Mind your language: Egyptian leaders’ English skills

Speaking English had significantly affected some Egyptian presidents’ public image, according to reports

Shounaz Meky

Published: Updated:

Want to be the president of Egypt? Well, speaking English is a job requirement you will not get very far without.

Only days after Egypt’s presidential candidates, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabahi, conducted interviews with foreign media outlets, Egyptians have begun comparing their English-speaking skills to those of former Egyptian presidents.

Being a leader of the Arab world’s most populous nation and a country with a rich cultural and political history means Egyptian presidents are constantly under a harsh media spotlight.

Saeed Sadiq, an Egypt-based professor of political science, told Al Arabiya News that although the public would have more sophisticated criteria upon which they judge the president, speaking English well remains an important asset.

Speaking English had significantly affected some Egyptian presidents’ public image, according to Sadiq.

“The English levels of former presidents drastically affected their image in front of the public,” he said.

“Egyptian people look up to their presidents and when they see a president poorly speaking English, it gives an indication that he is not cultivated to fill the country’s top post.”

While the accents of former Presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat were praised, the thick accent of ousted President Mohammad Mursi sparked laughter, and that of toppled President Hosni Mubarak has become a matter of debate.

Also read: How Mursi’s English ‘destroyed’ his American students

According to Sadiq, Sadat was the best Egyptian president in terms of his eloquence when speaking English. Mubarak and Nasser come in the second and third places, while Mursi comes last, according to Sadiq.

“Mursi’s thick accent at international conferences sparked laughter among some onlookers,” Sadiq said, “which drastically affected his prestige in front of the public, who continuously poked fun at him.”

The English language skills of Egyptian leaders have varied depending on the president’s personality and the period in which he occupied the post.

Nasser and Sadat’s enunciation were influenced by the era in which they both ruled, and their personal background. Observers say Sadat was fascinated by reading English literature, while Nasser gave considerate attention to following the English-speaking press.

On a diplomatic level, Nasser and Sadat were able to speak English fluently in media interviews.

Mubarak’s accent was disputed. Analysts say he spoke English well, but as he grew older, he preferred using Arabic when interviewed by Western media outlets.

However, Mursi’s clumsy accent at international conferences landed him in a hot water in Egypt, where the public never missed an opportunity to poke fun at his apparently loose grasp of the language.

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