“The funeral is awe-inspiring and the deceased is worthless” is the closest translation of an Egyptian saying that describes the massive popularity of a person who deserves none at all. The metaphor seems to be the most appropriate since by virtue of being a posthumous event, a funeral is the best way to detect the real value of a certain person for a given group of people at a time they do not have to pay him/her any compliments for any reason and therefore their feelings are bound to be at their sincerest. Therefore, if thousands cry their hearts out for someone who is better dead than alive, then they have definitely been misled in some way or another, most likely by this very person who must have brainwashed them into thinking that he or she was God’s gift to earth and that his death is consequently a grave loss to mankind.

What aggravates the problem is the persistence of this feeling even after the funeral is over and the mourners’ determination to preserve the memory of their idol as they have always perceived it even if all signs point to the opposite direction and to fight at any cost whichever attempts to unravel the big lie this person had been.

I have not seen a person to whom this proverb and situation apply more than former presidential candidate, the self-proclaimed sheikh who managed to project an image that is in every way contrary to what he really is and by doing so earned himself a hysterical following and bestowed upon himself the exclusive right of turning his disciples into cannon fodder. This is where the unfortunate twist comes, for unlike the scenario in the original proverb he did not die and leave zillions of gullible supporters drown in their tears, but rather preferred to have them die for him thinking no nobler cause calls for martyrdom then measuring his importance with the amount of blood spilt in his name.

Hazem Salah Abu Ismail came from nowhere to claim he was the savior of the nation. He was the typical free rider who knows when exactly to turn changes in which he had absolutely taken no part to his own good. Apart from being the progenitor of the theory that Pepsi is the acronym for “Pay Every Penny to Save Israel,” Abu Ismail had nothing whatsoever to distinguish him from other preachers who gained access to people’s brains through those suspicious religious channels around whose sources of funding a great deal of question marks revolve. Neither Abu Ismail nor any of his co-preachers have ever been revolutionary. In fact, they were the ones who deemed rebelling against the ruler prohibited in Islam and this coincided with talk about their cooperation with the regime and State Security, which they now claim were their arch enemies.

The fall of the regime offered Abu Ismail and his likes the perfect opportunity to use their religious popularity for political gains and it was then that the sheikh decided he was to run for presidency and in record time became surrounded by hundreds of thousands of naïve Egyptians who, thanks to a bunch of promises that had nothing to do with domestic affairs, foreign policy, education, economy, and other things you usually find in a president’s platform, would make them “live dignified” as his electoral slogan went. None of his mesmerized followers bothered to ask him for a definition of “dignity” and consequently he didn’t bother to provide one. Nothing seemed of importance as long as he will do the one thing a sizable portion of the Egyptian population saw as the way out from their decades-long misery: turning Egypt into an Islamic state. This, accompanied by some anti-American rhetoric and a few criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces here and there, made Abu Ismail in no time a modern version of Saladin, a Muslim version of the Messiah, and a Sunni version of the Awaited Mahdi.

The rise of a populist figure who used religion, of which he applied nothing in life, and used the revolution, which he never took part in, was quite alarming for a lot of Egyptians and while many did not take him seriously at the beginning because they were under the impression that the people who staged such a historic uprising would have enough awareness to realize what a lying demagogue the man was, fears of his possible victory in the elections kept rising. As disturbing and saddening as that felt, nothing compared to the developments that followed and which started with the discovery that the sheikh’s mother had an American passport and which meant he was not qualified to run for president.

The fact that he lied at the beginning then insisted on that lie when he was exposed and had the nerve to accuse the U.S. administration of forging documents to kick him out of the presidential race and to charge the Egyptian judiciary with treason seem quite in line with the character of someone who was ready to sell his soul to the devil in return for power. Neither was the fact that his programmed followers remained adamant that the entire passport issue was a conspiracy against not only the sheikh, but the entire country and the Islamic faith. It was rather the rhetoric he used to create of their support for him a holy war and the way he instilled in them the belief that dying for him is martyrdom and abandoning his cause is apostasy.

It was the smiley-faced poisonous manner in which he dragged thousands into waving black flags and declaring “jihad” and offering their lives and instigated them into moving their battle from steps of the court in which the ruling in his case was being issued to the gates of the Ministry of Defense in which the real conspirators resided. And they complied like their Christian counterparts did centuries ago after listening to Pope Urban II talk about liberating the Holy Land from the grip of Saracens.

Off the Hazemites marched to “enemy barracks” chanting more slogans about martyrdom, the rule of God, the public execution of army generals, and the elimination of seculars amid reports of weapons hidden in the tents they erected to start a sit-in that they vowed would only end when the conspiracy is aborted. Tension rose amid warnings from the ministry and threats by the protestors and you needn’t be a strategic expert to guess what was to come next.

Before coming to that, it is important to mention that the sheikh was nowhere near the battlefield. He had a torn tendon, he said. When clashes erupted and attempts to break the sit-in by force grew ugly, he was also nowhere to be seen even with horrifying accounts of the dead and the injured started hitting headlines and TV screens and even when activists who never supported the cause and had no respect for the man decided that joining the sit-in was the best way to make a statement about excessive use of force and the violation of the right to protest. In what many saw as a civil war kind of escalation, protestors grew more militant as slogans along the lines of “Listen carefully Obama, we here are all Osama” started echoing all over the place and news of terrorist threats seemed like the most logical outcome and an out-and-out clampdown looked like the handiest way to contain it and thousands were rounded up and detained pending military trial. Still, no sign of the Bon Pasteur.

Unlike what many Egyptians who enjoy living in denial would like to believe, this was not another one of those protests that ended with another of those bloody army/police confrontations with civilians. This was, for the first time since the revolution, a protest instigated by and staged for one person by people who have been deceived, misled, and manipulated by this very same person. He, and only he, is held accountable for all the damages sustained during that protest, not because the army and the police are not to be blamed for their brutality in evacuating the place, but simply owing to his creation of a false, and deadly, “cause” that he used to show off his might and scare away his adversaries while he and his tendons remain unscathed.

The “charismatic” sheikh needs to understand that it is not, and will never be, about him or about any other person and that the people who sacrificed their lives for the real cause did not do so to see Egypt fall prey to another personality cult where human beings are infallible and rulers are irreplaceable.

He also needs to come to terms with his new status as a full-fledged criminal whose skills encompass forgery, libel, incitement of violence, and pre-meditated murder and to realize that he will go down in history as that opportunist who abused a nation and toyed with the lives of its innocent citizens for his personal glory.

I do hope the Ministry of Defense massacre would be the last time we look for individuals moving the masses and high time we only see causes behind protests and realize that it should always be nothing but “Cherchez l’Egypte.”