Talk like an Egyptian

By Letts, Quentin | The Spectator, February 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Talk like an Egyptian


Letts, Quentin, The Spectator


How to become an expert in time for your dinner party

Few of us understand what is going on at the dusty end of the Med. There may be a few chinstrokers who cup, in their wizened palms, a concise comprehension of the Cairo crisis - see pages 14 to 18 - but the rest of us struggle for something to say.

Vivid reporting has been sparse. The Today programme produced an English-speaking dentist in Cairo but he let the side down by saying, before Thought for the Day , how 'pissed off' the protesters were. Use some of your mouthwash, mister! The Times resorted to a photograph of Omar Sharif. On Monday Penelope Keith was wheeled out on Radio 4 to describe how the protestors were sitting in deck chairs, holding earnest discussions about mathematical problems. We were then told it wasn't Penelope, after all, but some Egyptian intellectual. A member of the Cairo branch of the Old Roedeanians, by the sound of her.

Otherwise it has been 'now we go live to Cairo' two-ways with world-weary Jeremy Bowen. At the long table of the Savile club in Mayfair the other night, the subject of Egypt arose. Silence fell and members glumly started prodding their Welsh rarebits, unable to summon a gambit. Given that one of the Savile's late members was Stephen Potter, author of Gamesmanship , how can one bluff one's way through this Egypt carry-on? How, at a dinner party, can you affect a veneer of specialist knowledge? Some tips:

1. Tahrir Square Base camp for bluffers.

'EGYPT CRISIS' flashes up on the 24-hour news network screens and the dollybird presenters narrow their eyelashes. Until a week ago, none of them had heard of Tahrir Square.

Now they coat its name with artful significance. You need to do the same. Try applying a horse-cough noise to the 'h' of Tahrir. That always impresses them.

2. The Arab streets In the first week it was enough to devise some spurious Egyptian motto such as 'He who controls Tahrir Square, controls Cairo' but with the story moving fast, this ploy needs upgrading. Ask your interlocutor, 'Is there any news from Salah Salem?' or 'Do you think they can take El Mui'z Street?'

Truly ambitious bluffers may wish to give the latter its full name - 'El Mui'z Li Din Allah' - but this should not be attempted after the first bottle of Valpolicella.

3. The Egyptian army Fertile ground for Cairo bores. Preliminary phrases to deploy may include 'The key to all this is the army', 'The Pentagon will have been in close touch with the generals', and 'He went to Sandhurst, you know'. …

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