The Middle East Channel

Three decades of a joke that just won’t die

What would happen if you spent 30 years making fun of the same man? What if for the last decade, you had been mocking his imminent death — and yet he continued to stay alive, making all your jokes about his immortality seem a bit too uncomfortably close to the truth? Egyptians, notorious for their ...

Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

What would happen if you spent 30 years making fun of the same man? What if for the last decade, you had been mocking his imminent death — and yet he continued to stay alive, making all your jokes about his immortality seem a bit too uncomfortably close to the truth?

Egyptians, notorious for their subversive political humor, are currently living through this scenario: Hosni Mubarak, their octogenarian president, is entering his fourth decade of rule, holding on to power and to life through sheer force of will. Egyptian jokers, who initially caricatured their uncharismatic leader as a greedy bumpkin, have spent the last 10 years nervously cracking wise about his tenacious grasp on the throne. Now, with the regime holding its breath as everyone waits for the ailing 82-year-old Mubarak to die, the economy suffering, and people feeling deeply pessimistic about the future, the humor is starting to feel a little old.

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Issandr Amrani is an independent journalist and political analyst based in Cairo. He blogs at www.arabist.net.