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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania: Yalla Peace: No one knows nose jobs better

Balkimy clearly wanted to cover up the fact that he had had cosmetic surgery, and his inability to do so draws attention to a curious new phenomenon in Egypt.

By RAY HANANIA, posted April14, 2012

If Arabs and Jews share anything, it is that they are often stereotyped as having large noses. Arab and Jewish children growing up in America, and other countries, too, learn this the hard way. “Hey, why did God give you guys such large noses? Because He couldn’t understand your accents? Or because air is free?”

While such humor might be amusing to six-year-olds, as we get older, it often becomes less so, especially for women. On men, large noses are sometimes viewed as “distinctive.” On women, however, they are seen for the most part as a kind of disfigurement, which is possibly why so many more women than men get “nose jobs” done. Or rhinoplasty, as my many medically-oriented relatives would call it, a medical term tracing its origins to the rhinoceros and its trademark horn.

Yet having covered American and Middle East politics for over 35 years, I have never heard of a politician losing his job because of his nose (other body parts, yes).

That is until last week, where democracy in Egypt got uglier than almost any nose, after the Egyptian media raised a stink.

Anwar el-Balkimy was elected to Egypt’s new parliament representing the Al-Nour party, a very conservative group and a part of the ultra-religious, right-wing Salafi Movement. It seems that Balkimy showed up to a parliamentary meeting one day wearing bandages over his nose. He apparently told everyone he’d been beaten by a masked gunman, only it later turned out he’d had a nose job.

At least he didn’t claim he was a martyr who stood up to human rights and freedom at Tahrir Square, where democracy finally gained a precarious foothold in Cairo just over a year ago, on January 25.

Balkimy clearly wanted to cover up the fact that he had had cosmetic surgery, and his inability to do so draws attention to a curious new phenomenon in Egypt, right up there with democracy and freedom. It’s called “free speech.”

Normally, in dictatorships like Egypt, “free speech” means “a stiff prison sentence and getting your nose get cut off.” The Arab media is still only allowed to report good things about their dictators and “fearless leaders.” Even in the Arab Spring, journalists can’t criticize or report on the wrongdoing of their dictators. They can only castigate Israel, or criticize the dictators of rival Arab countries, as the Gulf State media is attacking Syria (while Syria’s media attacks the Gulf Arabs).

But freedom of the press is an essential feature of true democracies, like the United States, and the new Egypt has experienced a revolution in this regard, as can be seen from the fact that many independent newspapers have been cropping up all over the place there. The media in Egypt has starting to get a taste of what freedom of the press, as practiced in the United States, really means.

Last year, US Congressman Anthony Weiner set off a scandal when he lied to the media about a picture he had posted on Twitter. It involved sex, but I will leave the details to your imagination. The media was relentless, and the affair eventually cost Weiner his job. He finally quit, after admitting he had lied like an Arab dictator.

While Balkimy’s case is different – it’s not a sex scandal by any stretch – Egypt’s media quickly caught wind of the incident and gave it wide coverage. And the news reports spread, Weiner-like, throughout Egypt’s valleys and pyramids, until the stories reached the doctors who performed Balkimy’s surgery.

The doctors, who clearly felt they had done a wonderful job on Balkimy’s nose, rightly took offense. Here they had carefully sculpted a beautiful proboscis for the Egyptian legislator, one I am sure they hoped would bring them new customers, and Balkimy goes and makes up some absurd story about carjackers.

So what did they do? They went public, openly calling Balkimy a liar.

Wow. That certainly couldn’t have happened a year ago.

Imagine, in the Middle East, a leader who lied got “called onto the carpet” and held accountable. In the Middle East, a member of government was brought down – not by violence or assassination, but rather by the published word of the now “free” news media.

Take my word for it – this is a sign of good things to come for Egypt. As a longtime journalist and writer, I have a nose for this type of thing.

Will this be the end of the story? Who nose?

Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American radio talk show host.

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