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Metaphor of the global financial crisis after 2008: reconstructing confidence by Arab and Western financial medias

Métaphore de la crise de la crise financière de 2008 : la reconstruction de la confiance par les médias financiers arabes et occidentaux
Ahmed Abdel-Raheem
p. 160-182


Cette étude examine la reconstruction de la confiance dans les medias financiers dans le monde après la crise financière mondiale de 2008, avec pour objectif d’explorer le rôle que la pensée métaphorique a joué dans cette reconstruction. Cette étude emploie deux courants de la recherche linguistique : l’analyse critique du discours et la linguistique cognitive. Je montre que les discours arabes et occidentaux sur la crise offrent un panorama de métaphores, utilisées pour la justification, la persuasion et la manipulation et visant à restaurer la confiance publique dans leurs systèmes financiers respectifs. Par exemple, les systèmes métaphoriques arabes décrivant la crise détournent l’attention des faiblesses existant dans les économies arabes et soutiennent au contraire une fausse notion de sûreté. De plus, en tant que manières de raisonner, les métaphores peuvent déterminer et limiter les politiques et actions étrangères et nationales. À ce titre, une discussion consciente des métaphores comme métaphores est fortement recommandée. Enfin, nous ne pouvons toujours adhérer aux discussions de la réalité en termes purement littéraux.

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1This article studies the role of metaphor in rebuilding confidence in Arab and Western financial systems after the 2008 global financial crisis, looking closely at metaphor in a broad context that includes resulting public and governmental responses to the crisis. Moreover, this study offers the first analysis of metaphor in Arab media during the crisis.

Theoretical and methodological framework

2Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) has always been inter- or multidisciplinary (Reisgil and Wodak, 2009), ‘but selectively so’ (Chilton, 2005). Yet despite some use of this research in cognitive science (van Dijk & Kintsch, 1983), CDA has been neglecting developments in this field (Chilton, 2005). In his answer to the question of ‘Why CDA needs to consider mind’, Chilton argues that: “...if language use (discourse) is, as the tenets of CDA assert, connected to  the ‘construction’ of knowledge about social objects, identities, processes, etc., then that construction can only be taking place in the minds of (interacting) individuals”. (p. 23). Currently, interest in cognition has increased, and many scholars attempt to combine recent cognitive theories (on metaphor, especially) with CDA (Charteris-Black, 2005; Koller, 2005; Maalej, 2007; Hart, 2008).

  • 1 Charteris-Black (personal communication) states that the reason why he chose CMT over BT in his mod (...)

3Available for appropriation in CDA, two CL theories of metaphor exist: Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) and Blending Theory (BT) (see below). While scholars such as Charteris-Black and Maalej adopt some degree of CMT in their models1, scholars such as Chilton and Hart argue that it is BT which is of importance to CDA because it is a theory of online meaning construction. In the words of Hart (2008: 98), for example : “ contrast to CMT, BT is entirely resonant with the dialectical relation  perceived by CDA between discourse and social structure. As discourse can be constitutive of social structure, mediated by social cognition, so metaphor in discourse can be constitutive of social structure…”

4In fact, a complete account in CDA needs both CMT and BT. Thusly, both CMT and BT will be treated here as ‘complementary’ rather than ‘competing’ (Grady et al. 1999). This provides a useful framework for considering the communicative potential of both verbal and visual devices in the media discourse. Importantly, unlike the social semiotics tradition associated with scholars such as Kress, van Leeuwen, and Jewitt, the present model has a more robust theoretical foundation (review, Forceville 2011).  In my analysis, I draw upon Lakoff’s (2002) strict father and nurturant parent models, which represent ways to understand conservative and liberal worldviews. Such models, according to Lakoff (2006: 66-67), not only shape and organise the major political ideologies of the time, but also apply in a systematic way to the uncontested simple, but vague concept of freedom.

5Since this study aims to understand the role of metaphorical reasoning about the 2008 global financial crisis, rather than to conduct hypothesis testing through statistical methods, a qualitative approach seems most fruitful. Most of the metaphors identified in this article are well-documented in a series of recent studies on moral politics (Chilton and Lakoff, 1989 ; Lakoff, 2002, 2004, 2008). However, it is crucial to distinguish what is metaphorical from what is not. Bankruptcies, for example, are not metaphorical. They are real in this crisis (see Charteris-Black 2004, p.21 for definition of metaphor based on semantic tension). This brings me to adopt Pragglejaz Group’s (2007) ‘metaphor identification procedure’ (MIP), which pays big attention to contextual meaning when determining whether a lexical unit is metaphorical or not (detailed discussion, Pragglejaz Group 2007: 3). Because of the large number of newspaper articles, I will identify only striking and prominent metaphors. In sum, this study is interested to provide answers to the following set of research questions: i) what role has metaphoric thought played in restoring confidence in Arab and Western financial systems? ; ii) what is hidden by the metaphors used during the current global financial crisis ? ; iii) is there any difference in how metaphors are employed when discussing the topic of the global financial crisis in Arab and Western economic journalism?  

Cognitive theories of metaphor

6The main tenets of CMT and BT can be summarised as follows.

Table 1 – CMT & BT operations



‘[T]he essence of metaphor is understanding one kind of thing [a target domain] in terms of another [a source domain]’ (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980: 5).

The essence of the operation is to construct a partial match between two input mental spaces, to project selectively from those inputs into a novel blended

mental space, which then develops emergent structure’ (Fauconnier and Turner, 2003 : 57-58).


  • 2 According to Koller (personal communication), ‘opinion pieces written by politicians and corporativ (...)

7The raw material consists of about 5.600 opinion articles2 about the global financial crisis from the Web archives of four Arab and four Western daily newspapers, between January 1st, 2008 and December 31st, 2009 in order to capture the changing rhetoric before, during and after the crisis.

  • 3 According to Christopher Hart (personal communication), the FT and the WSJ ‘represent the reference (...)
  • 4 Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter, the only OPEC member in the G-20, and the top Ara (...)

8The Western data set of 2.300 articles comes from two of the most influential Western financial newspapers: the Financial Times (UK) and the Wall Street Journal (US)3. The Arab data set of 3,300 articles comes from two influential Arab newspapers: Al-Ahram (Egypt) and Al-Eqtisadiah (Saudi Arabia)4.

The experts’ metaphors

9Experts in foreign policy and economics have a system of metaphors that are taken as defining a rational approach. To understand causation, I will begin with an everyday system of metaphors :

  • the causal commerce system. It is composed of three metaphors : The Casual Transfer, the Exchange Metaphor for Value; and the Well-being is Wealth (discussion, Lakoff 1990) ;

  • risks as gambles. As Causal Commerce metaphor makes one see positive actions as gains and negative effects as costs, it becomes natural to understand a risky action metaphorically as a gamble (Lakoff, 1990) ;

  • the rational actor model. Everyone acts naturally in their own best interests ; that is, to maximise their own well-being. Rationality is seen metaphorically as profit maximisation (Lakoff, 1990) ;

  • the world community metaphor: A central metaphor in foreign policy, where a state is understood as a person engaging in social relationships within a global community. Its territory is its home, in a neighbourhood with several different neighbours, friends, enemies, clients, and neutral parties. Here, states have personal qualities, being trustworthy or deceitful, peaceful or aggressive, strong- or weak willed, responsible or irresponsible, enterprising or not. A state-person’s body can grow, mature, decline, be healthy, developed, underdeveloped, weak, strong, diseased. Health is economic and strength is military. If a body-politic is sick, its ‘disease’ can ‘spread’, infecting other bodies. Rational action is the maximisation of self-interest. (Chilton and Lakoff, 1989: 6-7; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 534)

10The use of these metaphors has an implicit logic: As it is good for a person to be as healthy and strong as possible, a rational state should maximise economic health and military might (Lakoff, 1990 ; 1999 : 11). Wrongdoing can advance self-interest. There are three ways to stop it: A balance of power, so that no one in a neighbourhood has enough strength  to harm anyone else; through the use of ‘collective persuasion’ by the community to make wrongdoing counter to self-interest; or, though a cop strong enough to deter or punish wrongdoing. The cop must act ethically, in the community’s interest, and with the sanction of the community at large. Morality is a matter of keeping accounts (i.e., balancing the moral books). A wrongdoer incurs a debt and debts must be paid. The moral accounts can be balanced by restitution, compensation, or by retribution (Lakoff, 1990 ; 2002 : 49,134 ; Lakoff and Johnson, 1999 : 294-295).    

Confidence restoration triangle in the West

11The 2008 global financial crisis has deeply shaken confidence in financial systems worldwide. In order to restore this confidence, the West has used three interlinked scenarios : i) the justification scenario ; ii) the rescue scenario ; iii) and the optimistic scenario. Each scenario employs a number of metaphors. Below is a diagram of this Confidence Restoration Triangle :

Figure 1 – Confidence Restoration Triangle in the West

Figure 1 – Confidence Restoration Triangle in the West

12The following is a discussion of each scenario in detail.

The justification scenario (the blame game)

Natural disaster

13The current crisis has been commonly seen as a natural disaster : e.g., a ‘perfect financial storm,’ a ‘financial tsunami;’ a ‘financial earthquake,’ a ‘financial hurricane,’ etc. (FT 8/1/2008; 14/9/2009; WSJ 16/10/2008; 5/11/2009). On this view, financial crises are ‘inevitable’ (WSJ 10/10/2008). More specifically, the current crisis is a ‘financial act of God’ (WSJ11/12/2008), and assistance (for financial institutions) after it is a moral mission (see below). So the question is : is the 2008 global financial crisis a natural disaster? While the Financial-Crises-as-Natural-Disasters metaphor serves to naturalise financial crises, the world is not confronting an earthquake or a financial tsunami considered to be ‘acts of God.’


14The crisis has been conceptualised as a ‘virus’ passing from one financial system to another. The ‘infection’ is severe, and no one is ‘immune’ (FT, 28/9/2008). ‘The method of disease transmission is still somewhat of a mystery’ However, ‘market epidemiologists speculate where the financial “contagion” will strike next’ (WSJ, 20/9/2008). So the question is, ‘How to fight the global financial contagion?’ Importantly, ‘the longer we wait, the more we allow the financial contagion to spread’ (FT, 17/9/2008). This metaphor highlights the infectious, unpredictable nature of the viruses, hiding that ‘vaccines’ and ‘medications’ are taxpayers’ money. Also hidden is that doctors can misdiagnose the disease. Furthermore, the metaphor activates protectionism and isolationism.

Fairness as balance

15China as demon : Fairness in trade is assessed relative to models such as ‘equality of opportunity’ (one person, one raffle ticket) and ‘procedural distribution’ (playing by the rules determines what you get) – importantly, fairness is an empathy– based moral value (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999 : 297). Unfairness involves ‘not getting a chance to play [and] cheating, or bending the rules of the game to increase your chances of winning’ (Lakoff, 2002 : 60). Crucially, macroeconomic ‘imbalances’ have fanned the flames of the current financial crisis (WSJ, 11/3/2009). In particular, excessive savings from China and other emerging economies have exacerbated low interest rates and excess consumption in the US. China has been depicted as:

  1. A criminal : ‘China is stealing from the rest of the world, especially from the American middle class, with its currency policies’ (WSJ, 29/12/2009);

  2. A dirty player: ‘China doesn’t play fair’ (FT, 21/1/2008; WSJ, 13/11/2008). There could be ‘… trade sanctions on ‘free riders’– China in particular’ (WSJ, 28/11/2008) – retribution, as mentioned earlier, is one way of balancing the moral books. In short, China pursues ‘mindless’ mercantilist polices (FT, 7/12/2009) and is seen as irrational. Yet while China may be seen as cunning or immoral, there is no evidence of irrationality. It is merely acting in its own self-interest. The State-as-Person metaphor hides that imposing sanctions against China, the country, has little effect on government or its leader, but has drastic effects on citizens. Also hidden are the interests of individual people, and the influence of multi-national corporations (Chilton and Lakoff, 1989 : 15).

16A crisis of deregulation or overregulation ? Three interlinked stories :

17– Policymakers’ ‘Greed on Wall Street’ : Progressives see that ‘light-touch’ (or ‘lax’) regulation is to blame for the crisis. Thus free-marketers should welcome some regulation. Crucially, government, seen as a nurturant parent, must protect its citizens from unscrupulous bankers and investors (see Lakoff, 1999, 2004).

Table 2 – The progressive story

Immoral action (sin) as non-nurturant action toward others
Immoral people as animals

Irrational gamblers

Morality as light
Immorality as darkness

Wall Street bankers are a ‘bunch’ of ‘greedy’ ‘fat cats’ whose ‘appetite’ we need to ‘curb’ (FT, 22/9/2008; WSJ, 16/12/2009). Thus, greed is a sin, and the bankers– who got ‘shameful’ ‘fat bonuses’ hiding risks– are villains (WSJ, 31/1/2009; FT, 28/12/2009).

The [New York] state government has been skimming the profits of a gigantic casino packed with drunken gamblers’– traders have been always at ‘the champagne bars of Wall Street and London.’ Now the casino has shut down, and what replaces it will be more like a sedate church bingo hall (WSJ, 4/10/2008; FT, 22/9/2008).

Subprime mortgages would not have been made if regulators had been watching ‘fly-by-night’ brokers (WSJ, 15/10/2009); sadly, ‘ “[l]et the market do its work” has come to mean, “let the shadow economy do its work”’ (WSJ, 25/3/2009; FT, 22/6/2009).

18As can be seen in table 2 above, [evil] bankers harm through their [animalistic] lack of empathy, compassion, and social responsibility, etc. (Lakoff, 2002).

Table 3 – Popular fury



A ‘financial crime’ has been ‘committed.’ ‘There is a victim (the helpless retirees, taxpayer funding losses, perhaps even capitalism and free society). And there was a robbery (overcompensated bankers who got fat bonuses hiding risks; overpaid quantitative risk mangers selling patently bogus methods).’ ‘The police itself [the regulators] may have participated to the murder… So how can we displace a fraud?’ Bystanders (risk management practitioners) to this crime were many. ‘Bystanders are not harmless. They can cause others to be bystanders… “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil”’ (FT, 7/12/2008).

Bankers are naughty ‘schoolboys’ in the ‘lab,’ who, in absence of a fag-smoking ‘teacher’ (i.e., regulators), built a ‘ticking bomb’ (i.e., financial innovation) (FT, 28/12/2009).
Policymakers deliver ‘headmasterly lecturers’ to those ‘miscreant schoolboys’ who ‘created this mess.’ The worst troublemakers are to be ‘expelled’ (WSJ, 20/3/2009).

19– Free-marketers’ Moral Hazard. The phrase ‘moral hazard’ is an example of framing, but one that’s so deeply embedded that it’s difficult at first to see how. You have to start with the age-old proverb ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ – that is, to teach your children to behave, it is necessary to discipline them. This is linked to rational-choice theory. Combine them, and you get the conservatives’ version that says reducing risks too much exposes people to the hazard of poor moral judgments. Crucially, we all are ‘morally weak, that is, with an overwhelming tendency to do immoral things…Anything that promotes moral weakness is immoral’ (Lakoff, 2002: 74, 76).

Table 4 – The conservative story

Moral hazard

Human nature

‘Fannie was merely fulfilling the “mandate of the Congress” to spread home ownership across the land. Congress … is a temple to moral hazard’ (WSJ, 2/10/2008).
Fat-cat bankers, fly-by-night brokers, and consumers are, ‘rationally’, ‘responding to the incentives generated by the economic policies of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve’ (WSJ, 8/7/2009; FT, 13/5/2009). In other words, bankers did get ‘drunk’ but governments had ‘set up the open bar [s]’ (WSJ, 17/1/2009) – ‘systemic risk’ is the Fed’s ‘original sin’ (WSJ, 16/3/2009). ‘Loose money and politicized mortgages are the real villains’ (WSJ, 20/2/2009). ‘Wall Street was reaping large profits bundling and selling the securities while Congress was happy that more Americans could enjoy the ‘American Dream’ of home ownership’ (WSJ, 27/10/2009). Unexpectedly, financial innovation has ‘fuelled contagion’ (FT, 18/8/2009). In the end, moral hazard ‘impaired the market discipline’ (WSJ, 22/11/2008).

‘[G]reed is ever with us at least until Washington transforms human nature’ (WSJ, 22/9/2008). Actually, ‘it is impossible for city police to prevent every burglary…. Human nature doesn’t change. Crooks will always be with us’ (WSJ, 15/12/2008).

20Governments, from the conservative perspective, should interfere as little as possible with the capitalist creativity, while neoliberals see that markets may need government regulation to guarantee their morality and fairness (Lakoff 2008: 61-62); but, the Fed can’t monitor systemic risk; that’s like asking ‘a thief to catch himself’ (WSJ, 8/9/2009).

21– Behavioural economists’‘Animal Spirits’. From the perspective of behavioural economists, economic agents do not choose optimally, their rationality bounded (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 257). At the heart of John Maynard Keynes’ (1936) explanation for the Great Depression are the animal spirits, the noneconomic motives and irrational behaviours. In classic economic theory there are no animal spirits. Economic agents act for economic motives, and they only act rationally. Currently, Keynes’ theory of animal spirits explains ‘why Wall Street got drunk, why [the US] government set the preconditions that allowed it to get drunk and then sat idly by while it overindulged…’ (Akerlof and Shiller, 2009 : xiv). ‘Animal spirits’ is an example of conceptual blending. In the input space of animal behaviour, animals are seen as lacking minds so their feelings and emotions are rampant. In the input space of finance, people (consumers, bankers, brokers, investors, etc.) have feelings and emotions that can reach to the extreme, causing them to lose their minds. In the blend, people end up as humans with animal spirits. This emergent inferentially efficient structure in the blended space cannot be obtained through direct source/target mapping. In an FT cartoon, there is an animal-like man devouring maquettes of buildings. The pictorial blending suggests that animal spirits got out of control (FT, 8/3/2009). On this account, the role of the government ‘is not to harness animal spirits but really to set them free, to allow them to be maximally creative’ (WSJ, 24/4/2009). In a cartoon by Chad Crowe (WSJ 24/4/2009), there are two businessmen-like animals (a bull and a bear) fighting each other, and Uncle Sam is trying to get them apart.

Moral strength

22‘[M]uch of this metaphor’, as Lakoff (1999: 6) states, ‘is concerned with internal evils, cases where the issue of “self-control” arises’: ‘Fly-by-night’ mortgage brokers, in addition to falling interest rates and rising home prices, are a devil: they made borrowers eat from ‘the apple of the Garden of Aden’ (refinancing and second mortgages). Borrowers have ‘succumbed’ to the devil’s ‘irresistible temptation’(FT, 11/11/2008). ‘They are crying foul: ‘the devil made me do it’ (WSJ, 22/10/2009). Another tempter is the cable network HGTV, representing an ‘evil empire.’ A single episode of ‘House Hunters’ or ‘What’s My House Worth?’ is enough to see poorly of oneself for living in an affordable house (WSJ, 3/1/2009). In short, ‘the real culprit is human nature’ (FT, 4/8/2008; WSJ, 26 /5/2009).The notion ‘human nature’ hides the pluralism of human moral systems (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 557).

Moral Boundaries

23Moral action is commonly understood as bounded movement, movement in permissible areas and along permissible paths (see Lakoff, 2002: 84-85). Given this, all of us must learn to live ‘within our means.’ This means to spend less than we earn, maybe doing without BMWs, flat-screen television sets, and leather sofas (FT, 30/6/2009).

The rescue scenario

Free-marketers’ reframings

  • 5 The single quotes around the metaphoric expression suggest that the writer is deliberately using a (...)

24The Treasury doctors blend: An FT cartoon shows three doctors in an operating room, who seem to focus their eyes on the market, personified by the patient (see Ingram Pinn’s cartoon for Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy’s March 19, 2009, FT article ‘Don’t let the ‘cure’5 destroy capitalism’). The only odd thing about this scene is that the three doctors are conspicuously using inappropriate, crude tools (e.g., a kitchen saw, a drill, pincers, etc.) rather than surgical tools. The article in which this cartoon appears stresses that interventions by the US Treasury in financial markets ‘violate the first principle of medicine: do no harm.’ In this regard, the government doctors are incompetent, and the markets are at risk. In other words, the government officials are operating on markets, and the markets will probably die. Therefore, government intervention in financial markets must come to an end.

  • 6 According to Lakoff (Huffingtonpost, 8 July 2010), framing is the establishment of permanent (or lo (...)

Table 5 – Policymakers’ framings6

Medicine : Capital is the ‘lifeblood of the economy’ (WSJ, 26/2/2009). Bankruptcy equals ‘death’ (FT, 22/9/2008). ‘The Treasury’s recent stress tests have highlighted the capital needs of financial institutions’ (WSJ, 20/6/2009) – stress tests can prevent ‘zombie banks’ (FT, 1/3/2009). ‘Capital injections’ into financial institutions are necessary for recovery (WSJ, 25/11/ 2008). Sadly, some of the economy’s ‘arteries’ are ‘blocked’ or ‘clogged’– with ‘toxic assets.’ But the Fed, Treasury, FDIC, and others are creating bewildering variety of ‘stents’ and ‘bypasses’ to get capital ‘flowing’ again. ‘The Fed continues to inject more medicine’ (WSJ, 15/12/2009) – the fed is the only entity left with the resources to ‘jolt’ the economy ‘back to life’ (WSJ, 21/8/2009). Importantly, a swiftly implemented ‘stimulus’ medicine is significantly helpful in restoring the ‘health’ of the economy (FT, 16/4/2009). Once the patient stabilises, ‘stimulus withdrawal’ will start (WSJ, 15/11/2009). Medications are put on repeat ‘prescription’ (FT, 12/5/2008).
Crucially, the ‘Troubled Asset Relief Program’ (TARP) is designed to stabilise ‘the economy’s rhythm’ (WSJ, 20/6/2009).

This metaphor permits politicians and economists to present themselves as doctors who can take an active role in influencing economic events. And it hides that an overdose of the medication or a wrong prescription can kill any financial system (Henderson, 1982 ; Charteris-Black, 2000).

Journey: stimulus packages are intended to jump-start the financial system); the bailout would help save Wall Street from rising financial flood water.

In this metaphor, financial institutions are vehicles: car, boat, etc.

Important is big : Government bailouts are rested on the notion that financial institutions are ‘Too Big to Fail’

This metaphor is so common in everyday thought, its metaphorical nature often goes unnoticed.

Clean is good ; Dirt is bad : ‘Good/bad Bank’: ‘It is imperative to establish a bad bank to receive… toxic assets – and then continue the clean up…’ (WSJ, 23/3/2009; FT, 20/1/2009).

(Lakoff, 2002 ; Deignan, 2005)

25The current blend has two input spaces – one with the doctors, and one with the artisans. The cross-space mapping connects the artisans to the doctors. Both are projected to the blend, partially, and fused there. The surgeons in the blend are using wood- or metalwork tools, which is naturally terrifying. In other words, when we mentally project an artisan into an operating room, we end up introducing the notion of incompetence and/or malice into the scene as well, in order to make sense of the scene. Crucially, when we combine elements from distinct inputs, new juxtapositions, frames, and features arise. The emergent meaning in the blended space includes fear and anxiety, which are not necessarily attached to the input spaces (discussion, Grady et al., 1999: “The surgeon is a butcher”).

26Finally, conceptual blending, as Fauconnier (2005: 533) states, ‘plays marvelous and imaginative tricks with [the] links [between the spaces].

Table 6 – Public Fury

Forces of Evil : Banks and bankers are giant ‘vampire squid’ wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming their blood funnels into anything that smells like money (WSJ, 10/10/2009; FT, 28/12/2009).

Policymakers, however, are assuring the public that the goal is not to bail out bankers, but to bail out the financial system. Furthermore, they vow to ‘claw back’ bonuses from bank executives. Crucially, in the cases of impermissible acts by citizens, progressives prefer restitution over retribution as a form of justice (Lakoff, 2002). On this view :‘people accused of crimes [must] be given a fair trial…’ (p. 206).

Figure 2 – Conceptual integration network : The Treasury doctors

Figure 2 – Conceptual integration network : The Treasury doctors

Medicine: Big banks are ‘fatally wounded.’ There is no use in ‘putting feeding tubes into dying patients’– ‘government life support’ is nonsense. Worse, ‘operating expenses’ are high at banks. Crucially, banks are already ‘dead;’ they won’t ‘survive;’ ‘prepare to bury them.’ Government ‘healthcare’ can prolong the inevitable, but only for so long. Banks’ ‘coffins’ are ‘nailed’ (WSJ, 17/11/2008; FT, 18/1/2009). After all, capitalism– which is ‘on life support under the watchful eye of the prison hospital staff’– will ‘escape from its deathbed but with a more human face’ (FT, 8/4/2009).

Competitive games: ‘In a capitalist economy, losers are expected to take losses and winners to gain’ (FT, 15 July 2008). Sadly, the feds are currently ‘picking’ ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in the private marketplace (WSJ, 2/12/2008).

Meals: Bankers are ‘dinning at the taxpayer buffet’ (WSJ, 31/10/2008). A fundamental law of economics holds that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ (FT, 24/7/2008).

Moral hazard again: Government rescue policies will result in ‘moral hazard.’ They will make banks gamble under the umbrella of taxpayer guarantees.

27This is linked to another metaphor that views the government as a poisoner. In conservative thought, the ‘toxin’ in the system has been ‘inserted’ by government policies (WSJ, 6/10/2008) – in fact, the above frame of ‘toxic assets’ makes one looks at who is doing the poisoning. Broadly speaking, policymakers’ ‘‘rescue’ medicine is killing the patient’ (WSJ, 11/11/2008) and ‘destroy[s]’ capitalism – capitalism is ‘the “only game in town” that can deliver further large increases in wealth and health to poor as well as rich nations’ (FT, 19/3/2009). ‘A brilliant player,’ from the perspective of behavioral economists, ‘wants a referee, for only when the game has appropriate rules can he really show his talents.’ This referee is the government (WSJ, 24/4/2009).

Policymakers’ rescue plan also includes protectionism

28As a protector, the government’s job, from the progressive perspective, is to protect its citizens from ‘unfair conditions’ (Lakoff, 1999: 9). Crucially, the US House of Representatives has attached “Buy American” provisions to the government stimulus package, leading to retaliatory actions by other countries (e.g., China, Mexico, etc.). Faced with the crisis, countries such as Britain, France, India, and Russia have pursued beggar-thy-neighbor policies that triggered a global trade war. Thus free-marketers have depicted protectionism as a ‘dangerous virus’ to be fought: If it is not fought, it will ‘spread beyond control’ (FT, 4/9/2009). Importantly, political leaders ‘have an opportunity at the forthcoming G-20 summit in London to agree among themselves some principles which will limit the spread of the virus…’ (WSJ, 10/2/2009).

29Another common conservative metaphor is Freedom as free trade: Politicians are trying to ‘restrain’ freedom and curtail prosperity. Hence freedom and prosperity are ‘endangered.’ Politicians should ‘free’ markets not ‘tie’ them. In other words, they should ‘remove trade barriers and get rid of protectionism’ (FT, 6/1/2009). Crucially, trade ‘obstacles’ will prolong the current financial crisis (WSJ, 10/2/2009) – in fact, this emphasis on openness could itself appear as penetration to someone whose understanding is dominated by the need for a securely bounded space; importantly, the container schema is thus formulated selectively: the state is a container for security reasons, but should be an unbounded space for purposes of free trade (Chilton, 1996: 133; Goatly, 2007: 191).

30In a cartoon by David Gothard (WSJ 10/2/2009), there is a man on his way to get a set of walls down with a stick. This suggests that trade obstacles must be eliminated if the economic crisis to be finished. The pictorial metaphor here is working together with the verbal metaphor above to stress the importance of getting rid of protectionism. According to the free-market theory, free trade inherently leads to the spread of democracy (Lakoff, 2004: 64; 2006: 207). In keeping, Beijing ‘must give its people a voice so that they are free to consume’ (FT, 6/4/ 2009). Free Trade and Journey metaphors: ‘[F]ree trade … is the best path to global prosperity’ (WSJ, 30/9/2008).

31America as leader: While countries such as Britain and France call for world-wide financial regulation, US resists, being a ‘leader’ not a ‘team player’, according to Conservatives (WSJ, 16/12/2009). In sum, free-marketers see that governments have impaired the market discipline, screwing up the system. That is, the current crisis is a result of overregulation rather than deregulation.

The optimistic scenario

32Medicine: [T]he recovery has already started’ (FT, 23/8/2009). ‘The credit markets are healing…’ (WSJ, 15/12/2009). However, ‘premature removal of the crutches we gave our sick economies could destroy’ the improvements (FT, 7/10/2009).

33Plants: Complex abstract systems like financial systems are commonly seen as plants. In this metaphor, the initial stages of development are the beginnings of growth (Kövecses, 2005: 209-211). Economic ‘green shoots’ are piercing through the gloom (WSJ, 17/11/2009). However, they are ‘still mixed with weeds’ (FT, 23/8/2009). Importantly, those ‘green shoots’ should receive more care. Otherwise they could ‘wither’ (FT, 25/6/2009).

34Journey: ‘[R]ed lights are beginning to turn green….We have gone halfway. We can go back to where we came from; or forward’ to continue our journey of financial prosperity (FT, 7/10/2009) – importantly, ‘the road ahead is long,’ and financial institutions remain ‘on track’ (WSJ, 7/12/2009).

35Hope as light OP: ‘Glimmers of hope’ have started to appear in the economy (WSJ, 1/4/2009). Like most optimistic notions, glimmers of hope is overly vague. Here we see metaphor as a device of manipulation. WSJ cartoonist Corbis (WSJ 1/4/2009) has depicted the economy as a functioning machine of which there is a drop of oil falling on its cogs. This denotes a glimmer of hope that the machine will work again. The pictorial metaphor, as can be seen, enhances the verbal metaphor and calls for optimism.

36Container schema: Banks are earning their ‘way out of a deep hole’ (WSJ, 15/12/2009). Broadly, the global economy is beginning to ‘bottom out from’ the crisis (FT, 23/8/2009). After all, more help is needed – ‘[i]t is incredibly difficult to ‘tiptoe out of’ recession’ (FT, 7/10/2009). Another cartoon by Corbis (WSJ 12/12/2009), depicts the crisis as a deep hole inside a coin and there is a ladder that denotes that financial institutions are making their way out of the hole. The pictorial metaphor here supports the false image that the financial crisis is about to come to an end.

37Yes We Can’: Here we (human beings) are seen as absolute power. The can-do optimism of ‘Yes We Can’ (WSJ, 8/9/2009; FT, 18/12/2009) sets a hopeful tone. It relates to a version of the American dream (that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people).

38The ‘Felix the Prez’ metaphoric blend: When an artist creates a variant of Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat in which the original subject’s face has been replaced by Obama’s, he is cleverly blending elements from our knowledge of the famous cartoon character with ones from our knowledge of Obama. As we take in this picture, our mental representations of each of these phenomena constitute an ‘input space’ – one real and one based on an artistic image – projecting material into a third space, the ‘blend space’ represented into the Journal’s cartoon. The fourth space, the generic space, contains material shared by the two inputs; in this case, the image of a ‘very very lucky’ white-eyed black young creature wearing a giant grin. Felix the Prez’s stimulus bill, for example, ‘has clearly made a significant contribution to stabilising the US economy.’ After all, ‘[e]ven Felix the Cat’s luck ran out during the Depression. His creator Pat Sullivan drank himself to death in 1933, baffled that audiences now preferred mice like Mickey and Jerry. President Obama should take note’ (FT, 10/8/2009). A noteworthy point is that the above blend is racist. According to van Dijk (2000: 35) racism is ‘a social system of ethnic or racial inequality, just like sexism, or inequality based on class.’ That system has mainly a social and a cognitive component. As discourses are social practices, racist discourse belongs to the social dimension. Social practices, on the other hand, have a cognitive dimension, namely the social representations people have. These ‘social representations’ ‘many members of the (dominant) white in-group have about immigrants and minorities are largely derived from discourse’ (ibid.: 36). However, like van Dijk, I am not interested in branding individual journalists or even single newspapers as ‘racist.’ In fact, racism, as van Dijk (1991: 22) states, is ‘a structural and ideological property of white group dominance and therefore characterizes the Press as a whole.’

39Victory: The ‘gold medal’ for staving off the depression goes to Ben Bernanke, the Federal reserve chairman, the ‘silver’ to China’s leaders for their even more impressive stimulus, and the ‘bronze’ to the US President Obama (FT, 10/8/2009). Some, however, see that the players’ job is only ‘half over.’ ‘[Now] is no time to declare ‘victory’ and scarcely the moment to ‘hand out medals’ (WSJ, 25/9/2009). Actually, Obama and Bernanke may be heroes to progressives, but they are not heroes to conservatives and taxpayers. So the question is, Victory or recovery for whom?

Figure 3 – Diagram of the Felix the Cat/Obama blend

Figure 3 – Diagram of the Felix the Cat/Obama blend

Confidence restoration triangle in the Arab world

40In order to restore confidence in its financial systems, the Arab world has used three interconnected scenarios: the safety scenario, the prevention scenario, and the optimistic scenario. Employed by each scenario are a number of metaphors. Below is a diagram of such Confidence Restoration Triangle:

Figure 4 – Confidence Restoration Triangle in the Arab world

Figure 4 – Confidence Restoration Triangle in the Arab world

41Here metaphors, as can be seen below, function to direct public attention away from the repercussions of the global financial crisis on Arab economies. In other words, they support the false and misleading image that all is okay and that there are no problems facing Arab economies. Crucially, they reflect features of avoidance, mitigation, false information, and so on. As discursive mechanisms of control, avoidance and mitigation, for example, are move characteristics of ‘indirect’ language use in general. They involve avoiding altogether saying (very) negative things (van Dijk, 1987).

The safety scenario

42 Natural Disasters : The current financial crisis is conceptualised as a natural disaster. Situated far from the epicentre (USA) of such a disaster, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are safe.

(1) Saudi banks are not vulnerable to bankruptcy during this financial crisis, as the financial tsunami will lose much of its sweeping force before reaching us – there are a lot of the American and European banks that will take the first hit, absorbing a big deal of its power. This is a natural thing, we have no hand in. It relates to economics and universe sciences: the destruction of earthquakes is being at the utmost at the epicenter, and dwindles as far as we get away from it. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 15/10/2008)

(2) The epicenter of … the [financial] earthquake is far [from us,] but we should take precautions against aftershocks. (Al-Ahram, 27/10/2008)

43Economic Health : Health of a person-sate, as mentioned earlier, is economic health. Hidden here is that ‘the state may be healthy in that it is rich, while its citizens may not be able to afford real health care’ (Chilton and Lakoff, 1989: 15).

(3) The Egyptian economy is fine. Egypt has an extremely healthy and strong banking system. Banks are the arteries of the economic body. If they are good, the whole body is good. (Al-Ahram, 11/10/2008)

(4) The Saudi banks are safe… Banks are the lungs of the economy. They are even the circulatory system that provides liquidity to all sectors in the economic structure. So the safety of this highly sensitive system from any clots is extremely important. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 13/10/2008)

44Moral capitalism : It has been commonly argued that capitalism as practiced in the US is different from capitalism practiced in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Capitalism in the US is ‘out of control.’ In other words, it is ‘wild capitalism.’ In contrast, capitalism in Egypt and Saudi Arabia has ‘balance’ between the state and market. That is, market freedom is absolute - as freedom of action is seen metaphorically as freedom of motion, moral bounds, as Lakoff and Johnson (1999: 305) state, are understood as ‘constraints on freedom.’ The governments of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia are seeking ‘fair’ distribution of wealth, and democracy. The conceptual metaphors here are Immoral Things Are Animals, Moral Bounds Are Restraints on Freedom, and Fairness Is Balance.

(5) Market freedom doesn’t mean eliminating the legal and institutional restraints that organise business and its members and determine the incentives and disincentives necessary to organise the members activity… Achieving this balance between the freedom of the market and the role of the state is what enabled the Egyptian economy to reduce the negative effects of the global economic crisis… The meaning here is that we refuse wild capitalism… What we seek is achieving coherence between growth and social justice. (Al-Ahram, 31/10/2009)

(6) The Kingdom has balanced economic policies… that employ the free market theory in a way that serves the interests of the national economy and keeps for the government its role as the co-owner, observer, and honest guardian of the economy… [And this is] Saudi capitalism. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 2/11/2008)

The prevention scenario

45Contagious diseases : The crisis is conceptualised as a contagious disease that can spread. This metaphor activates isolationism and protectionism. Since America, for example, has the flu, Arab countries should avoid it.

(7) [Increasing control on foreign financial investments in the Egyptian market and on derivatives trade in the stock market] is a prescription that vaccinates Egypt against [financial] contagion and increases immunity of the Egyptian economy. (Al-Ahram, 11/10/2008)

(8) Increasing horror all over the world will be the most affecting factor in spreading “America’s flu,” … but we can say that we will impose preventive control on our projects as a whole. What is important to us is to benefit from this “world horror” so that it can be a launching point for the economy. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 13/11/2008)

46Invisible war : Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz has framed the situation as an ‘invisible war.’ This is metaphorical. Real wars are wars against countries and with ‘military action’ and clear ‘victory.’ We cannot know when an ‘invisible war,’ has ended.

(9) I believe the world is experiencing an invisible war. A financial war. You must keep this in mind and consider the interests of religion and homeland, not the interests of individuals, because the economy is the foundation of everything. ( Al-Eqtisadiah, 27/10/2008)

47Crime : Here the 2008 financial crisis is framed as a crime (against humanity) with victims and perpetrators. The crime frame involves law, courts, lawyers, trials, sentencing, appeals, and so forth.

(10) Do [Wall Street workers] plan to commit a new crisis while “the corpses” of the current crisis victims are still at the crime scene?!! (Al-Eqtisadiah, 27/10/2008)

(11) The fire is not accidental. It is a ‘crime against humanity. (Al-Ahram, 5/4/2009)

48America as Frienemy : If a state is a person, it enters into social relationships with other states. America is a ‘friend’ and reliable trading partner of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Out of greed, America has betrayed itself as well as its friends. Furthermore, America tries to exploit Arab countries to get itself out of the financial hole it is in. As such, Egypt and Saudi Arabia must find new ‘partners.’

(12) “With friends like America, who needs enemies?!” … With America, we keep our monies , enter into asset insurance agreements, and leave our acquisitions. Not only do we do this, but the rest of the world also does. All of us have relied on America, but it, out of greed, has betrayed us and itself. So it is helpful, but not completely curing, to avoid financial ‘friendship’ with America. If America can be an enemy of itself, will it leave our savings and acquisitions to remain in peace and safety in its banks? … No way! (Al-Eqtisadiah, 4/10/2008)

(13) We must diversify our partners away from the US and Europe to push the economy. (Al-Ahram, 12/11/2008)

49In fact, avoiding relations with America, the country, has little effect on the government or its leader, but has drastic effects on individual people. Moreover, what is in the national interest is not necessary to be in the interest of ordinary citizens, groups, or institutions, who may get poorer as the GNP goes up (Lakoff, 1990).

50 Morality as fair distribution : The current globalisation has been serving the interest of the rich countries, especially the US. This is an ‘unjust’ globalisation, a globalisation that is ‘unfair’ in its distribution of wealth and power. In progressive thought, ‘[W]hen you care about someone, you want them to protected from harm, and… to be treated fairly’ (Lakoff, 2004:90).

(14) It was an unfair globalisation that was in the interest of the rich countries… (Al-Ahram, 26/11/2008)

(15) It is either a globalisation with real economic freedom or not. If we want it a real and fair globalisation, we have to treat the imbalances by treating their causes – and a most important cause is the dollar. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 21/11/2009)

51China as demon : Like most Westerners, most Arabs see that China is unfair in its trade with the world. In other words, China is metaphorically a dirty player, and doesn’t give others a chance to play (see above).

(16) The trade balance between Egypt and China is strongly tipped in favour of China not Egypt, which requires ‘fixing the balance,’ even a little. (Al-Ahram, 7/11/2009)

(17) China can no longer play the game alone… It must let the market reflect the real value of its currency… [China is the cause of] America’s trade imbalance… (Al-Eqtisadiah, 29/8/2009)

52– Economy as journey : In the Event Structure metaphor, there is an interesting submapping External events are large moving objects that can exert a force on you and thereby affect whether you achieve your goals. A special case of such objects is fluids, especially liquids. In this, if “We are all in the same boat,” then we are all subject to the same external forces that move the boat this way and that. The force of the waves will take us to the same final destination – the same final state. If the boat sinks, none of us will achieve our purposes. The entailment is it is our collective advantage to help keep the boat afloat. (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999: 192)

(18) We’re all hopeful that our leadership can ‘sail the ship to the safe shores, especially after its announcement of a five-year plan to spend $400 billion dollars on capitalist investments, the matter that promises much good, God willing. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 19/11/2008)

(19) All of us– government and opposition– are in the same boat, and hope pass this economic crisis peacefully and reach to the safe shores. (Al-Ahram, 28/11/2009)

53This stresses the highest progressive value, that is, mutual responsibility, ‘which is authoritative, equal, two-way, and based around caring responsibility (both personal and social), and strength’ (Lakoff, 2004: 94).

The optimistic scenario

54 Plants: The Economy-as-Plant metaphor highlights that the ground is fertile and well-prepared for investments, and hides that an investment may develop inappropriately or wither and, eventually, cease to exist (see Kövecses, 2005: 209-211).

(20) As one of the emergent markets that has investment competitive advantages and a strong economic structure, Egypt will witness a big economic flourish in the coming period. (Al-Ahram, 22/10/2008)

(21) The Saudi national economy is, and will continue, flourishing and growing in spite of the global economic troubles. (Al-Eqtisadiah, 23/11/2008)

55– Medicine

(22) The Egyptian banking crisis passed without big complications after the central bank had interfered to correct the situation in the framework of a mid-term plan that treated the problem of bad debts and reorganised the Egyptian banks in a way that increased their immunity and made them more durable to the calculated risks of a regulated credit that is controlled by clear rules. (Al-Ahram, 27/9/2008)

(23) The kingdom has succeeded in containing the Saudi banking crisis, keeping the national economy well…. Both the Minister of Finance and the governor of Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency have chosen the safest treatment… (Al-Eqtisadiah, 13/10/2009)

Comparison and conclusion

  1. The frames and metaphors discussed above do not do very well at fitting the facts, though each has a grain of truth. According to Lakoff (2004: 17, 37), ‘… the truth must fit people’s frames. If the facts do not fit a frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off.’ Crucially, free-marketers are aware that the current financial crisis poses a threat not only to their political support, but to the very underpinnings of conservative ideology itself. Nevertheless, their brains have not been changed by facts (Lakoff, Huffington Post, 24 February 2009).

  2. Most metaphors used by Arab politicians and economists in reasoning about the crisis contrast with those used by Western counterparts, and reflect features of understatement and avoidance. More clearly, the Arab metaphor systems represent the Arab illusionary everything-is-okay discourse, which was prevailing before the latest Arab Revolutions, in particular the January 25th Egyptian Revolution. In short, there has been a deafening silence around the problems facing Arab economies, after the crisis.

  3. While the FT and the WSJ, as witnessed, were rich of both verbal and visual metaphors, Al-Ahram and Al-Eqtisadiah did not use any visual metaphors. This reflects how Western journalism, in contrast to Arab journalism, was stronger, deeper and more direct in its reasoning about the crisis, and how the journalistic techniques differ in both forms of journalism.

  4. In their economic plans, Arab and Western policymakers were attempting to realign their countries’ economies with the dual moral missions of progressive government: protection and empowerment for all.

  5. Like the Western metaphors used in reasoning about the crisis, the Arab metaphors constrain and direct our economic policies. In addition, they show that the conspiracy theory is deeply rooted in the Arab mind.

  6. Unlike Western metaphors, Arab metaphors have denied plurality of voices by deflecting attention toward one ideology (that is, progressive ideology) and by eliminating what are constructed as competing ideologies. This is called ‘discursive deflection’ (see M. Gunn, 2011).

  7. Politicians and economists are natural masters at understanding how metaphors can control discourses. In fact, metaphors can create and manipulate realities. Thus, we should look in a systematic way at what metaphors suppress.

56Below, I summarise the main differences between Arab and Western metaphor systems employed during the crisis:

Table 8 – Metaphor in the 2008 global financial crisis discourse

Western metaphors

Arab metaphors

Discursive features


Avoidance, mitigation, understatement

Policies activated

Bailouts; stimulus packages; imposing sanctions against China; and protectionism

Protectionism; stimulus packages; adopting Islamic finance; seeking new trade partners away from America and Europe


Conservative and progressive



Verbal and visual




Moral values

Personal responsibility; mutual responsibility

Mutual responsibility

57In line with Stockwell (2000: 525), I claim that “CL can learn from CDA to be self-reflexive, socially-aware, and less totalizing… [and that] CL models offer… CDA… a wider scope of method and a means of theorising metaphorical representations, foreground and background, social and conventional categories, and attention.’’ Importantly, it was the aim of this study to contribute to such articulation to show how CL theories can help address real problems in the world. By drawing on both CMT and BT, I propose a new integrated framework to account for various discursive dimensions of both verbal and pictorial metaphor in media discourse. In this respect, whereas BT, as seen above, has a lot of potential for analysing more novel, creative or complex metaphors, CMT is preferable for establishing conventional metaphors. Hopefully, this will encourage the further theorization of critical cognitive research, in general, and multimodal metaphor, in particular.

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1 Charteris-Black (personal communication) states that the reason why he chose CMT over BT in his model of critical metaphor analysis is partly historical, that is, he knew about CMT before he knew about BT. Crucially, continues he, BT has a lot of potential in CDA, especially for analysing more novel, creative or complex metaphors (examples, Charteris-Black, 2011).

2 According to Koller (personal communication), ‘opinion pieces written by politicians and corporative representatives of different countries represent a wider range of data than mere news articles.’

3 According to Christopher Hart (personal communication), the FT and the WSJ ‘represent the reference point in the West for economic matters.’ Also, for Chomsky (1995 : 31), for example, both newspapers are reliable sources. Needless to say, the US is home to the crisis and the UK is one of the world’s most globalised countries.

4 Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest oil exporter, the only OPEC member in the G-20, and the top Arab economy. And Egypt is the second largest economy and a member of G-15. Although Al-Aharm is not an economic newspaper, it has impressive coverage of the present financial meltdown.

5 The single quotes around the metaphoric expression suggest that the writer is deliberately using a metaphoric expression (see Cameron and Deignan, 2003).

6 According to Lakoff (Huffingtonpost, 8 July 2010), framing is the establishment of permanent (or long-term) high-level frame systems with the brains of the public– frames are the mental structures we think with. Framing can be done by long-term careful political messaging. Messages use words. The words activate frames. In political messages, one has a double intention: to get the public to think using his frames and to keep the public from thinking using the other side’s frames, which contradict his.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1 – Confidence Restoration Triangle in the West
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Titre Figure 2 – Conceptual integration network : The Treasury doctors
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Titre Figure 3 – Diagram of the Felix the Cat/Obama blend
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Titre Figure 4 – Confidence Restoration Triangle in the Arab world
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
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Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, « Metaphor of the global financial crisis after 2008: reconstructing confidence by Arab and Western financial medias »Sciences de la société, 88 | 2013, 160-182.

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Ahmed Abdel-Raheem, « Metaphor of the global financial crisis after 2008: reconstructing confidence by Arab and Western financial medias »Sciences de la société [En ligne], 88 | 2013, mis en ligne le 11 février 2014, consulté le 06 décembre 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Ahmed Abdel-Raheem

Associate professor, Lodz University, Poland.

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