You left your chelephone by the chelevision
Mickey, Takki and Mado gave their initials to MTM, the Egyptian rap band they founded. They dress like rappers should, in wide shorts, backward caps and colorful shirts.
Mickey, Takki and Mado gave their initials to MTM, the Egyptian rap band they founded. They dress like rappers should, in wide shorts, backward caps and colorful shirts. Their albums can be found on every street corner in Cairo, and mainly at parties in the more respectable quarters of the city. Their newest hit is "My Mother's Away," about the daughter of a working mother who has gone shopping in the city. The daughter decides to have a party at home, but the mother returns earlier than planned and ruins the celebrations.
MTM uses simple words in Egyptian Arabic that anyone can understand with only a smattering of slang. It could almost be defined as middle-class rap, with not particularly provocative content. The band fits in well with the current fad spreading throughout Cairo of trance-style roof parties, featuring sloppy, worn-out clothes and the adoption of a new dialect: Young people from good homes are using slum lingo.
This is not an entirely new phenomenon and also does not affect all wealthy youth in Egypt, but the combination of trendsetting movies, rap music and new speech patterns is impossible to ignore. What is it all about, anyway?
Two main types of partygoers can be found in Cairo in the summer, especially after exam season ends. First, there are the youngsters from the poorer neighborhoods who cannot afford to go to clubs and instead make do with hanging out with their friends on the boardwalk along the Nile until the wee hours of the night, and then there are the children of the wealthy, who cruise the crowded city streets in their fancy cars and brightly colored jeeps, wearing clothes purchased abroad or in the expensive malls of Heliopolis.
The rich kids have now chosen as role models characters from two Egyptian movies released about two years ago. One is "El-Lambi," in which Mohamed Saad plays the neighborhood bully, a girl magnet who terrorizes not only his neighbors but also the police; the other is "My Aunt Fransa," about a poor woman and her two nieces who eke out a living from begging and petty theft. These two films were huge hits and together netted their producers more than 10 million Egyptian pounds, a sum that the Egyptian film industry has not seen for many years.
Sociologists and film critics in Egypt had difficulty explaining how such cinematically poor films - "devoid of moral content" is how they were described - could become cult movies, and their protagonists, role models. One cannot argue with results, however, and suddenly more and more wealthy teens are organizing roof parties in poor neighborhoods, the very ones depicted in those movies. According to some reports, soft drugs are an integral part of these parties.
The main features at the parties, however, are the dress code and the imitation of lower-class speech. Thus, for example, the young men wear simply shirts, colorful pants and caps, while the girls come dressed particularly tawdrily. "Blue skirts with red stripes, green tops with yellow flowers," is how one journalist in Al-Hayat described the accepted dress. Sometimes partygoers come wearing masks or heavy makeup.
The language that is developing among these young people is carrying over into their daily lives, and is not isolated to parties. Thus for example one can hear students using the word "chelephone" instead of telephone; "chomato" instead of tomato and "chelevision" instead of television, in what is essentially mimicry of mimicry. The wealthy teens are mimicking their peers in the slums, who themselves tried to mimic the upper classes, but such expressions in their mouths sounded ludicrous and distorted. Not only the words were bastardized, but a whole new slang was created, based on street expressions born in the poor neighborhoods that became part of normal speech at the parties and from there spread to university campuses.
"Sometimes I wander around our campus and do not understand what the students are saying," says Reem, the daughter of an active member of the Kifaya opposition movement, who studies at the American University of Cairo. "I can pass a group of boys and they can call me names that mean nothing to me, because I don't understand that language. And if I, a Cairo native, cannot understand, imagine how the village girls who come to study here feel."
It turns out, however, that girls also have their own special dialect.
"We decided to adopt the speech patterns of the hero in `Aunt Fransa,'" says Reem, "to create adjectives for the boys. When we go to a roof party - because the rooftops are the only place you can dance these days without sweating too much - we can hear three languages: regular Arabic, the boys' language and the girls' language. Perhaps that's how culture is created."
This creation of new culture is being opposed by the clergy, who denounce the "western dancing, wanton music and the corruption of the pure language used by the prophet."
They are not the only ones who are worried, however. Some teens, especially from the weaker sectors, are not pleased, and some of them view the mimicking of their speech by the wealthy teens as deliberate mockery.
In the meantime there have already been a few reports of poor families who have ousted rich teens who wanted to invade their rooftops to hold parties. It was not the music or the drugs that bothered these families, but rather the contempt for their dress and speech. In one case, a local resident yelled to the dancers, "Go to the boardwalk, be like everyone else" - like the poor.
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