Many years ago, when I was 12 or 13, I hated my English teacher. Nothing personal! She just made Julius Caesar sound like Little Red Riding Hood and literature is one line nobody dared cross for me. My classmates had huge issues with her, too, not because they were fanatic about their Shakespeare, but rather because they were not sure how anything she said could translate into answers to exam questions. I said we should complain and they totally agreed except for a little detail: they were not going to. I don’t blame them, for why should they get themselves into trouble if they have a troublemaker on standby? So, I went to another senior English teacher and demanded that our class gets a new teacher. “And what is wrong with your teacher?” she asked me in a way that made me feel like I am a two-months old needing a change of diapers. “Because she doesn’t know anything!” She let out a loud gasp and was silent for a minute as she examined me from head to toe then stood up and beckoned, “Follow me.” In a matter of minutes, I was taken to the head of English teachers who had a very alarmed look on her face when she heard what I did and from there was led to the office of the principle who had a very vindictive look on her face when she heard what I did and shortly after there came my mother who had a very baffled look on her face when she heard what I did.
After giving my mother a lecture about how discipline starts from home and how respect for adults is the mark of the well-bred child and how lack of appreciation for teachers is a sign of ingratitude—all remarks that meant to make her regret the day she brought me to the world—the principle and the head of English finally issued the verdict: either I apologize for “insulting” my teacher or I am referred to some disciplinary committee that might end up dismissing me. My mother looked at me. “No, I am not going to apologize,” I said agitatedly. “I didn’t do anything.” At that point, my mom realized we could spend an entire week in this office and I would never change my mind, so she decided to take the easy way out. “Allow me to apologize on her behalf,” she said. “You know how stubborn kids are at this age.”
The two women looked at each other then looked at me gloatingly as they saw how humiliated I was by my mother’s reaction then the principle said condescendingly, “Well, fine for now, but you better make sure she doesn’t get away with such uncivilized behavior.”
I was fuming and pushed my mom’s arm as she tried to take me out of the room before I say anything stupid. When we got back home, I looked at her and said, “I will never forgive you” then locked myself into my room for the rest of the day. The next morning we had breakfast without saying a word but right before I got up to get ready for school she said, “You know what Don Quixote’s problem was?” I did not give a damn about Don Quixote so I did not answer. “He made imaginary enemies and wasted his breath fighting windmills.” That didn’t make any sense to me so I left thinking about nothing except how she let me down and made me feel so small in a situation where I was supposed to feel so big.
The teacher was changed.
This incident became so vivid in my mind a few days ago when a young MP and one of the most known revolutionaries gave a speech in the city of Port Said, where the stadium murders took place three weeks ago, and directly accused the Higher Council of the Armed Forces of planning and facilitating the carnage as part of a plan to wreak havoc in Egypt. In this speech, the MP pointed out that other parties held accountable for the tragedy in front of the public, like the city’s governor and head of security and the interior minister, are sheer scapegoats while the real culprit is at large. He then said that people should not be fooled into releasing the donkey and seizing the saddle, in reference to a famous Egyptian saying about blaming the wrong people or venting anger at those whose role is secondary while overlooking the primary cause. “The donkey is this case is the real criminal,” he said, as he explained the link between the image in the proverb and the case on the ground. To make sure no confusion might arise among the audience and just in case some of them are not so good at analyzing figures of speech, he said what he could have avoided had he counted from one till ten like they used to tell us as kids to do before saying anything stupid, a skill which I have always lacked of course. “The donkey is Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.”
Now, he has to apologize. The man he called donkey is head of the military council and the de-facto ruler of Egypt, so it’s either he admits he made a terrible mistake and maybe kneel in front of his victim and start braying himself to prove who the donkey really is or he can face the consequences which would start with a disciplinary action possibly followed by the stripping of parliamentary immunity possibly in preparation for a military trial. Looks like he opted for trying his luck with all the possibilities in the second scenario for he made it clear that an apology is out of the question and made it clearer he still insists on his earlier remarks about the field marshal and the council.
I am not sure we can put aside the fact that the parliament does not have the right to interrogate, let alone penalize, one of its members for something he said or did outside its boundaries or that a few days before another MP, who sucks up to the military council for a living, labeled formerly potential presidential candidate Mohamed al-Baradei a U.S. agent during a parliamentary session and nobody moved a hair or that we are supposedly done deifying humans and considering freedom of expression a criminal offence. I am similarly not sure we can for a long time overlook the sickening double standards with which both the parliament and the military council are dealing with anything that happens in the country and the way very specific people are picked at just because they are outspoken revolutionaries while the horrible mistakes of others are totally forgiven just because they are fawning loyalists.
I will try to put all this aside for the time being and will also try to stir away from my personal opinion and my wholehearted solidarity with the embattled MP and just point out that while the word “donkey” is derogatory because it means “stupid” this is not what he meant when he equated the field marshal with the donkey in the proverb. This does not mean he did not hurl a blunt accusation at the field marshal. Of course he did. It was definitely not stupidity, though, or any of the characteristics associated with donkeys. What is quite ironic here is that the accusation the MP meant is much more serious than the one his detractors understood or chose to understand, for he meant that if the donkey in the image stands for the criminal then the donkey is the field marshal, which, according to empirical logic, makes the field marshal the criminal. Yet, it was much easier to make a fuss about a wrong interpretation because it makes an easy prey of the enemy than look into the right interpretation because it opens a Pandora’s Box many would rather keep locked for as long as they can.
I have decided to put aside the fact that the MP’s approach might not have been the most well-calculated or the most timely not because he does not have the absolute right to say whatever he wants whenever he wants and whoever doesn’t like it is welcome to sue him, but rather because he dragged himself into the wrong battle at a time when more important ones require every ounce of his energy and therefore gave the proponents of tyranny his head on a silver platter.
I have decided instead to go back to the story I recounted in the beginning and let you know that after I cooled down a few days later, my mom decided to explain why she did what I saw as high treason.
“You were not wrong because you demanded something that you believed was your right. You just didn’t choose the best way to go about it and that is only what the apology was for.”
The MP explained the figurative aspect of his statement and this constitutes an apology for the form. As for the content, he has nothing to apologize for.
The school was smart enough to accept the apology that saves its face while not holding on to a stance that could ruin its reputation, but can lousy teachers be replaced by a principal who promotes lousy education?