Egyptians are so obsessed with personal titles as a means of status that President Hosni Mubarak had to intervene. A governor is a governor and nothing more, he ruled.
But the presidential order did not curb title-mania, which dates back at least to the Great Pyramid, built 4,600 years ago.
Each Pharaoh carried five titles, based on ancient Egyptian deities. As “The Horus,” he was the sky-god and ruler of Egypt. As “The Two Ladies,” he embodied upper and lower Egypt. As “Horus of Gold,” he was omnipotent. As “He of the Sut-Plant and of the Bee,” he again joined upper and lower Egypt. And “Son of Re and Lord of Appearances” linked him with the sun god and the crown.
At the end came the man’s name.
In modern times, titles reflect genuine or fake class distinctions, bloated egos, hypocrisy and flattery.
Egypt’s 26 provinces are semi-autonomous and headed by a governor, some former army or police officers.
Governors have insisted on an array of titles. One example: “Mr. Minister Maj. Gen. Engineer Gov.” followed by the name.
In late September, Mubarak wrote to Mahmoud Sherif, minister of local governments, ordering that provincial chief executives be called just “governor.”
The department overseeing administration added that former police or army officers in government should stop using their military ranks.
A city council chief who insisted that “Staff Maj. Gen. Engineer Dr.” precede his name faces disciplinary action.
The reform aims to avoid embarrassments such as the refusal of a former director of antiquities a few years ago to chair a panel at a conference on African environment. His reason: the invitation addressed him as “Doctor,” not “Professor Doctor.”
Outside government, little can be done to stop what commentator Ramadan Abdul Kader, in Cairo’s English-language The Egyptian Gazette, called “title anarchy.”
“To be called a doctor, you should be a medical graduate,” he wrote. “To be called an engineer, you should get an engineering degree. That is the rule all over the world, but not in Egypt.
“Titles here are up for anyone to grab and confer upon himself.”
The government department licensing movies and plays has appealed to producers and stars to avoid self-bestowed titles.
“The field is full of unobjective titles used by some to crown themselves as kings and princes of imaginary realms of dance, song and acting,” said Hamdi Sorour, director of the Artistic Works Control Department.
Actress Nadia el-Guindi calls herself “Star of the Masses” and comedian Adel Imam, the “King of Comedy.”
But not all titles are self-proclaimed. Critics and fans dubbed Om-Kolthoum, who entranced millions of Arabs for four decades, the “Star of the Orient” and “Mistress of Arab Song.”
Title obsessions also prevail among skilled and semi-skilled workers. Many resent usta , traditional for tradesman. They prefer mohandess , Arabic for engineer, although most have never been near a university.