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Biden called Sisi the 'president of Mexico'. It turned a meme into reality

US president makes gaffe about Egyptian ruler, sparking jokes about the authoritarian ruler already referred to as 'El-Meksiki'
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with the German Chancellor during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt on 18 October 2023 (Michael Kappeler/Pool/AFP)
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with the German Chancellor during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt on 18 October 2023 (Michael Kappeler/Pool/AFP)

A badly timed gaffe by US President Joe Biden during an address on Thursday night turned a "meme into reality", according to users on Egyptian social media.

During a press conference at the White House that was meant to refute claims in a report that he was losing his memory, Biden mistakenly referred to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the “president of Mexico”. 

"As you know, initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in [to Gaza]. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate," the president said. 

"I talked to Bibi to open the gate on the Israeli side," Biden said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I've been pushing really, hard, really hard, to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza."

The comments were made in an unannounced address aimed at refuting allegations in a scathing report by Special Counsel Robert Hur, a former Republican lawmaker, which raised concerns about Biden’s memory and age.

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It is not the first time Biden has mixed up world leaders, dead and alive, having this week claimed to have spoken to Francois Mitterand, the late president of France, and Helmet Kohl, the late chancellor of Germany, during his diplomatic efforts.

The clip of the latest error was quickly shared across social media, including among many Arab and Egyptian social media users.

In Egypt, Sisi is often referred to as “El Meksiki”, or “the Mexican” in Arabic - a long-running joke which orginated from a viral video several years ago. 

In the clip, an Egyptian man dedicated a message to the president, calling him “Abdel Fattah el-Meksiki”. The young man called on "El-Meksiki" to lower prices and to improve the quality of life in the north African country. 

Since then, the title has been used widely amongst Egyptian users online, especially in connection to poverty and the cost of living.

'Memed into reality'

One social media user wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: "Egypt is a dictatorship ruled by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. You can’t criticise the president freely so Egyptians started calling him “El Meksiki” (“the Mexican” in Arabic) because it sounds like “El Sisi” so they can avoid censorship and criticise him freely."

One Egyptian user said that jokes about Sisi's imagined Mexican origin were used to show that "he is not one of us, nor will he ever be". 

Translation: Everyone knew the story that he was Mexican. That's why he always says, "You Egyptians," "That's right, Egyptians." He is not one of us, nor will he ever be.

Another user noted that the running joke had been used to highlight what some Egyptians consider as being "under ‘Mexican occupation’", implying that Sisi behaved like a far-away foreign leader with little "interest or knowledge in Egypt's well being". 

Since becoming president in 2014 - after leading a military coup on Egypt's first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi a year earlier - Sisi has overseen a ferocious crackdown on dissent.

An estimated 65,000 political prisoners are currently held in Egyptian jails, while torture has become widespread and systematic and thousands have been forcibly disappeared. 

Sisi was re-elected for a third term in December, after a vote marred by the exclusion of opponents and accusations of bribery and intimidation.

Home to more than 109 million people, Egypt is currently grappling with a severe economic crisis, with record inflation and foreign currency shortages. 

In August, annual inflation in Egypt reached close to 40 percent, according to official figures, plunging many Egyptians near or under the poverty line. More than half the population had already been below or close to the poverty line before the current crisis. 

On Wednesday, Sisi ordered a 50 percent increase in minimum wages, amid speculation about an imminent devaluation and subsequent inflation.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian president and government have also been heavily criticised for its handling of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Last month, a charity told Middle East Eye that it was being forced to pay $5,000 a truck to a company linked to Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) to get aid into Gaza.

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