The Shoe Incident

Most of the Egyptians I have spoken with today, despite the fact that they either strongly dislike or hate President Bush, did not think what happened at the press conference yesterday was appropriate. In fact, the majority of them said it was “ayb,” or shameful that an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at the President.

In Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cultures, the bottom of one’s shoe is an extremely dirty thing. No pun intended. Showing the bottom of one’s shoe is considered insulting, so people here do not often cross their legs lest they show the bottom of their shoes. Slapping or hitting someone on the back of the neck is also a very nasty insult, and likely to lead to a serious streetfight. But the worse is probably hitting someone on the back of the neck with one’ shoe, or throwing one’s shoe at someone, which is kind of a combination of the two because one is not only attacking someone else, but with one’s shoe, no less.

I found this interesting because I would not have been surprised had a lot of people supported the reporter’s actions. I get the sense that people here appreciate when someone stands up to the US, especially to President Bush, even if it is just symbolically (or even if they miss). Not necessarily because they hate the US, but because from the other side, it probably seems like the US is a bit of a bully sometimes.

So the fact that this cultural norm overrode this common feeling I thought was interesting. I think most people saw through the pettiness of that action, despite what they think about the American President or the War in Iraq.

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