2011

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