Things Get Awkward with Mohamed Mursi

A protester, who opposes Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, shouts slogans while holding a cross and a Koran as he stands on top of a burnt riot police vehicle at Tahrir Square in Cairo 15 February 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

By: Mohammad Khawly

Published Saturday, February 16, 2013

Whether caught glancing at his watch or publically ‘adjusting’ himself, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi is not the smoothest public figure. An Egyptian news outlet reports that those close to him have suggested an etiquette course to help him break his bad habits.

It seems that the Egyptian presidential institution can no longer tolerate President Mohamed Mursi’s endless blunders. Lately, Mursi’s ignorance of diplomatic etiquette has become the subject of popular jokes and the main attraction in “Albernameg,” the widely popular political satire program presented by Bassem Youssef on CBC every week.

Citing sources in the presidency, Egyptian daily Youm7 reported on 14 February 2013 that “the presidency is currently considering the employment of foreign experts in etiquette and protocol to assist the president. [Of particular concern] is how he can overcome the obstacles faced in his dealings with heads of state and officials around the world, especially in European countries.”

The sources also revealed to Youm7 that the Presidential Office contacted several establishments and consultants specializing in etiquette and protocol in London and Washington.

Although the news spread quickly on social media sites, the institution of the presidency did not issue a retraction or denial. This could mean that the presidency is in fact taking such a step.

It is enough to look back at Mursi’s speeches, as well as his gaffes in meetings with foreign dignitaries, to understand why such measures would be necessary.

One of Mursi’s initial mistakes was in his very first speech as president in Tahrir Square. After claiming to represent all Egyptians, he attacked the 1960s era of Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The statement backfired and he was criticized for beginning his presidential term by attacking a late president who still enjoys a great deal of popularity.

His public speech blunders are, nevertheless, only part of the problem. Mursi licks his finger before flipping a page from his notes and or holds it up in a manner that makes it seem as if he was threatening. He often digresses into tangents, like saluting the governors of Egyptian provinces one by one, by name and profession.

Possibly his biggest slip-up, however, took place during his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during his first visit to the UN. Broadcast on Australian Channel 10, the presenter asked viewers to take notice of Mursi ‘adjusting’ himself while sitting next to the prime minister. He kept touching himself in front of everyone and the television cameras.

The missteps during his foreign visits multiplied. During a meeting with former US president Bill Clinton, he snorted on air. At a press conference in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel on 30 January 2013, he was photographed looking at his watch.

“I can’t believe he is not able to control himself. Scandals every time he leaves the country. Maybe he’s happy with his new watch or it’s time to take the pill and the alarm rang. Maybe his pilot told him that if he does not arrive on time, he will leave him,” was one comment on social media.

Also in Germany, he mixed English and Arabic, which was ridiculed by many in a meme featuring a quip from the popular play “el-Eyal Kibrit,” where Egyptian actor Said Saleh mocks his father saying, “Is this English, Mursi?”

Due to the regularity of the errors, their impact on his image, and to avoid recurrence in similar situations, it seems the presidential institution will enroll Mursi in an extensive etiquette course related to dignitaries and heads of states.

The many mistakes made by Mursi since assuming his position early last summer has been a subject of debate. Although Mursi lived in the US for several years as a student, he rarely mixed with non-Arabs and only cared about his studies. Other observers do not see many leadership qualities in him.

When he announced his candidacy for the Egyptian presidency last year, many called him “the spare” [tire], after the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to replace its original candidate Khairat al-Shater when he was found ineligible to run on account of his mother being a US citizen.

Yet it was his performance that contributed to his image. Recently, members of the opposition began sharing two recordings of Mursi prior to his electoral victory.

“I worked as a consultant on rocket ship engines in NASA for a long period of time,” Mursi claimed in the first. But in another recording broadcast on religious channels, he denied ever saying this. “I never said or wrote that I worked in NASA and there is nothing in my resume that says that, but I did do some research on issues related to the US space shuttle that NASA was building. This research had some applications and benefits to NASA at the time.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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