Letter from Cairo: The underground-hood goes ‘above’


In almost all vampire movies, you see the creatures of the darkness always meeting their end in more or less same manner. Assaulted by malicious rays of light, their bodies start disintegrating until nothing is left of them but a heap of dust similar to the ones you see at the end of one of those sandy wind attacks that hit Egypt in springtime.

Watching vampire movies is one of the most confusing experiences for any human being who is not yet familiar with the contradictions inherent in this earthly life.

Being a creature who loves the sun and loathes nothing more than darkness, grey skies, and cloudy mornings, I could never grasp the idea of having your death triggered by exposure to light, the very source of life and vitality and everything that gives you power to survive. As a child, I was extremely disturbed by those scenes not because they frightened me, but rather because the concept of death by light seemed too absurd to be even mythologically plausible. When I started crossing the threshold of that black-and-white world and took my first steps into the realm of the grey, I started viewing the matter from a totally different angel and gradually the association between death and light became not only good material for folktales, but also turned out to be amongst the main components of the essence of reality.

They say that one of the things that causes a baby to scream the moment it is pulled out to the world is the fact that its eyes are forced to encounter something that is the total opposite of the place it called home for the past nine months. Yet as it discovers that it is here to stay, that other “lit” place gradually becomes the normal and darkness the exception. They also say people who are born blind then restore their eyesight when they are adults find it extremely hard to cope, much harder than the baby because in this case their stay at the “womb” had been unpredictably extended. So, what does a blind man do if he tries to cross the street right after he is able to see? He will most probably be run over by some speeding car. And what if he drives a car? He will most probably run some passerby over. He will either end up dead or in jail… in addition of course to the emotional damage triggered by failure to adapt to an environment that should from now on be the his one and only world. There is also the feeling of reaching the point of no return. Is he going to pull an Oedipus act and gouge his eyes to get rid of this ordeal once and for all? No, he won’t simply because the temptation of having firsthand experience with the objects he has only been hearing about is too overwhelming. The newcomer to the world of shapes and colors is too curious to ruin the chance of satisfying this obsessive instinct. Do you remember what curiosity did to the cat? So, he would rather risk his life or that of others than give up such a priceless “bounty.”

Since it saw the “dark” in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has been almost exclusively an underground organization not in the sense that its presence was not known or acknowledged, but rather in the way it has operated and the secrecy with which it has always shrouded its activities—past, present, and future.

Defining the Muslim Brotherhood is as hard as trying to predict what they’re up to. The group’s involvement in politics does not make it a political party proper, and parliamentary elections provide the best demonstration. Because their group was always referred to as “banned,” Muslim Brothers only ran as independents even though they posted the slogan “Islam is the solution” on their banners and even though the candidates’ affiliation was known to any Egyptian with the slightest knowledge of the political scene. They are also not a purely social movement despite their involvement in several charity projects and not purely religious despite listing preaching and the revival of Islamic principles as its main goals.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a peculiar mixture of all those, and this is part of the mystery with which it has always been endowed since Hassan al-Banna—himself quite enigmatic—decided that the Quran and Sunna should be the “sole” reference of individuals, society, and state.

The several question marks that surround the Muslim Brotherhood are, for me, basically due to the fact that since its inception no one really managed to get straight answers about the ideology—other than the declared religious one—on which the group was formed. Are they violent? They say they are not, yet several bombings and assassinations were attributed to them and words like “jihad” and “death for God” do come in the group’s manifesto. Do they believe in equality among all Egyptian citizens? They insist they do—they even named their new party Justice and Freedom—yet they opposed in the agenda they drafted a couple of years ago having women or Copts run in presidential elections. Are they hostile to non-Islamic cultures? They claim they are not, yet al-Banna, who they still regard as their main source of inspiration, saw Western influence as the reason for the “corruption” of Egyptian and other Muslim societies.

For a little less than a century, those questions remained unanswered and Egyptians seemed to have gotten used to the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood will always remain like The Scarlet Pimpernel, and some even gave up trying hard to figure out what they want, how they work, or how influential they are. Part of this growing indifference, I guess, was due to the fact that the regime had always had its eyes peeled and gazing and popping out for the group whose members spent more time in jail more than at home and had more money confiscated than spent. So, everybody knew that regardless of what it wants or plans to do, it is only within the space the regime allows it that the Brotherhood acts. A group that adopts secrecy as its modus operandi is pushed several more miles under the ground by a regime that suppresses any threat to its hegemony… perfect recipe for a full-fledged mystery!

The revolution gave the Muslim Brotherhood the first chance ever to shed off the two shades of darkness with which it had been enveloped—the voluntary and the imposed. Now that all Egyptians were “set free,” the Muslim Brothers saw no reason why they should stay in the dark while everyone else is coming to the surface and basking in the long-stolen light. In fact, they must have assumed they should have the lion’s share in the newly released rays owing to the fact that they had been the most ruthlessly drenched in pitch-blackness. It was then that the real farce started.

Breaking the decades-long ban on public appearances, Muslim Brothers have suddenly become the daily guests of every single show on state TV and privately owned satellite channels, the keynote speakers in scores of seminars and conferences, and the most requested preachers in nation-wide religious sermons. That was it! The once blind man threw the window shutters open the moment he knew he could see.

Throughout their history, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been used to talking to one another, and they seemed to have never had a problem in that simply because they shared similar beliefs and worked toward the same goals. They have not seen the shock their words can elicit nor have they realized how much their statements constitute a flagrant offence to anyone who does not belong to their group or how their fiery rhetoric betrays an absolute lack of savvy when it comes to winning support outside the circle of their original followers.

A couple of days ago, I saw one of the best-known Brothers on TV lecturing hundreds, maybe thousands, of people and asserting in what sounded to me like a declaration of war the impossibility of removing the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt’s political scene and referring to Hassan al-Banna as the one and only savior of Islam. He then slammed “seculars” and “heretics” who oppose the establishment of an Islamic state. The highlight of the speech was his attack on Brotherhood men who marry women from outside the group and who he basically labeled as “lacking manhood.”

The speech was not the worst part; his attempt to defend it was. When asked by the host of a popular talk show about the reason for insisting that Brothers have to marry Sisters, he replied—thinking he is making things better—that the group does not raise its “chaste” female members so that men can marry another women “from the street.” Regardless of the fact that he refers to women from outside the group as unworthy—that’s the mildest way to put it—and that they don’t deserve the honor of becoming the Brothers’ wives, the way he talked about Sisters was in fact extremely offensive. I, for one, was made to feel he is a barn owner who breeds cattle for sale. Now, time for the biggest faux pas he made on air: he swore to God that he had no idea who the other guest—a liberal writer who slammed his statements and labeled them “fascist”—was. When the host insisted that he was told in advance and faced him with the fact that he “had taken the Lord’s name in vain,” he grew nervous and was on the verge of leaving the studio.

I was surprised to see my fury at the man’s unbelievable tactlessness and his absolute disregard of all Egyptians who do not subscribe to his ideologies was tinged with a spec—a little one—of pity. I have never been a fan of the Muslim Brotherhood and I am a staunch proponent of the civil state and a stauncher opponent of religious parties and the exclusionist agenda that comes with the package, yet as much as I detested every word the man said, I could clearly see a perfect example of self-destruction.

While assuming he was out to score a victory for the Brotherhood, he was only making a fool of himself and the group and with his own hands giving Egyptians a very good reason to dislike him and all his likes. He might not have done that out of malice, yet his inexperience as far as public statements are concerned and his cluelessness of the diplomacy required for such situations came out in the nastiest form ever. Yes, I felt slightly sorry for him because suddenly he was required to use tools with which he is not equipped in the first place, and he, consequently, emerged as a lousy actor hit by rotten tomatoes after the first line.

The euphoria of toppling the regime had an intoxicating effect on the Brotherhood and, therefore, did not allow them to reflect on the possible scenarios of their instant emergence from six feet under. They thought that now that they have the chance to speak, the whole crowd will applaud, yet they forgot to take some oration courses… they thought the stage is clear for them to deliver a monologue that will drench the theater in the tears of the moved audience, but they forgot that this is a multi-actor play.

I asked myself what would happen if vampires were gradually subjected to light instead of being overwhelmed by a flood of destructive rays. After dwelling for a long time on what I like to call “mythological probability”—myths have to be credible even if in a different way, you know—I found out that they would still not be saved. They will just undergo a gradual annihilation simply because their bodies are not designed for the light. They will be left with the option of staying under the ground if they opt for survival or coming above the surface if they opt for suicide. The most powerful of genetic mutation is needed to change this, one of the type that makes cats grow beaks or ducks become beasts of burden. Sad, but true!

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Sonia Farid

I teach for a living... write for a life!

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