Egyptian Election Emojification

IMG_1396Cast your emoji.

By Trevor C. Hale

My wife is an emoji master. An emoji ninja, really. I’m sure there is an emoji depicting an emoji ninja that I should use to describe her. No matter the circumstance, she can find the right symbols for any given situation. Her skills are so good, she can even deploy the poop emoji in such a politically correct way to inform a conversation without cheesing anyone off with the poop. Who knew this was possible?

I experience this in our dozens, if not hundreds, of text conversations daily. To her frustration, the best I can muster is a :-). And when feeling really saucy, my top game is the semicolon wink smiley: ;-).

Truth be told, I don’t want to be emoji-fluent. Toggling into the emoji menu and finding just the right symbol feels like so much extra work #oldman. And as a professional communicator, I’d rather spell out my communiques than trust the ambiguous interpretations of emojis. “No, sweetheart, I’m not surrounded by Spanish tango dancers in red dresses drinking cocktails. It just felt like the right string of emojis to convey ‘good times.’”

My lack of emoji fluency was in stark relief on a recent trip to Egypt. While in Cairo, we noticed the proliferation of election posters for the upcoming parliamentarian seats. I couldn’t read the Arabic script but noticed one had a giant falcon illustration and another, a lion logo. “Oh, they have symbols like the elephants and donkeys of Republicans and Democrats,” I thought. A day later I was in more rural Luxor, seeing more banners and more symbols. One candidate had a prominent illustration of a…camera? Then we saw a soccer ball. Then one with a cardboard box illustration.

IMG_1399“Half of the candidates are named Muhammad and the other half are named Ahmed,” offered our guide. “Many people in Egypt can’t read, so there is a long tradition of assigning candidates symbols.” We speculated on how one is assigned the soccer ball versus the cardboard box. Because of the popularity of international football, I gotta think the soccer ball candidate rocks. I’ve asked media friends and others connected to Egypt, and as far as I’ve been able to discern, the symbols are assigned randomly.

This led to conversations about slogans to match symbols and political consultants. Really, who is box? What’s his stance on immigration? What does he think about Governor Bentley’s semi-lurid recordings? Shouldn’t his slogan be, “Let’s send the other guy packing!”? And for camera, I’d suggest, “We’re focused on the future.”

And for rocket: “All systems are nominal.” OK, that one needs some work. Apparently the woman who was assigned the rocket icon got lots of attention online as the Arabic synonym for rocket is “hottie.” Does this help or hurt a campaign?

It’s interesting to ponder (and let’s be clear: I’m not saying we’re better than Egypt. Billions will be wasted trying to convince folks to support the least worst candidate in the U.S. general election.)

It’s fun to imagine if the U.S. campaign camps were to the point of using emojis. What would their Talking Points Memos, meant to persuade media and supporters, look like?

Hairdo: Pantsuit = poop.

Pantsuit: What?! Hairdo = poop x 10. Grandpa Munster = < poop

Flame: $ = bad.  $ = pantsuit. Therefore $’d Pantsuit = bad

Pantsuit: Flame? Really? Flame = poop. (No, I’m sorry, that was misinterpreted, I did not say Flame = poop. Hairdo + Grandpa Munster = poop)

Flame: Pantsuit = poop (No, misconstrued, I didn’t say Pantsuit = poop [although polling suggests I should], I meant Hairdo + Grandpa Munster = poop).

Despite my lack of emoji fluency, I’m sure there isn’t an icon that accurately captures how bat-poop-crazy this election has been so far. As an American living abroad, I find myself answering questions about the democratic process in the U.S. As a friend who works in D.C. says, “No one can accuse the U.S. of being un-Democratic in this election, as the people are speaking.”

So many have sacrificed so much for your right to vote. Whatever the emoji that captures your political sway, make sure your voice is counted. I’ve lived in so many places where that option isn’t possible.

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