Is the military takeover of the democratically elected government of Egypt a coup d’état? Is ketchup a vegetable? If the military takeover in Egypt is a coup d’état, U.S. law requires the suspension of $1.5 billion in aid per year, second only to the more than $3 billion annual gift to Israel. If ketchup is not a vegetable, U.S. school meals may be violating nutritional guidelines.
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In order to answer these questions, I consulted Professor I. Ben Lyon, chief lexicontortionist in the office of White House Press Secretary Jake Arney. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
Barb Weir: Professor Lyon, I’ve never heard of a lexicontortionist. What exactly do you do?
Lyon: I invent new definitions for old words. For example, I shrunk the definition of torture to almost nothing during the Bush administration. I also changed ketchup from a condiment to a vegetable. Or take the phrase “legitimate government”. It used to mean one that is elected through free and fair elections.
Barb Weir: What’s wrong with that?
Lyon: Unfortunately, a communist regime was elected in Chile through free and fair elections, as was the Hamas Islamic party in the last Palestinian elections. We therefore changed the definition of legitimate government to “one that is elected through free and fair elections and is acceptable to the U.S. and Israel”.
Barb Weir: What about coup d’état? I understand it has gone through some changes.
Lyon: Yes, it used to mean the overthrow of a government. However, the U.S. passed a law denying support to a regime that comes to power through a coup d’état. At that point it was taken to mean overthrow of a legitimate government, i.e. acceptable to the U.S. and Israel. That worked fine until Egypt.
Barb Weir: What do you mean?
Lyon: The Muslim Brotherhood not only came to power in Egypt through free and fair elections, but it agreed to be co-opted by the U.S. and Israel. They agreed to uphold all the agreements of the Mubarak government, maintain a friendly business climate for foreign corporations, keep good relations with Israel and even repress Palestinians.
Barb Weir: So what’s the problem?
Lyon: It’s Muslim, Barb. It encouraged and inspired Islamic movements in other places. Vilifying Muslims is a big part of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, so they had to go. Unfortunately, that constituted a coup d’état even by U.S. standards, which meant suspending aid to a military government that the U.S. had encouraged and helped to seize power. That’s where I come in.
Barb Weir: What was your solution?
Lyon: I suggested changing coup d’état to cou d’état. The first is French for “overthrow of state” while the second means “neck of state”. If you look at a map, you’ll see that, unlike Thailand, Egypt has no neck, so there would be no requirement to suspend aid.
Barb Weir: Brilliant!
Lyon: I’m glad you think so. They actually opted to make no determination at all, and to avoid having to stop aid that way. Basically, they said, “We know it looks like a coup, but it isn’t if we don’t say so, and we’ve decided not to say so.” I don’t mind. At least ketchup is still a vegetable.