Wednesday, 19 January 2011

"Let Them Eat Phones"

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, one of the staunchest defenders of the Egyptian status quo, had another Marie-Antoinette moment in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday. Asked if events in Tunisia had any repercussions for countries such as Egypt, he said Egypt was doing fine because '60 million Egyptians have mobile phones'. That's rather like King Farouk in the 1950s saying all was well because the fellahin could afford to buy shoes. In fact it may even be worse. New mobile phones sell in Egypt for as little as 100 Egyptian pounds ($17), about three days' wages for an unskilled rural labourer. Second-hand ones are available at half that price. In 2005, when the United States was making noises about democracy in the Arab world, Aboul Gheit famously said he didn't like to use the word 'reform' because it implied that something was wrong and needed fixing. At the time even Mubarak was promising reform (though not much has happened since).

PS I know that Marie Antoinette probably never said "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", but the myth is irresistible.

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