Eating your politics: dates for Ramadan

From one site that collects Shakespeare quotations related to various foods:

The Winter’s Tale, IV, 3:
CLOWN: I cannot do’t without counters. Let me see; what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pound of sugar, five pound of currants, rice,–what will this sister of mine do with rice? But my father hath made her mistress of the feast, and she lays it on. She hath made me four and twenty nose-gays for the shearers, three-man-song-men all, and very good ones; but they are most of them means and bases; but one puritan amongst them, and he sings psalms to horn-pipes. I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates?–none, that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger, but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’ the sun.

Sounds like the shopping list for an iftar feast, doesn’t it?  (Never mind about the puritan.) What got me curious about Shakespeare and dates in the first place was a prior curiosity about the Cairo dried fruit market. Every year at Ramadan, merchants name their wares after politicians and other celebrities, both to attract customers and to show off their sense of humor.  So I wanted to see what they were calling them this year.  Disconcertingly, no individual names seem to have emerged – the principle of “the revolution” has not yet produced any actually plausible leaders.  Still, it’s nice to see the post-Mubarak spirit finding its way into the market, according to this article published on July 26:

   One brand of dates is called ‘Revolution’, another ‘Martyrs’, a third “January 25” and a fourth ‘Freedom’.

   “All the brands are expensive, because they stand for something special,” [one customer] told the Egyptian Mail in an interview. 
This year, as Ramadan approaches, dates have assumed proud revolutionary names, which show that this revolution, for which people were longing for decades, has developed a commercial flavour. The most expensive dates on the markets, the above-mentioned ‘Revolution’, sell for LE15 ($2.50) per kilo. 
The cheapest dates are called ‘Tora Prisoners’, reflecting the popular anger at scores of former officials and ministers who are now in Tora Prison in southern Cairo. 
But none of the brands is named after the former president, who is hospitalised in Sharm el-Sheikh, or his wife and his two sons, although the latter are indeed Tora prisoners.

Well, Egyptians can have very short memories sometimes – at least that’s what the Date Market Index suggests. In 2009, Gulf News reports, the most succulent and expensive dates were named after President Obama

Quite a change from 2001-2, when I last lived in Egypt.  At that time, Ramadan was in November-December, date prices were very high, and Al-Ahram Weekly had this report:

There are six kinds of dates to be found at the market: Sakouti, Baladi, Gandillah, Gargoudah, Malikani and Bartamouda. Others, Nashed says, are given names by their sellers who often draw on current events or famous people. As the attack against America and the war in Afghanistan are today’s main topics of conversation, “Osama Bin Laden is the king of the market,” one merchant told Al-Ahram Weekly. According to this seller, the price of a kilo of Bin Laden has reached LE16 [at that time about $4.50] within the market and LE20 outside. And what about Bush? “He has no place in the market,” was the final and decisive answer.

Obama depicted as Hamlet on Libya

It is predictable that, even as Qadhafi is typed as Richard III or any of a number of other Shakespearean villains, Barack Obama gets described as Hamlet.

From Hip Hop Republican, 3/22/11

A few highlights:

  • Newsweek in a piece called The Big Dither:  “The president has been more Hamlet than Macbeth since the beginning of the revolutionary crisis that has swept the desert lands of North Africa and the Middle East. To act or not to act? That has been the question. The results of his indecision have been unhappy.”
  • Victor Davis Hanson generalizes the lack-of-leadership thing to Obama’s presidency as a whole: “Hamlet couldn’t quite ever act in time — given all the ambiguities that such a sensitive prince first had to sort out. In the meantime, a lot of bodies piled up through his indecision and hesitancy.”
  • This caricature from Crystal Wright’s piece at Hip Hop Republican.
  • And of course the Right Side News has to weigh in: “We have a ‘Hamlet on the Potomac’ in our Oval Office.  If you listen closely you can hear Obama twisting himself into knots asking the wrenching question:  ‘To lead… or NOT to lead?’ (Our apologies to Bill Shakespeare!)”
  • Former CFR chairman Leslie Gelb begs to differ (and engages in some Shakespeare interpretation in the process).
  • And Saul Landau in Counterpunch goes even further, denouncing the whole Hamlet role as a trap into which Obama has fallen.

It’s interesting to see the Anglo-American view of Hamlet as hesitator, quite at odds with the typical Arab view of Hamlet as revolutionary martyr/hero, getting a tiny bit of play in the Arabic press through translations of articles by American pundits.  Here’s the one by Victor Davis Hanson (in Arabic, in the Gulf-based al-Bayan) and here’s the Leslie Gelb piece on hypocrisy.