In Midst of Crisis, Egyptians Try to Untangle President’s ‘Planet of the Apes’ Metaphor
As my colleague David Kirkpatrick reports, Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, is engaged in a two-front battle of wills, with the country’s courts on one side and a galvanized opposition in the streets on the other. In the midst of this showdown, just days after he helped to negotiate an end to the fighting in Gaza, Mr. Morsi sat down for an interview with Time magazine.
Speaking mainly in English, a language he has a fluent if idiosyncratic grasp of, the president attempted to explain himself in terms Americans might understand — making reference in one answer to “Good Morning America,” Barbara Walters, the Iran hostage crisis, the Charles Bronson war movie “When Hell Broke Loose,” and “Planet of the Apes.” He observed, near the start of the discussion with the American journalists: “The world is now much more difficult than it was during your revolution. It’s even more difficult. The world. More complicated, complex, difficult. It’s a spaghettilike structure. It’s mixed up.”
While the reference to the world’s “spaghettilike structure” attracted some attention from readers in Cairo, more puzzling still was the question of what, exactly, Mr. Morsi intended to say about his role in international diplomacy with his long aside about the 1960s science-fiction fantasy in which apes evolved from man.
The trailer for “The Planet of the Apes,” a 1968 science-fiction film with less than obvious lessons for modern-day Egypt.
According to the interview transcript, the president brought up “Planet of the Apes” after mentioning that his experience of living for some time in Los Angeles — where he earned a Ph.D in engineering from the University of Southern California in 1982 — had made him aware of the difficulty of multicultural cooperation, both inside and between countries. “Conflict does not lead to stability in the world. Cooperation, how can we do that? It’s a struggle. It’s a very, very difficult struggle,” Mr. Morsi said. “To have a new culture, international culture, respecting individual countries and people’s cultures, their local ones, but can we have an international culture? Can we do that?”
A short time later, he added:
We can cooperate, we can integrate. As much as we can. How can we do that? I think leaders in the world have a great responsibility in this. Human beings can live together.
I remember a movie. Which one? ‘Planet of the Apes.’ The old version, not the new one. There is new one. Which is different. Not so good. It’s not expressing the reality as it was the first one. But at the end, I still remember, this is the conclusion: When the big monkey, he was head of the supreme court I think — in the movie! — and there was a big scientist working for him, cleaning things, has been chained there. And it was the planet of the apes after the destructive act of a big war, and atomic bombs and whatever in the movie. And the scientists was asking him to do something, this was 30 years ago: “Don’t forget you are a monkey.” He tells him, “Don’t ask me about this dirty work.” What did the big ape, the monkey say? He said, “You’re human, you did it [to] yourself.” That’s the conclusion. Can we do something better for ourselves?
A quick look at the script for the film — the original version, not the remake, as Mr. Morsi specified — made it difficult to say which scene, in particular, the president was misremembering.
While convoluted, the simplest reading of the president’s musings is that they had something to do with the moral of the film’s end, in which the orangutan known as Dr. Zaius, who held the high office of chief defender of the faith, explained to the human astronaut Taylor that mankind had proved unfit to rule the earth and destroyed itself through nuclear warfare.
Political analysts in Cairo, however, were more struck by the fact that Mr. Morsi, who recently asserted that his decrees cannot be overturned by the Egyptian supreme court, mistakenly recalled that the villainous ape leader was “head of the supreme court.”