WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday to show the world his country can set an example for others by holding free and fair presidential elections. "You first!" Mubarak responded after an extended bout of hysterical laughter. "Ah, that Bush. First he sends his wife over here expounding the virtues of slavery and the status quo, now he's trying to tell me how to run a dictatorship." Mubarak conceded that some reforms might be in order in an effort to modernize Egypt. But, when asked about Bush's apparent criticism, he replied, "It's kind of like The Pope calling the Nevilles black." This statement confounded various attempts at interpretation until a State Department employee (who declined to be identified) suggested it may just be a case of misspeak. "While it is indeed true that the Neville Brothers are black, it was generally agreed that what Mubarak really wished to express was the analogy, The pot calling the kettle black,' an old American colloquialism which implies that criticism is misdirected," the employee explained.
Neither the Pope nor the Neville Brothers could be reached for comment, but after the flap caused by Mexico's president Vicente Fox's slip of the tongue last month, both Bush and Mubarak's camps were in full damage control mode. "My English sucks, but it's better than your Arabic," Mubarak replied nonchalantly. Maintaining the current topic of discussion, Bush continued his third-party dialog about Mubarak and the need for a free press and free elections. "I urged him once again to have as free and fair elections as possible because it will be a great legacy for his country," Bush told reporters during a session with visiting South African President Thabo Mbeki. However, more jumbled communications were misinterpreted, as Mubarak reportedly received the mistranslated message, "I purge them and pretend to have as free and fair elections as possible because it will be too late to flee the country." Mubarak briefly pondered the message and responded, "Hey, that's kind of what I do, too!" Mubarak alluded to his handling of activists urging a boycott of the May 25 referendum on a new presidential election system in Egypt who were beaten, kicked and punched by plainclothes supporters of Mubarak, according to witnesses.
In an attempt to diminish the incidents of miscommunication, Bush and Mubarak spoke by telephone for about 10 minutes. Among the topics they covered included the start of the presidential election campaign in Egypt and last week's referendum and the incidents of violence. Speaking through a U.S. State Department interpreter, Mubarak was quoted as saying, "Aw, the wimps. You should have seen how I used to handle it when I was younger. This is an entirely "new' system alright. In the old days, they'd be building me a freaking pyramid by now." The new system will pave the way for Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential election. But opponents who said it does not allow a genuine contest have already been beaten into retractions. "I'm only doing what Bush did to Newsweek," Mubarak was quoted as saying.
Mubarak did express a desire for reform. "People ought to be allowed to vote without being intimidated, people ought to be allowed to be on TV, and if the government owns the TV, they need to allow the opposition on TV, people ought to be allowed to carry signs and express their pleasure or displeasure. People ought to have every vote count," he said. "Yeah, and the desert ought not to be so damned hot, either," he reportedly added under his breath.
But, in a bizarre twist, Bush's interpreters misinterpreted Mubarak's remarks as, "I have weapons of mass destruction and am harboring terrorists ..Eeeeee ..Haaaaaaa!" When asked for a clarification by the western press, Mubarak issued a statement in Egyptian loosely interpreted as Where in the hell are all these planes coming from?" Then the situation began to deteriorate rapidly as THOSE remarks were misinterpreted as, We will destroy the infidels and harsh their buzz." One State Department employee, who declined to be identified, remarked, "You know, maybe hiring those Israeli translators wasn't such a good idea."