Place: The United States Embassy in Cairo. Time: June 30, 2011. Occasion: Protesting the incarceration of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. Demands: Higher Council for the Armed Forces to lobby for the prisoner’s release. Reason (political): The sheikh’s return to Egypt is bound to boost moderate Islamism and put an end to violence. Another reason (humanitarian): The sheikh’s health conditions render it an absolute violation of human rights to keep him in jail. One more reason (strategic): Rejecting calls for setting the sheikh free means the US is adamant on making us—no idea who the pronoun refers to—their enemies. Threat: The Egyptian government will be held accountable for any harm that might befall the sheikh as a direct result of the continuation of his imprisonment. Slogans: “What freedom is America claiming to espouse?” and “Freedom to the champion of Islam.”

Hint: Spiritual leader of Egypt’s most notorious militant group al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, which is responsible for the massacring of hundreds of Egyptians and foreigners and which is considered a terrorist organization not only by the United States, but also by Egypt, a close ally of Osama Bin Laden, and a leading al-Qaeda operative in Afghanistan. Keywords: Calling for jihad against “infidels” and attack against Western targets, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, New York City bomb plot, fatwa sanctioning the murder of late president Anwar Sadat. Current status: Serving a life sentence in North Carolina. Verdict passed: 1996. Question: Why now?

Place: Tora Prison, Cairo. Time: March 12, 2011. Occasion: Cousins Aboud and Tarek al-Zomor, members of the Islamic Jihad militant group, are released. Reason for incarceration: Involvement in the assassination of late president Anwar Sadat. Declared reason for release: Inmates had completed their term in 2011 and were held in jail by the former regime for security reasons. Actual reason for release: Decree by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces. Repercussions: Yesterday’s assassins become today’s household items. Newspapers and TV channels engage in a breathless who-gets-a-first-interview marathon. More repercussions: The new stars begin to contemplate taking an active part in politics—forming a political party maybe, running in presidential elections even.

Place: Anywhere in Egypt. Time: Any day after toppling the regime. Occasion: Islamic fundamentalists setting out to burn shrines and vowing to do the same with anything they consider alien to the spirit of Islam as perceived by the Salafi school of thought. Same time: Co-ideologues reportedly threaten to assault women who would go out unveiled and preachers that lead them through the path of faith declare all presidential candidates except ones subscribing to the Salafi doctrine, infidels. Message: “We are here whether you like it or not.”

Detecting the rationale behind the continuous protests—there has been four so far—calling for the release of the “Blind Sheikh” is as easy as putting one and one together—I mean for anyone who possesses the minimum observation skills required for realizing that the majority of seemingly ambiguous occurrences unravel themselves as quite justifiable when placed in the right context. Demanding the release of an international terrorist held outside the Egyptian territories took many by surprise not because the man is accused of actions that are in stark contradiction with all the values of democracy and human rights—supposedly the main pillars of Egyptian society in the coming phase—and not only because he is likely to have been the architect of several of the terrorist attacks that took the lives of innocent Egyptians, but also because of the protestors “unfounded” assumption that they can put pressure on the army, which in turn will do the same with the United States Administration to release Omar Abdel Rahman. It makes you wonder what kind of power they think they can wield on the Egyptian government or its American counterpart. Well, maybe “unfounded” is not the right word.

If the murderers of the president of the country—how tyrannical this president was being beside the point—are treated as heroes, so why shouldn’t a man who thought every “infidel” has no right to live get the same treatment and be pardoned for all the horrendous crimes attributed to him? Wasn’t the president killed for being one of those “infidels”? In more precise words, based on whose fatwa did the two men decide it was their religious duty to rid the world of that enemy of Islam?

True the case of the Zomor cousins is not similar to that of Abdel Rahman, for the first should have been released ages ago while the second is serving a jail term that is supposed to last till the end of his life. However, one can’t help wondering why now. Why was releasing them one of the first decisions taken by the Higher Council of the Armed Forces after the ouster of Mubarak? Was it to right the wrongs of that dictatorship which unjustly kept prisoners after their term was over? So, do we take it that everything had already been fixed to perfection and it was only the release of those two that was going to put the final touch to the Utopia that is post-revolution Egypt? Can we blame those fundamentalists if they assume the military council is on their side? If I were them and I see that political activists are still being arrested and peaceful protestors are still beaten up while my people are released, I would think in the same way. Can anyone call them delusional if they believe they are getting stronger and are gaining more sympathy as they turn from culprits into victims? And who of the two parties can Egyptians, who watch in disbelief as the fanatic tide seems to be sweeping the shores of Egypt and swallowing anything that comes in its way, blame? The performers or those who set the stage for them?

Unfortunately—or rather fortunately—Bin Laden died too early. Were he alive now, we would see Salafis marching to Afghanistan or protesting in front of the Pentagon, calling for granting amnesty to the hero of all times whose only fault was killing a “few” people who, like Omar Abdel Rahman’s “infidels,” were born to be exterminated. Had the champions—the blind and the now deceased—been released, they might have both entered Egypt borne on the shoulders of their disciples and a huge carnival would have been held all over the country with us serving as the main course in the banquet.