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Egyptian Politics Has Gone So Crazy It Needs a New Word to Explain It

CAIRO — During the height of Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy, author Saad Eddine Ibrahim crafted a new word to describe his country’s plight: Egypt, he said, was now a jumlukiya. The neologism combined the Arabic word for "republic" (jumhuriya) and "monarchy" (malakiya) — conveying the idea that though Egypt was technically still governed by republican institutions, ...

MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GettyImages

CAIRO — During the height of Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy, author Saad Eddine Ibrahim crafted a new word to describe his country’s plight: Egypt, he said, was now a jumlukiya. The neologism combined the Arabic word for "republic" (jumhuriya) and "monarchy" (malakiya) — conveying the idea that though Egypt was technically still governed by republican institutions, the state was increasingly at the whims of Mubarak, his sons, and those in his "court."

At another moment of crisis, Egyptians have coined a new term: sandooqratiye, a combination of the words sandooq ("[ballot] box") and demoqratiye ("democracy"). Groups opposed to deposed President Mohamed Morsy have popularized the term to convey what they see as the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach to governance — that winning an election gives one free reign to remake society and government however you see fit. The implicit message is that Egypt under Morsy was a distorted form of democracy — not the real thing.

The word’s creator appears to be columnist Amr Ezzat, who penned an article for al-Masry al-Youm in March using the term. In the column, Ezzat noted presciently that Egyptians were "engaging in a wide and open dialogue around a proposed military coup" to rid themselves of the Brotherhood.

"Despite my disdain for calls to the army to step in, I don’t believe the authoritarian Islamists are any more democratic than the authors of these calls, perhaps only more ‘boxocratic,’ he wrote. "Authoritarian Islamists are … abusing the very origin of the idea of democracy via ballot boxes, which drives another panic-stricken party to cast off the entire democratic process."

Essam el-Haddad, Morsy’s point man on foreign policy, addressed this argument directly in his final statement before the army seized power and detained him at an unknown location. "Many have seen fit in these last months to lecture us on how democracy is more than just the ballot box," he wrote. "That may indeed be true. But what is definitely true is that there is no democracy without the ballot box."

If Egypt continues at this rate, its citizens will no doubt have more opportunities to coin fresh terms that describe the political dysfunction all around them. 

David Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq. @davidkenner

Tag: Egypt

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