Friday, May 25, 2012

The Most Presidential Puppet

It seemed late in the game to hold a rally, but there he was, parading down the street of the working class neighborhood of Ard El Awa, flanked by kids doing cartwheels and other kids dodging spitballs. Four girls with big campaign signs for their candidate, Bakaboza, realized they'd been left behind and bolted towards the crowd, hopping every few feet and kicking up dust. 

Bakaboza waved his large, paper-mache hands, twiddled his mustache, tipped his red cap, and proceeded under the sober stares of his Islamist competitors, Abdel Moneim Abuel Fotoh (who also campaigned with puppetry) and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, who I've heard several times called the organization's puppet. 

The kids shouted his name over and over. "Baka Baka Boza!" A man beat a drum and they got more creative, shouting "Bakabakabaka what? Bakabakaboza!" A car passing by joined in the rhythm: ba ba ba ba. ba ba ba. ba ba ba ba baaaa baaaa. Another car, clearly not a supporter of the Bakaboza campaign, gave one big, long honk to clear the way: Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Bakaboza is a puppet, but where that term usually refers to corporate and political ownership, here the only ones pulling strings are ordinary people. On his campaign platform, distributed on glossy sheets, Bakaboza promised public jukeboxes in the streets and an end to corruption. He promised that men will learn to cook and sew while women learn to fix motorcycles. He promised to burn garbage to make electricity and to replace the walls of police stations with glass. No more illiteracy! Mango trees in the streets!

If children under 13 were allowed to vote, Bakaboza would be a serious contender. His platform and image was put together by a collective of artists working with an American named Nini Ayach. They gathered in workshops to design the perfect candidate, at a time when everyone seemed to be supporting one candidate, simply to avoid supporting another. 

Bakaboza proceeded to a makeshift stage in an alley, tightly squeezed between a butcher and a corner grocery. Men drinking tea and smoking shisha looked on languidly. With ample reverb, Bakaboza delivered his platform. The crowd kept cheering. 

Only twelve hours later, their parents would learn that everyone's expectations had been dashed, that to predict anything in the presidential election was to venture into a morass of unknowns. The two men who were given hours on television to debate, the obvious frontrunners, both failed to make the top three candidates. The least charismatic candidate was vying for the number one spot with an undeniably Mubarak-era figure. Everywhere around us we saw surprises. Twelve hours after his spontaneous crowd formed in Ard El Awa, Bakaboza seemed like one of the less surprising aspects of this election.

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