The waning age of leaders, oh my!

Azza Radwan Sedky
Thursday 1 Dec 2016

Whereas in the past leaders always carried certain characteristics, standing out with grace and decorum, now it is a different matter, in all but a few instances

The president was predominantly male, not that I would have issues with a female one but that’s how the stereotypical template went. With vast political experience, he had served his country in other official posts, maybe even in uniform. He carried himself with dignity and decorum while exuding a special aura. Age endowed him with vision and, in most cases, the wisdom and foreign affairs’ knowhow to take appropriate actions for the sake of his country.

This bygone president was expected to come free of baggage — no scandals, no wrongdoings. Not overly handsome, he was a family man at heart, with a supportive wife and an approximate of two smart-looking offspring, and he remained married to one spouse.

He had his speeches written for him by qualified advisors; impromptu speeches or the concept of “winging it” wasn’t the norm. In fact, his quotes are often remembered for decades. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country,” and Nasser’s “If we are forced to fight, we will never be forced to surrender” are etched deeply in our minds.

Our expectations of a leader encompassed leadership, perception and guidance. That is besides an ability to convincingly communicate a message with evidence and proof. More importantly, he would not descend to name calling, false accusations, or libel or slander.

But recently the world has been hit by many anomalies to this formula.

One of the many reasons why Muammar Gaddafi was regarded with disdain was his inability to fit into the template. Gaddafi blabbered unabashed, lived in a tent, and was surrounded by female security guards. The norm? Absolutely not.

We come to today and wonder how current and incoming leaders fare against this image, and lo and behold, we are taken aback. Let’s look at some examples.

I’ll start off with a uniquely positive example, even if it doesn’t fit the template. Dashingly handsome, Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, was only 43 when he was elected, having been an actor and a boxer earlier. Being the heartthrob that he is, women swoon when he enters the room. Multiculturally inclined, he displays an indigenous Haida-design tattoo on his bare left shoulder and enjoys swinging to the beat of an East Indian dance while wearing a white kurta-pyjama.

As prime-minister-designate, he showed up at a Montreal metro station the day after the elections to thank voters and take selfies with them. Again, the norm? Absolutely not.

Let’s flip the coin. 

When “Bojo,” Boris Johnson, the ex-mayor of London, became foreign minister of Britain, the world reeled. He had unleashed his offences at Papua New Guineans by calling them cannibals, at Africans by calling them “piccaninnies” (a derogatory word for a small black child), and at Hillary Clinton whom he considered a "sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”

Furthermore, he won a thousand pounds for a poem he wrote about President Erdogan where Erdogan had sex with a goat. His hateful rhetoric made him an unlikely candidate for such a prestigious position, and yet he was chosen. Call me old fashioned, but after all this malicious name calling, how can Johnson meet and greet foreign leaders and dignitaries?

President Mohamed Morsi was neither regal nor dignified. He belted out his speeches in a high-pitched voice filled with incomprehensible innuendos. His inarticulate quotes will resonate for years. "Our dear martyrs, my sincere wishes for success,” “Gas and alcohol don’t mix,” “Some go to constricted alleys to err” and “Only 6, 7, 3, 8 protested” are a mere few of his many bloopers.

The photo of the on-the-floor meal with buddies went viral and will never be forgotten. He was a family man, but his wife’s attire and his children’s comments relative to political matters did not exude the expected prestige. 

I’ve saved the best for last. Donald Trump’s lack in political exposure and diplomatic tact allowed him to lash out at several ethnic groups and admonish presidential nominees, presidents, journalists, and laypersons. His sweeping statements had his team disallow him from accessing his Twitter account late in the presidential race.

From the marital status side, he has married three times, more than any other US president. He has children from each previous marriage. His youngest child is only 10 years old while Trump is hitting 70.

We have also come a long way since Princess Diana was gawked at for her strapless dress. Now Melania Trump’s revealing outfits and naked photos don’t seem to matter much. The classy “White House” family look is non-existent in this case.

It does seem as though the world has turned on its head, voting in the atypical.

The reason? People are so fed up with the status quo that they are willing to go out of their comfort zone for change. They are turning a blind eye for the sake of achieving change. They may err in their choices, but that is besides the point.

We must also blame social media. The speed by which events are brought to the limelight is a factor. Sharing and retweeting turns all into avid critics who equate vital information with less important facts, while probing nothing. Photos that surface remain ingrained in our memories. Everything is out in the open, discussed ad nauseam, only to soon afterwards be forgotten to give room for other events.

A word in the ears of Egyptians. Aren’t you relieved that your president does not fall — and will never fall — inyo the above unorthodox group? Not only does he speak from the heart, an unusual asset, but he delivers his message in a low-pitched but earnest voice. Never has he insulted anyone, even his harshest enemies. His humbleness, his treatment of all Egyptians equally and with the same respect, is unrivalled amidst other leaders, even Egyptian ones.

Most of his popular phrases are now classics: “You are the light of our eyes"; "May our hands be cut before we harm one of you"; "I should be the one condoled for these are my children.”

As time goes by, the leaders’ blueprint will keep changing on us as standards continue to fall, for leaders as well as everything else.

The writer is author of Cairo Rewind: The First Two Years of Egypt's Revolution.

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