Walk Like an Egyptian

February 13, 2011

So in honor of last week’s events, I’m devoting a few minutes to salute the forces of freedom and democracy, and I’m starting out with The Bangles. Here would be their thoughts on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s sudden about face early Friday after stalling for weeks, while growing throngs demonstrated in Tahrir Square (and elsewhere):

Foreign types with the hookah pipes say
Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh
Walk like an Egyptian

Blonde waitresses take their trays
They spin around and they cross the floor
They’ve got the moves (oh whey oh)
You drop your drink then they bring you more

Mubarak (محمد حسني سيد مبارك) came into power after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. Prior to that he had been a pilot in the Egyptian Air Force. I heard another figure from the distant past, Zbigniew Brzezinski, speculating that because of this history, Mubarak would be the last person to give up power without a fight.  Today, pundits are speculating as to whether a) the rise of democracy in Egypt will tend toward a breakdown in relations with the U.S. and an end to the peace that Brzezinski helped broker in his capacity as Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor back in 1977, and b) whether other Arab states (e.g. Saudi Arabia) will interpret President Obama’s support of the revolutionaries as a cowardly failure to support America’s oldest and most faithful ally among Arab leaders.

In answer to the second question, I think the Bangles may have had it right:

All the school kids so sick of books
They like the punk and the metal band
When the buzzer rings (oh whey oh)
They’re walking like an Egyptian

All the kids in the marketplace say
Ay oh whey oh, ay oh whey oh
Walk like an Egyptian

By which I mean that it’s hard to fault the advice of Mudhead from The Firesign Theater. In the absence of any better plan, “Find a bunch of guys that dress alike and follow them around.” Democracy is supposed to be what we’re about, after all, and here was a case where the Wikileaks cables from the U.S. Embassy showed that we have been bugging the Egyptian government about these reforms for a long, long time.

As for the food connection that makes all the above relevant, I can, again, return to the Bangles:

Slide your feet up the street bend your back
Shift your arm then you pull it back
Life is hard you know (oh whey oh)
So strike a pose on a Cadillac

If you want to find all the cops
They’re hanging out in the donut shop
They sing and dance (oh whey oh)
Spin the clubs cruise down the block

Actually this is Liam Sternberg, who wrote “Walk Like an Egyptian.” As usual, there is an incredibly informative article about the song on Wikipedia. It’s kind of amazing what we human beings spend our time on. I’d like to thank John Zilmer for rationalizing the food connection in last week’s blog. Let’s see what he can do with this one. Waitresses dropping drinks? Cops eating donuts? It just goes to show that it all comes down to what we eat.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University

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3 thoughts on “Walk Like an Egyptian

  1. If I’d known I’d be asked to comment on The Bangles, I would’ve paid more attention in high school to pop music and less to classes. But I’ll try. Two tenuous connections present themselves upon briefly refreshing my memory with some wiki-history of the band. One, that Susanna Hoffs is (since 1993) married to film director Jay Roach. Roach directed the ‘Austin Powers’ and ‘Meet The Parents’ movies, and relevantly here directed the 2010 movie ‘Dinner for Schmucks’. I haven’t seen the film, but it purports actually to be about a dinner party. A second food connection: the manager of the Bangles from 1982-1986 was Patrick Hirtz, who Wikipedia tells us left the Bangles “to pursue a career in the culinary arts.” Google turns up nothing on Mr. Hirtz, a fact which we should take to suggest that he is likely working with food at the local level, eschewing national fame for the greater rewards of the smaller culinary community .

    Actually, the connection I saw between democracy and local food is one that is undoubtedly motivated by the fact that I am in the middle of a very rewarding reading of Paul’s book, “The Agrarian Vision: Sustainability and Environmental Ethics”. Noting early on that Thomas Jefferson called farmers “the most valuable citizens”, Paul goes on to discuss wherever possible the many ways in which community, both local (the community of neighbors) and national (the democratic community), are bolstered by members of that community becoming closer to food — by growing it, knowing who grows it, supporting who grows it, being aware of the cultural significance of one’s meals, and cooking and consuming those meals with thought and care. This suggests to me that demonstrators for democracy must have stronger connections with their food, their food’s history, and the growers of their food than w… well, than those multitudes who let the rule of their country be taken from them piece by piece with nary a protest.

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