That ’70s president

There’s a culture war playing out in Egypt these days over the degree to which Islam should be part of the country’s political life. But in interviews with foreign journalists, President Mohamed Morsy keeps reaching for another cultural touchstone — life in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s. The latest example comes ...

AHMED MAHMUD/AFP/GettyImages
AHMED MAHMUD/AFP/GettyImages
AHMED MAHMUD/AFP/GettyImages

There's a culture war playing out in Egypt these days over the degree to which Islam should be part of the country's political life. But in interviews with foreign journalists, President Mohamed Morsy keeps reaching for another cultural touchstone -- life in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The latest example comes in an interview with Morsy published in the Globe and Mail. "You are too young to remember [Walter] Cronkite, I think," the president said, before adopting the CBS Evening News anchorman's famous sign-off to drive home a point about Egyptian politics: "That's the way it is."

Morsy's familiarity with this period should come as little surprise, as he moved to the United States in 1978 to pursue an engineering Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. The Vietnam War drama The Deer Hunter -- a three-hour epic about the destructive effects of war on the human psyche -- was released the same year. As Shadi Hamid wrote in his FP profile of the Egyptian president, Morsy indicated his familiarity with the film -- and even did "an impromptu impression of a former U.S. president."

There’s a culture war playing out in Egypt these days over the degree to which Islam should be part of the country’s political life. But in interviews with foreign journalists, President Mohamed Morsy keeps reaching for another cultural touchstone — life in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The latest example comes in an interview with Morsy published in the Globe and Mail. "You are too young to remember [Walter] Cronkite, I think," the president said, before adopting the CBS Evening News anchorman’s famous sign-off to drive home a point about Egyptian politics: "That’s the way it is."

Morsy’s familiarity with this period should come as little surprise, as he moved to the United States in 1978 to pursue an engineering Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. The Vietnam War drama The Deer Hunter — a three-hour epic about the destructive effects of war on the human psyche — was released the same year. As Shadi Hamid wrote in his FP profile of the Egyptian president, Morsy indicated his familiarity with the film — and even did "an impromptu impression of a former U.S. president."

Finally, who can forget Morsy’s interview with TIME magazine, where he references a scene in the 1968 science fiction film Planet of the Apes to implore mankind to build a more just society. The president even knew that there had been a remake of the film, and that the Mark Wahlberg vehicle didn’t live up to the original. "There is a new one," he told the interviewers. "Which is different. Not so good. It’s not expressing the reality as it was the first one."

You can read too much into these throwaway cultural references, but it does appear that Morsy is most familiar with a low point in 20th-century U.S. history. The Vietnam War, the lack of trust in America’s political leadership following Richard Nixon’s resignation, and the Cold War’s looming threat of nuclear annihilation — those would have been inescapable realities confronting Morsy as he arrived in California in the late 1970s. In his Globe and Mail interview, the president compared Egypt’s current difficulties to the 1973 oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis — two more events that highlighted America’s economic and political vulnerabilities.

Of course, Morsy stayed in the United States long enough to see the election of Ronald Reagan. Does the Egyptian president see any parallels between himself and the conservative icon who promised to restore his nation to greatness? If Morsy keeps talking to foreign reporters, some day we may just find out.

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