“It is a very simple job. All you have to do is to wear this sheepskin for the first day of the feast. You just pretend to be me. In return, I will give you three bushels of hay — right after the feast. What do you say?” a sheep asked a donkey in an e-card posted mid November by Gamal Mubarak on his facebook page to wish visitors a happy Eid Al-Adha.
The play on words, and for that matter images, could be significant. After all, the sheep and the donkey drawn in the Gamal Mubarak postcard are standing before a house that carries obvious Egyptian symbols: a drawing of the pyramids, a replica of the head of Ramses II, and a pharaonic drawing. Not to mention the colors of the Egyptian flag around the doorway. The house, then, could be seen to symbolize Egypt — perhaps.
But who is the sheep who is trying to bluff the donkey by promising him a deal that would cost him his life, given that the offer is made before the first day of Eid where the sheep would be slaughtered as is Muslim practice in memory of the sacrifice of Abraham and his son Ismail (Yitzhak in the Bible)? Moreover, who is the donkey?
It might be unfair to stretch this typical Egyptian joke whereby we find a sheep resorting to one trick or another to escape an unwanted fate. “Reading too much into a simple joke is unhealthy. I have posted a similar postcard on my facebook page,” said Amany, a 34-year old construction engineer, asked to react to the young Mubarak card.
This was more or less the reaction of four others asked for their comment on the drawing. After all, it is just humor. Nonetheless, it does come at a very busy, and very political, time for Gamal Mubarak, the younger son of the president, assistant secretary general of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), and chair of its influential Policies Committee.
Until posting the cartoon, Gamal Mubarak had been busy making many a serious statement in the context of the launch of the NDP campaign for the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled 28 November. Speaking before a limited assembly of NDP leadership, who gathered at the Cairo Conference Centre on 10 November, Gamal Mubarak promised that the party would “continue” its hard work to make life easier for more Egyptians.
The Policies Committee chair also promised — like President Mubarak had himself before the same audience — that the economically disadvantaged and socially deprived would figure high on the list of priorities of the NDP for the 2010 parliamentary elections, under the slogan “So you can be confident over the future of your children” —which has replaced the original “For you” campaign slogan that had solicited some uncharitable interpretations by critics suggesting that it was “the NDP for Gamal” – or even "Egypt for Gamal".
This year, Gamal Mubarak is facing a situation where he would loath to be misread. His name has been associated with supposedly spontaneous campaigns that supported him as the NDP candidate for the 2011 presidential elections — even though the 82-year old president is entitled to run for a sixth term by the constitution, and had not announced any intention to end a period of rule he embarked upon in 1981.
Gamal Mubarak is also facing a situation whereby the names of some renowned Egyptians, especially that of Mohmaed El-Baradei, the Nobel Peace Laureate, were proposed as potential contenders should the incumbent president refrain from running and Gamal Mubarak come forward.
During the NDP gathering and in two subsequent television interviews, Gamal Mubarak sought to distance himself from much of what was said about him. “I have no personal ambitions, despite what some think,” Gamal Mubarak said in an indirect answer to questions about his alleged presidential aspirations. He added: “I don’t care for the campaigns” launched to support him as NDP presidential candidate, and that he does not even know the names of those who run those campaigns.
Indeed, during his NDP spot Gamal Mubarak was acting more like a moderator than a keynote speaker while he sat on a podium alongside NDP members Youssef Ghali, minister of finance, and Ahmed Maghrabi, minister of housing. And contrary to previously accepted tradition, neither Ghali nor Maghrabi referred to Gamal Mubarak as “Mr Gamal”. Ghali called him “Brother Gamal” and Maghrabi called him by his title of “chairman of the Policies Committee”.