Mursi’s index finger and its consequences

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On the Facebook page called “I am sorry, Mr. president,” Egyptian activists posted two photos, the first is of American President Barrack Obama in tears following the death of 27 students in a school shooting a few weeks ago and the second is of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi frowning and waving his index finger menacingly following the Port Said incidents.

The president’s finger and the way he waved it in the speech he gave on Sunday became the subject of numerous jokes on social networking websites, for Mursi chose a way of addressing the people that was bound to trigger a variety of reactions, most of which are negative.

Body language

In our time, politicians and public opinion makers are aware that any speech or a meeting or a photo is interpreted according to the body language used in it. Does the official look spontaneous or anxious? If he moving around confidently or does he look distracted? Is his smile fake or genuine? Those are all signs that we observe as we watch political leaders and they determine the extent to which we accept or reject them. In fact, studies conducted long ago revealed that reactions to speeches by presidents and politicians pay little attention to the content of the speech, not more than 7%, while mainly focus on body language and facial expressions and the impression they make for the viewers.

This is not new and officials are used to that when facing public opinion. That is why President Mursi most probably realized the negative connotations of the finger he waved in the face of his audience and it is hard to believe that he or his advisors were not aware of how hostile this gesture was. Those interpretations are based on studies that tackle body language and the first thing officials learn is how to control that in front of the public. It is also known that the more successful the politician is, the less he uses hand gestures so we can imagine what a threatening and warning index finger would indicate?

Misunderstanding power

Several dictators had used their index fingers in addressing the public like Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein and Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi while Sudanese President Omar Bashir replaced the finger with a big stick that he used for threats and warnings. Press reports say that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seems more cunning, waves a pen in his speeches and meetings instead of his index finger and does so while he purses his lips. Of course, we cannot forget Hassan Nasrallah’s famous finger and which he cannot do without in any of his speeches.

People need to see their leaders composed and in control of their reactions as they propose coherent action plans. As for those who still adopt the finger waving tactic as a means of communication, they are probably incapable of understanding power except through this finger and they have definitely not thought of the consequences.

This article was first published in Arabic Jan. 31, 2013 on the London-based Asharq alAwsat.

Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.