Monday, September 12, 2005

Down with Flag Fetishism

If Egyptian television plays again that slick videoclip of Egyptians of various ages, classes and genders proudly displaying the national flag -- on balconies, desks, bicycle handlebars and in every other conceivable location, I think I will puke. The central scenario -- each scene in the drama interspersed with other kitschy flag 'moments' -- is a group of youngsters carrying a vast rolled-up flag, maybe 15 metres wide and many times longer, to one end of the October 6 bridge (I think) in central Cairo and then rolling it out across the bridge. I assume this is computer-generated, unless they closed the bridge one day for several hours and no one told me, which seems unlikely (word travels fast in Cairo). It would also be a huge waste of fabric (maybe they later had it sewn into thousands of galabias). I've asked around and Egyptians just don't care for their flag. It means nothing, full stop. Just a piece of coloured cloth that flies over public buildings. There's probably a law against flying it from your balcony but only a lunatic would think of doing that anyway. I share their indifference. Flag fetishism of the American variety (or Danish variety, I might add) is a sad ailment and I resent any attempt to spread this perversion to a part of the world so far immune to it.

Who's behind it and why? It's clearly linked to last week's presidential elections but I'm baffled to see the connection. Egyptian television, taking its cue from CNN and other U.S. stations, ran a fluttering Egyptian flag in the bottom left corner of the screen for weeks before the elections, with the legend 'Presidential Elections' attached. If the idea was to persuade people to vote out of patriotism, then it seems unlikely it would succeed. If the flag doesn't evoke any emotions, why would it persuade anyone to do anything? Most people refused to vote because they don't have any confidence that their vote will be counted, or else they didn't like any of the limited selection of candidates on offer. The idea that it's a patriotic duty to waste a few hours taking part in an exercise to give Mubarak a spurious legitimacy is a disgrace to patriotism, a sentiment which may occasionally have some positive aspects. Less than one in 10 Egyptians voted anyway, but we can't easily judge whether it would have been even less without the flag gambit. At the results announcement news conference, there were dozens of these flags behind the speaker, who made such pompous opening remarks that the company I was among laughed at him. Even Ayman Nour had a flag behind him in his post-election news conference.

The U.S. occupation authorities have been trying to impose flag fetishism on Iraq but they got a rude awakening (remember?) when the Iraqis rejected the hideous new design they proposed, preferring the old one amended by Saddam (adding the words 'Allahu Akbar' between the stars). But the Iraqi flag campaign continues.

Just what is the idea? I suppose in Iraq the aim would be to reinforce a sense of national unity (hard when the Kurds already use their own flag), but in Egypt??? Egypt is not about to fall apart, as far as I know.

The only explanation I can come up is that one of the ruling party campaign managers, having studied political sciences in the United States, decided that Egypt too needed a dose of good ol' American-style flag fetishism. If anyone can throw any light on this, drop me a comment. Or if any Egyptians want to rebuke me for my iconoclasm and pledge allegiance to their rag, also let me know.

2 Comments:

Blogger Nur-al-Cubicle said...

The flag thing was started in the USA during the McCarthy years by the ultra-nationalist, anti-communist veteran pressure groups, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

Now every portrait of any US government official or member of the military has the flag as a backdrop. Certainly not so in WWII as I look at portraits of family members serving under arms.

Bush employs a pair of Italian-American TV execs, Scott Sforza and Bob DeServi, for his star-spangled backdrops.

Perhaps they were inspired by Berlusconi with his slick advertizing, flamboyant stagecraft and giant portraits.

But you're right. It's kitsch communication.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Tomanbay said...

Well, I do actually disagree with you...read my post here.
On a better note though, I think that in the blogsphere Linking is the greatest form of admiration, and I've linked to you twice today, so, you know, keep up the good work

11:02 PM  

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