“I was driving on the bridge at a normal speed when I heard the voice of a mosque imam yelling, ‘To all seculars, liberals, leftists, and other infidels… you are damned!’ I pressed the gas pedal and drove off at maximum speed,” wrote one of my friends in his Facebook status two days ago. One day later, he posted a video of the very same man who was giving this sermon, which did not coincide with the time of any prayer and thus was apparently dedicated to that accurate identification of enemies of the state.

In the video, the man stressed that when the people choose an “imam” or a “leader”—he didn’t use “president”—they have to make sure he is neither “secular,” “liberal,” “leftist,” “communist,” nor “democratic.” Why? Because all those terms, or “allegations” to use his words, and all those who follow them have nothing to do with Islam and those who choose for a ruler someone who does not “raise the banner of Islam” will be objecting to the will of God and rallying behind “nonbelievers” who deny His existence and go against His laws. All presidential candidates, he said, are enemies of God with the exception of one, a Salafi cleric who he believes it is the duty of every Muslim to choose, for those who will opt for any of the others will be committing a grave sin: “I am not even sure it is just a sin. It is something much more serious than that.” However, turns out that the problem is not whether the man will be elected or not, but rather that the other infidel candidates, who he also described as “criminals,” will be eaten up by “envy” and “jealousy” and will most probably attempt to kill him because “killing for them is simpler than anyone can imagine.” He concludes by saying that the country is divided in two camps: the secularists and the Islamists. The first do not harm one single hair in the head of the second, and anyone who believes in God and Islam should discard the first and join the second.

Of course I am not going to stop at the hate-inciting rhetoric nor the extreme intolerance to any kind of difference nor at the amazing ability to twist facts and manipulate people’s emotions because these are things that have been tackled zillions of times in newspapers, talk shows, and public lectures. I would rather like to stop at two words the venerable sheikh mentioned in his more venerable speech. The first is “democratic” and the second is “tyrant”—the former in reference to the candidate who we should not choose and the latter in reference to ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

According to the Salafi school of thought, democracy is a Western concept that, among others like human rights and gender equality, aims at undermining the values of any Muslim society and imposing the ethics, or rather lack of ethics, of Christian, sometimes infidel, Europe and/or North America. If you ask anyone in Egypt now—and I mean to point out the change people have undergone since the revolution as far as political awareness is concerned—what democracy is, they might not be able to form one coherent sentence, but whatever they try to formulate—depending on the degree of education—will definitely have the word “elections” in it. So, our sheikh here admits he and his companions are sworn enemies of democracy while he is in the same speech campaigning for that other Salafi candidate and calling upon all “true” Muslims to “elect” him. Does democracy become prohibited or allowed in Islam then? I would burn in hell if I vote for a democratic candidate, yet it is my religious duty to use democracy to choose the one and only candidate who “believes in God”? So is that an “aim justifies means” argument? And where does Machiavelli stand in Islam? Maybe the sheikh needs a sequel to his speech to explain this bit.

Maybe he also he needs the same sequel, or may be another one, to elaborate on the definition of the word “tyrant.” As far as I know, there is a whole set of practices that come with tyranny and that made Mr. Mubarak qualify as a tyrant. Absolute, even if pretentious, monopoly of morality and correctness, total rejection of all sorts of criticism, and exclusion of anyone who represents the opposition let alone crushing anything that poses a threat to the ruler’s firm grip on power are, for me, what makes tyrants deserve being called as such.

Let us take a look at the sheikh’s discourse and see if I am delusional to see those copycat similarities between the ideology he promotes and the “tyrant” he was happy to get rid of. Only he and his people are the ones who propagate decency in general and the principles of Islam in particular as opposed to all the others who spread vice and decadent behavior. Does this sound like being the perfect example of a self-righteous demagogue who believes that all those who disagree with him are wrong or am I imaging things? Dialogue with opponents to an Islamic state is out of the question because any objections they have to the Salafi movements are driven by pure hatred and sheer envy. Is this in anyway indicative of the slightest willingness to listen to views that contradict their beliefs? Anyone who does not choose to be part of the Salafi or any other Islamist movement does not believe in God and should not take part in shaping the future of the nation. No definition of exclusionism can sound better than that. Enemies of the Islamist candidate are all geared up to liquidate him because he stands in the way of their ambition—he must have read Macbeth before making this speech—and because they know that if he lived, he would expose how corrupt they are. Is this an indirect sanctioning of, or at least an introduction to, the concept of killing anybody who opposes you as a normal practice or am I reading too much into his words? I am now quite confused by who he meant when he said “tyrant” and am intrigued to know whether he really believes that being an enemy to a tyrant means you are definitely not one or that all adversaries of tyrants are by definition immune to being tyrants themselves or that fighting a form of tyranny automatically overrules the possibility of inventing your own version. Well… seems like we need several sequels!

After posting the video, my friend—who is obviously one of those “damned”—wrote a comment: “From now on, I will take the tunnel.” He was referring to an actual tunnel that would lead to the same destination as the bridge—in east Cairo where he lives—but being the nerdy literature teacher I am, I took that decision to the symbolic level and wondered what would happen if we all followed suit. In the tunnel, you are under the ground sheltered from all the noise that comes from above. You are in a tube that is only designed to take you where you want to go, yet which does not allow you a glimpse of what is happening around you and which envelops you in this darkness that makes you forget by the time you are about to get out whether it was night or day when you first got in. Had we been taking that tunnel all our lives, we would have felt protected yet ignorant and in all cases this protection would have been temporary since the disaster would happen anyway, only we would have been prepared for it had we insisted on taking the bridge.

This reminds me of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on the Snowy Evening,” a poem in which the protagonist is tempted to leave all his responsibilities and seek refuge in the quiet woods that would isolate him from the tumult of his frantic life. While escape is enticing, he realizes that it is not feasible. Even his horse shakes the bells of its harness to express surprise that its owner has decided to stop in the middle of nowhere while they still have a long way to go and a lot of things to do. To his disappointment, he realizes that as much as he would like to leave everything behind and delve into the darkness of the soothing woods, the life to which he is committed will always keep pulling him away from this much-coveted shelter. The duties to which he is bound, he concludes, prevail over the siren to which he is lured.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.