Telling Mubarak Jokes
WARNING: I’m going to start with a little essay on telling Mubarak jokes, drawing on linguistic anthropology. If this isn’t your thing, skip down a few paragraphs and you’ll go right to the list of jokes.
There have always been Mubarak jokes, long before the uprisings.
Mubarak was for decades mocked as “La Vache Qui Rit” (the Laughing Cow) after the French processed cheese that appeared in Egypt in the 1970s as part of the infitah, the opening up of Egypt’s markets to Western goods.
The phrase captured a number of popular stereotypes. It implied that he was a provincial, a peasant, referencing his rural background. It portrayed him as stupid and lacking seriousness. It tied him to the flood of foreign goods created by the economic changes over which he presided first as vice-president and then president. And it linked him particularly to a soft, gooey processed foreign cheese in contrast to the firmer white cheese of Egypt.
But darker jokes quickly emerged as Mubarak secured his control over the country through an ever more frightening security apparatus.
My favorite pre-revolution joke is this one:
Azrael, the angel of death, sent by God to finally collect Mubarak’s soul. After more than two months, Azrael returns, bloodied, bruised, and broken. “What happened?” asked God. “Egyptian state security seized me. They threw me in a dark cell, starved me, beat me and tortured me for weeks and weeks. They only just released me.” God turns pale and says, “You didn’t tell them I sent you?”
Humor is rooted in incongruity. Someone telling a joke offers a story within a particular cultural frame, then suddenly pulls this frame aside, revealing one or more additional cognitive frames which audience members are shown as possible reframings of recontextualizations of the original content material. When successful, the tension between the original framing and the sudden reframing results in an emotional release for the hearers expressed as smiles, amusement, and laughter (Beeman 2000).
The joke above follows a classic four-stage pattern.
- The first few lines set up the initial frame. Appreciating this cultural frame requires people to share the common knowledge expected of People of the Book: that there is an omnipotent God, that he sends his angel of death to all men at a time of his choosing.
- Azrael’s unexpected return initiates a paradox by creating a second frame in which death is unexpectedly not inevitable but frustrated by the powerful Egyptian secret police.
- In the dénouement God’s sudden expression of fright juxtaposes the initial and subsequent frames, creating tension as the omnipotent God is suddenly confronted with the secret police experienced by many Egyptians as also omnipotent.
- The fourth stage, release, is not structurally apparent in the joke itself but requires the competence and active participation of the audience as they “get” the joke and release the underlying cognitive tension in laughter or smiles.
A joke is “telling” when it captures something of the spirit of the times, and exposes things that are hard (or dangerous) to say.
The tension in telling a joke is always a social tension. The teller must assume the audience has the competence to get the joke. Multiple implications can be captured in briefly constructed frames. The second frame in this joke requires that one understands that state security is the central apparatus through which Mubarak was able to maintain power for thirty years. It assumes they know that like the Azrael, the state security can come for anyone, at any time, without warning. It assumes listeners recognize that to be arrested by the secret police is to be tortured. It requires that one understand that the state seeks God-like omnipotence; the denoument depends on the hyperbole that the state has achieved this omnipotence—so successfully that God’s own omnipotence is second to it.
A second meaning of “telling” is the the performance of the joke itself. To be successful, a joke has to juxtapose two frames, and create incongruity. But the incongruity must not take listeners too far from the initial frame. Moreover, both frames may require referential knowledge of a context. For both these reasons, jokes may be hard to translate.
The following joke assumes that you know that it is forbidden in Islam and social convention for a wife to be kissed by another man, that Suzanne is Mubarak’s wife, that Jihan is Sadat’s wife, that Sadat was president before Mubarak, that Bush is president of the US, that Clinton was president before him, and that Zaki Badr was Minister of the Interior.
Suzanne asked Mubarak why it was that in the days of Sadat Egypt would get much more money from the Americans. He replied, “Because Jihan would go to America and Carter would kiss her here and here [pointing to both cheeks] and give Egypt two billion dollars.” Mubarak adds, “You should go to America and be kissed by Bush to help Egypt.” Suzanne said, ‘But isn’t it forbidden?” “No it isn’t,” her husband replied, “as long as when you come back to Egypt you go to the Nile and wash both cheeks with Nile water immediately.” Suzanne went to America and Bush kissed her twice and gave Egypt a check for two billion dollars. When she came back to Egypt she went to the Nile and washed her cheeks. As she stood up, she saw Zaki Badr washing his anus. She asked, “Where did you come from?” He said, “Saudi Arabia.”
But translating jokes gets more complicated. Take this joke:
مبارك بعد ما مات قابل السادات وعبد الناصر، سألوه : هاه؟ سم ولا منصة؟ د عليهم بحرقة وقال : فيسبوك!
After Mubarak dies, he meets his predecessors Sadat and Abdel Nasser in heaven. They ask him how he was killed, poison or platform. He angrily replies: “Facebook!”
This joke assumes you are familiar with the fact that Sadat was shot while on a platform observing a parade and that Abdel Nasser’s “heart attack” is widely rumored to have been unnatural. But a good joke teller, guaging his or her audience, can translate the joke to make it understandable for a wider audience. Substitute platform for bullet; substitute Nasser and poison for some other Arab leader and HIS mode of death (Saddam/hanging). The joke still works.
The last form of “telling” is, of course, explaining a joke, as I’ve been doing. Unfortunately, while edifying, such explanations can ruin perfectly good jokes.
So here’s a collection of perfectly good Mubarak jokes, with no more explanation:
The Elusive Vice-President
When Nasser became president he wanted a vice-president who was dumber than he was, so as not to cause him trouble or pose a threat to his power, so he chose Sadat. When Sadat became president he too wanted a vice-president dumber than he was and picked Mubarak. Mubarak waited three decades to pick a vice-president because he , too, was waiting to find in Egypt someone dumber than himself…
There was an international conference on surgical operations and representatives of many of the countries of the world attended. The French surgeon told about a man who was in a serious accident and was hurt badly and had to have his heart and kidneys replaced. “Today” the French surgeon said, “he is a professional wrestler.” The English surgeon spoke about a man who was a marathon runner and was hurt badly and had both of his legs replaced and today “he is still a champion marathon runner.” All the representatives, in turn, told about the best operations performed in their countries. Finally, the Egyptian surgeon got up and told of a man who had a brain that didn’t work and had it replaced with the brain of a monkey. “And today he is president of Egypt.”
Mubarak in Paradise
At the gates of paradise, the guardian angel asks the latest soul seeking entrance to state his talents and abilities. His answer: “None.” The guardian angel smiles and says, “Oh, I didn’t recognize you, President Mubarak.”
Clinton presented Mubarak with a monkey saying: “I’ll double your aid program if you make this monkey laugh and cry.” Mubarak whispers to the monkey and it laughs. Then he whispers again and it cries. “How on earth did you do this?” Clinton asks. “When I told him that I am president, he laughed” Mubarak said. “Then I told him that I am trying for a another term, and he cried.”
Hosni Mubarak goes to a primary school to talk to the kids. After his talk he offers question time.
One little boy puts up his hand and Mubarak asks,
“What is your question, Ramy?”
Ramy says, “I have four questions.
First: Why have you been a president for 25 years?
Second: Why don’t you have a vice-president?
Third: Why are your sons taking over the country economically and politically?
Fourth: Why is Egypt in a miserable economic state and you’re not doing anything about it?”
Just at that moment, the bell rings for break. Mubarak informs the kids that they will continue after the break.
When they resume, Mubarak says, “OK, where were we? Oh! That’s right . . . question time. Who has a question?”
A different little boy puts up his hand. Mubarak points him out and asks him what his name is.
“Tamer,” the boy says.
“And what is your question, Tamer?”
“I have six questions:
First: Why have you been president for 25 years?
Second: Why don’t you have a vice-president?
Third: Why are your sons taking over the country economically and politically?
Fourth: Why is Egypt in a miserable economic state and you’re not doing anything about it?
Fifth: Why did the bell ring 20 minutes early?
SIXTH: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH RAMY!!!??”
At a meeting between the two presidents, Bill Clinton admires Mubarak’s ability to win 99% of the vote. So as a gesture of friendship, Mubarak sends some of his political advisors to Washington to help with Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign. When the results come in, Clinton asks, “Did I win?” And the adviser answers, “I’m afraid not. The new president is Mubarak!”
On his deathbed, Mubarak cries, “What will the Egyptian people do without me?” His adviser tries to comfort him: “Mr. President, don’t worry about the Egyptians. They are a resilient people who could survive by eating stones!” Mubarak replies, “Quick. Grant my son Alaa a monopoly on the trade in stones.”
Azrael, the archangel of death, appears before Mubarak and tells him to bid farewell to the Egyptian people. Mubarak asks, “Why, where are they going?”
Unity Through Misery
Mubarak was a man who united all religions, because he degraded the Muslims, he degraded the Christians and he degraded the Jews.
No Stupid Answers
Hosni Mubarak was in a very important meeting with all of his ministers when he got an urgent phone call from Suzanne (his wife). He got up and took the phone call and asked her what the emergency was. Suzanne said, “Oh Hosni, Hosni, our house has been robbed!” Mubarak said, “Impossible, I’m in a meeting with all of the crooks in Egypt right now!”
Hosni Mubarak, Barack Obama, and Vladimir Putin are at a meeting together when suddenly God appears before them.
God says: “I have come to tell you that the end of the world will be in two days. Tell your people.”
So each leader goes back to his capital and prepares a television address.
In Washington, Obama says, “My fellow Americans, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I can confirm that God exists. The bad news is that he told me the world would end in two days.”
In Moscow, Putin says, “People of Russia, I regret that I have to inform you of two pieces of bad news. First, God exists, which means everything our country has believed in for most of the last century was false. Second, the world is ending in two days.”
In Cairo, Mubarak says, “O Egyptians, I come to you today with two pieces of excellent news! First, God and I have just held an important summit. Second, he told me I would be your president until the end of time.”
Too Much Baggage
Q: Why did it take so long for Mubarak to leave?
A: You think it’s easy packing gold bullion bars into vintage Louis Vuitton luggage?
Mubarak in Hell
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt dies and goes to hell and is greeted by the devil. The devil says to him, “Since you were a leader of a country for many years, I’ll allow you to choose which room you’re tortured in for the rest of eternity.”
Mubarak walks down a corridor with doors on either side, opens the first door and inquires what type of torture he would endure. The man at the door says, “You’re tortured for eight hours with burning flames, eight hours of hot oil and eight hours in boiling water.”
Thinking he should try his luck elsewhere, Mubarak opens each door on the corridor and finds similar replies.
He comes to the final door. The man says he will endure twelve hours of torture on a terrible looking machine, followed by another twelve hours in a burning tub of oil. Mubarak tells him that sounds terrible, and he thinks he’ll just stick with the first door he opened.
The man leans in and whispers, “No sir, this is the Egyptian room, the supplies of oil are never delivered on time and our torture machines never work.”
A whole new genre of Mubarak joke emerged when Internet entrepreneur Samih Toukan asked his Twitter followers to use the word “Mubarak” as a verb. Among the answers:
#Mubaraked : 1) To fail to get the hint, regardless of how obvious it may be; 2) to farcically outstay one’s welcome
#Mubaraked : to Stick something or to glue something. ex “i will punch u and Mubarak u to the wall”
#Mubaraked: To get stuck to a chair when u stand up.
#Mubaraked: ‘I invited a friend round for dinner last night, but they didn’t leave till 12 despite my yawns. They really Mubaraked’