By Philip Whitfield
Gettysburg 1863: Government of the people, by the people, for the people. Ashen, sick as a dog, Abraham Lincoln barely lasted another 15 months on earth. The wireman was away supping. Missed the iconic two minutes: 271 words of epigrammatically pithy eloquence: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty…The hack cabled: The president also spoke.
Cairo 26 March 2014: The autocue scrolled a 1,255-worded carefully crafted composition, including: I stand before you in my military uniform for the last time – a commander’s thoughtful occlusion: Might bearing humility.
Among the smitten bewildered bawabs – blabbermouths bewitched and bowled over down my alley – were stunned by an orator whose soft speak quells the rowdydows quicker than tear gas.
The self-abnegating harbinger entreats: No one can become president of Egypt against the will of the people… I cannot make miracles… the circumstances are not in our favour. It’s the speech maker’s Rule of Three: Three sections: Intro, body and conclusion; three ideas winding up with stirring patriotism.
Introduction: No one can become president etc. Terse, laced with the titbit he joined the Cadets knee high to a grasshopper. (Inclines the dubious to trust.)
The three-point body: We, Egyptians…have reached the limit that requires an honest and brave confrontation of challenges. (Cognitive dissonance i.e. we’re in doo-doo.) Egyptians deserve to lead a life of dignity, security and freedom (aka human rights). And a debatable paradigm: We’re all in the same boat. (Really? First-class cabin, felucca, yacht or yawl?)
We could be picky about Sisi’s pinch of pleonasm: I stand before you to say true and genuine words… (must one repose to lie?) Plagiarism is a high form of flattery. Obama: You understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. (Tut-tut, Mr President, amateur’s sloppiness. Enormity is OK if you’re describing your heinous war crimes. Not OK when you meant enormousness)
Sisi: Our country is facing monumental challenges while our economy is weak… and everyone must know that this is a decisive moment Catch the union bashing? Every Egyptian able to work will be required (obligated) to exert real efforts… Check out The Atlantic.
Obama: What we’ve already achieved (Guantanamo?) gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. Sisi: I will speak about hope … hope that is the outcome of hard work.
Hope’s like daydreaming in the grocery aisle (food and beverage inflation was up 19% last month; 16% in March. according to the Ministry of Finance’s March stats). I counted six hopes in Sisi’s speech and only three we’s. Obama sprinkles hopes and we’s like a farmer spraying potash on barren soil.
Before kyboshing khaki, Sisi’s call to arms was noble: I promise that we (he cut the people and inserted together, and pasted in leadership and people before ‘can achieve stability, safety and hope.’)
He needs a crackerjack stump speech now. Pundits surmised policy was absent. Not at all. Its presence was covert, which you’d expect from the national spymaster-cum-defence boss. When Sisi said: We’d rather die before Egyptians are terrorized, that’s a catchall for: Listen up woozies I’ve plonked 26,000 of your kind in the Big House, if you want out, let’s deal. If not, we’re going for Kalashnikovs against your AK-47s.
Down the pike, he must have in mind an amnesty for debauchee émigrés squandering their stashes in London. He was telling skedaddles: Reappear amid booty. Cooperate with the inducted asset recovery lawyers kicking their heels here. Cough up and clack and you can snooze in your own beds.
He threw down the gauntlet: We have open arms to everybody here or abroad declaring that any Egyptian not indicted by the law (ratified Rabi’ al-awwal Constitution)that we all abide by is an active partner in making the future with no limits or restraints.
Amnesties free rock crushers who allocate and pledge to be good lads. The way Sisi alluded to that was: A ruler cannot succeed alone … it takes the joint effort of both the ruler and the people to succeed.
In case you blinked and missed the point, a soldier flack inserted a boldface sub-heading in the handout: Future ‘a joint effort’.
Sisi deferred to the Rule of Three formula for Egypt PLC trying to avoid insolvency. The flapping (did the Arabic mean flipping, flagging or flailing? English often renders Egyptian Arabic goofily) state systems that cannot perform their duties need rebuilding. Production has to resume in all sectors to save our country real dangers. (Whack the workshy.) The State needs to regain its posture and power that suffered much in the past period of time.
Interpretation: Egypt is shelling out EGP 13 billion a year on 26,000 so-called consultants – retired bureaucrats with bulging wads worth EGP 40,000 to 50,000 plus monthly perks and expenses waffling at the water cooler.
A contract between the ruler and the people etc. Here we go again mauling Mahalla. Next time use covenant instead of the legally nice contract. Covenant chimes with the God of the Age of the Enlightenment when thought was in and gab was out.
About the State regaining its posture was dispatched neatly: What Egypt witnessed in the last years … made this country occasionally trespassed (fab word, as were disrespect and intrusion. Wow! We all know he was poking British imperialism.)
Good got better: This is an esteemed country … disrespecting Egypt is an adventure with consequences … Egypt is not a playground for any internal, regional or international party … and will never be.
The legates purpled up. He was saying the USA, EU and its components are Yesterday’s Men. Sisi meant our new best buddies are in the Kremlin and Beijing. In case I missed it a boldface sub-heading on the handoutread: Intrusion must stop.
Did you catch his zinger? Sisi:We need our motherland for all its children with no alienation, exclusion or discrimination. (Gender equality? A woman vice president or prime minister? That’ll wipe the smirk off the faces of the Brothers in Tora)
Statesmanlike speech, Abdel Fattah, at this time and in this place besting Abe’s. He cribbed his from one of his law firm partner’s lectures: Democracy is direct self-government, over all the people, for all the people, by all the people.Your words enunciated principles to end the bloody butchery.
Lincoln’s hometown paper the Chicago Tribune called the Gettysburg Address “dishwatery”. Sir, yours is a watershed.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.