Letter from Cairo: Best actor in a deriding role


“Who is this bearded man? A relative of yours?”
“Of course not! This is Che Guevara!”
“Is he a freedom fighter?”
“Yes, one of history’s greatest freedom fighters.”
“In Afghanistan?”

This is part of a scene in an Egyptian film called “The Terrorist.” The film tells the story of a jihadist who, after carrying out a major terrorist operation, hides undercover with an upper-middle class family in a Cairo suburb and starts acquiring a different perspective as he becomes exposed to the typical “infidels” he has been taught to eliminate in order to “purify” society and establish an Islamic state.

The above-mentioned bit is part of an exchange between this terrorist and one of the members of the family he stays with and with whom he shares his room. His comment on Guevara’s portrait gives insight into the mindset of someone who has been brainwashed into thinking that freedom fighting only happens in Afghanistan and that only Muslim militants deserve to have their pictures hung on walls. That explains the gasp he let out upon knowing that the so-called great fighter is in fact Communist and serves as a prelude to his perception of the entire family. “I am staying with a family of apostates,” the terrorist tells his senior over the phone.

The protagonist is an Egyptian actor who was recently sentenced to jail on charges of “deriding Islam” in a number of his movies that tackled terrorism and fundamentalist Islamists, on top of which comes this one of course. I am no big fan of the actor not only for finding his performance quite average, but also owing to the way his movies on religious extremism came as part of a regime-backed propaganda campaign that glorified State Security and supported government claims about repression being the only means to protect the country form the ever-looming specter of terrorism. For me, his movies on this topic were more or less a justification of state terrorism not only because they have always adopted the official story, but also due to the way they overlooked the complexity of the relationship between security and jihadists and which over the years have seen a spat of alliances between the two against the Egyptian people who were meant to stay scared and submissive all the time.

All this aside, I have to admit that simplistic and didactic as it is, a movie like “The Terrorist” honestly depicted a time in Egypt that I personally find one of the most disturbing. The scenes that featured the operations in which the protagonist is involved summed up the nightmare in which Egyptians lived in the early 1990s when attacks on Christians, the killing of tourists, booby trapped cars in residential areas, and the assassination of intellectuals was everyday news. So regardless of the motive for making such a film or the lack of depth that marred both script and on-screen adaptation, the facts were true and terrorism in the name of religion and on such a brutal scale was an indisputable part of our reality at the time. It is, therefore, quite baffling to have a lawsuit filed against the actor for his role in deriding Islam in this movie and its likes, namely those that depict Islamist extremists.

The question is: What exactly is it that really bothered the ultra-conservative lawyer who filed the suit? Is it, like he claimed, the mocking of what he saw as Islamic symbols? Maybe a look at those symbols will help in answering the question. According to the plaintiff, several of the actor’s movies made fun of the type of appearance/outfit pertaining to conservative Muslims like the beard for men and the face veil for women. Another question has to follow: If we assume that mockery and not the depiction of reality was the films’ sole purpose, does that constitute an insult to Islam as a religion? I do agree that with many observers that the verdict against the actor is what actually demeans Islam because it reduces the religion to a few hairs on the chin or a black cloth over the face. Yet, I have to admit that this is not my main concern. The main argument should not be about which work of art breaks what taboos, but rather the catastrophe of having those works subjected to censorship in the first place. Sadly enough, I believe that this is a very advanced stage that we are not likely to reach any time soon, at least not while such relentless attempts at demonizing all sorts of difference or “otherness” are ongoing at such scary pace.

If we set aside the flagrant violation of the right to creativity and artistic expression at the moment and just focus on this specific lawsuit and if we decide to become reasonable enough to realize that it is not about beards and veils, another question pops up: What is the real motive behind filing the lawsuit, which, I believe, is not the unilateral action of a disgruntled conservative who saw his faith threatened by a couple of reels?

Let us first agree that the timing of such a lawsuit could not have been better. With the fall of a regime seen as the archenemy of Islamist powers and which despite the several deals they struck together still remained the powerful partner that had at its mercy any faction that did not toe the line and with the sweeping ascension of Islamists to power, a lawsuit of that type was expected to garner considerable popular support from a category of the population that is now more vocal than ever about its resentment of liberalism and the civil state. Yet, it was not from a position of power that this lawsuit was filed. True, Islamists are at the helm now and liberals, including the real revolutionaries, are gradually shriveling to a voiceless minority, but this did not in any way eliminate the accumulated insecurities of the current majority and which basically stems from a history that can be anything but spotless, transparent, or guilt-free.

One of the main issues raised right after the sweeping victory of Islamists in parliamentary elections was the fact that a sizable portion of the new MPs were at some point or another jail inmates, some as political prisoners and others for actual criminal charges that involved terrorism and killing of civilians. I remember this psychiatrist who said on TV that people who spend long years in jail cannot just come out to practice politics not only because many of them are criminals, but also because in general the jail experience, especially under a repressive regime, is traumatic enough to render prisoners unable to live normally for a while after their release let alone occupy decision-making positions and be in charge of charting an entire country’s future. “Those people need years of rehabilitation in order to go back to being normal human beings,” he said. Of course, the duration and effect of this rehabilitation differs according to the crime, for while it is possible for those who were imprisoned just for belonging to one outlawed group or another, I don’t see it applicable to actual murderers who are expected to resort to violence again whenever they see fit.

What this actor did was not insulting Islam or tarnishing the image of Muslims, for extremist Islamists are already doing that as masterfully as can be and no one can outdo their amazing ability at deriding religion. He is, in fact, guilty of a much graver offence: the depiction and documentation of a phase in their lives that they are doing their best to obliterate as they attempt to pose in front of a gullible as men of God who will salvage the nation from the hands of apostates. Egyptians are generally an emotional people known to forgive too fast those who wrong them and the sympathy they felt for Mubarak after one of his cheesy speeches during the revolution serves as the best example.

Suing this actor is part of an attempt to destroy as much implicating evidence as possible ─ not because his films will be obliterated from the memory of the film industry ─ but rather because his indictment will serve as a proof of how much of a liar he was when he portrayed them in this way. For them, he is part of the former regime, and he indeed is. Yet, they are not concerned about the regime as a repressive entity that stripped the people of their rights since this is exactly what they have started doing the moment they came to power. They only traces of the old regime they are keen on eliminating are the ones that bear witness to their appalling past and otherwise they will be duplicating it and we will be surprised at how well they would do that.

The deriding awards ceremony has just started and this actor will not be the last to mount the stage to be handed the verdict and maybe allowed a goodbye speech before being ushered to the stake.

It will then be only a matter of time before history takes a different course and Guevara is crowned an official member of the Afghan mujahedeen.

Letter from Cairo: Taking the Via Dolorosa


A few years ago, I was having breakfast with a friend. Everything was fine till she picked at the butter and looked really irked. She called the waiter and asked him to please take it back and bring something that’s not Danish. It was the time when everyone was boycotting Danish products following the fury over the Prophet’s cartoons. The waiter complied and to her surprise, I didn’t say anything.

“You are not boycotting Danish products?” she asked, anticipating an answer she wouldn’t like. “No,” I said flatly. “Are you serious?” she looked shocked. “How come?” I talked for a good half hour about freedom of expression, cultural differences, the status of religion in the West, and the different perception of the concept of sacredness. She listened to me throughout and when she made sure I had finished, she made the most unexpected reply: “I cried all night when I heard.” That shut me up alright and made me feel how everything I had said was insensitive. I discovered that I had made a terrible misjudgment when I addressed an emotionally charged topic with logical argument. She might have already known beforehand the content of that lecture I was going to give and she might have even thought it made sense, but there was no way this would change the way she felt. I realized that it was not that clash of ideologies I wanted to believe, it was also not about which of us was able to memorize more articles from human rights treaties and U.N. charters. She is religious … I am not … Period.

From that point onwards, I have learned to bear in mind that religious feelings are not necessarily bound by the formal logic commonly used in earthly matters and that measuring spiritual sentiments with academic criteria is as insane as telling an atheist astronomer the story of genesis.

The Danish butter conversation took me back to a similar story. Several years ago, official newspapers started publishing a series of public apologies by Copts who performed the pilgrimage ritual in Jerusalem against the wish of the Pope who issued in 1979 an edict prohibiting members of his flock from entering the holy city as long as it is under occupation. I remember how, upon contemplating the supplicating tone with which they wrote their statement, I hated the fact that free individuals should answer to the clergy for their personal choices and how, upon examining the action for which they were apologizing, I resented what I saw was an outright recognition of the state of Israel. Between this and that, I thought that while the Pope should not have the right to prevent Copts from worshipping as they see fit, those same Copts should on their own accord refrain from taking the trip to Jerusalem under current circumstances. The commotion subsided shortly after anyway. No one was sure whether the flock was becoming more religiously obedient or rather politically aware, but the end result was the same: for years none of them ventured into that bumpy road.

The death of the Pope revealed that a large portion of Copts stayed away from Jerusalem because they chose peace of mind over risky proclamations of spiritual zeal, for soon after hundreds of them took a direct flight from Cairo Airport to Ben Gurion Airport and geared up for the first real Holy Week in decades. It was now crystal clear. In the absence of any authority that makes the consequences of the trip too grave to be tolerated, Jerusalem becomes once more the ultimate destination. The political administration of the city becomes of almost no importance at all as the religious passion takes over.

My friend was fully aware of the Danish cartoonist’s rights and similarly the pilgrims are fully sympathetic with the Palestinian cause. It is just a matter of priorities not in the sense that one single trip takes precedence over the lives of innocent Palestinians, but rather about this feeling of incompletion that is bound to persist as long as this ritual is not performed maybe together with a firm belief that religion should transcend politics like prophets should stay out of the realm of artistic freedom. Suffice it to imagine how many of those wanted to get one glimpse of the holiest site in Christianity before they die or how many others believed in the miracles such a blessed journey could work for them. It was a purely emotional act in response to a long-suppressed desire and which can in no way be considered a declaration of love for Israel or a lack of respect for the memory of the Pope.

The situation of the Grand Mufti of Egypt looks a lot different and the implications of the visit he made to Jerusalem and the prayers he performed inside al-Aqsa Mosque are seen as more serious. Unlike the few hundreds seeking communion in the holy land, the mufti is a public figure that supposedly represents millions of Egyptian Muslims who he must have guessed were very likely to be infuriated at such an initiative and indeed they were. Despite stressing that he traveled to Jerusalem via Jordan and that he did not obtain an Israeli visa, the mufti was accused of subscribing to the normalization project and calls for his impeachment and even trial have been echoing in both Egypt and Palestine.

Public reaction to the visit was quite predictable, but the mufti’s personal response was not. “God has bestowed upon me the blessing of performing the noon and afternoon prayers in such a holy place,” he said. Many people might see such a statement as a sheer theatrical cover-up, but I do see where he is coming from the same way I did with my Danish butter friend and the Palm Sunday Copts. A place as holy as that can apparently have a mesmerizing effect that blinds to Israeli flags fluttering all over the place and ultra-Orthodox Jews by the Wailing Wall or at least endows one with some conscious power that overcomes all that as it moves towards a nobler aim.

We could very easily ask ourselves why the mufti couldn’t resist while the Pope did or why Copts took the first flight to Jerusalem while Muslims never followed suite. The answer to that is as mysterious as the effect such a spiritual journey might have. Probably the pope was more conscious of his position as a figurehead who is not by virtue of his responsibility allowed to break an edict he himself issued and probably Muslims are more conscious of their moral obligation to abide by an implicit pact not to set foot in Jerusalem under occupation and which by virtue of their being the co-religionists of the majority of Palestinians and Arabs they are not at liberty to violate.

Reasons are not really important and as long as counter-arguments can be made about the necessity of Arab Muslims and Christians frequenting Jerusalem to prevent the Judaization of a city that is supposed to encompass all three faiths, there is no right and wrong as far as this goes. It is not fair to call those who go traitors exactly as it is not accurate to consider those who don’t patriotic. It is quite normal to follow your instinct in matters that solely and exclusively depend on the deepest of beliefs. It is also even more normal to be willing to bear with whatever trouble it takes for the sake of embarking on a journey towards salvation. Think of the physical hardships pilgrims to Mecca have to endure and multiply them by a zillion to imagine how it might have been before airplanes, air-conditioned buses, and five-star hotels and you have the simplest of examples about the way faith has the magical ability to surpass all sorts of pain.

I have learned not to judge people as long as I am not in their shoes and if I cannot say for sure that I would not have done as they did had I reached a degree of piety that makes a given trip cross the threshold from tormenting imperfection to eternal cleansing then I am not an authority on the matter. All what I know is that in my current condition, and which I do not expect will change, I will never embark on any kind of action that could imply from near or far a recognition of occupation forces or an endorsement of normalization with Israel no matter how keen I might be to see a historical and cultural treasure like Jerusalem.

This “Via” has apparently never stopped being “Dolorosa” and will remain so until further notice so those who take it have apparently more faith in its balm than fear of its agony. Wasn’t this same road, after all, the path to eternity more than two millennia ago?

Letter from Cairo: The scarecrow and the test balloon


“Why not from the start?” is an Egyptian saying I learnt as a child about the unnecessary postponement of an eventual outcome. Like many parents, my mother used to respond with “no” to any request I had even if she only heard half of it. It was therefore quite common that incomplete sentences along the lines of “I want to go to…” or “I need money for…” would be met with the most abrupt refusal. It was also quite common that after about a whole hour of negotiations, she would finally agree and I would, out of breath, half-furious, half-pleading, “Why not from the start?”

She never had an answer for that question and neither did all other parents. It was only when one of my schoolmates decided to come up with a theory that explains what she called “parents’ weird behavior.” According to her, parents are always after one of two things. They either want to teach you a lesson through proving who the boss is and making the final approval a condescending act on their part that should make us stay grateful forever. Or they really are not in the mood for approving any request or have reservations about it and do their best to push your limits until you give it up, but when you don’t they have no other option but to give in.

Of course, none of us cared about psychoanalyzing our parents. Finding a way to make them agree to a request within first five minutes of making it was the one and only priority we had. It was only later that I realized that there is no way you can look for solutions without going back to causes and it is impossible to understand an action without digging deeper into the brains and psyche of the person who did it. I am no longer in touch with this nerdy classmate of mine, but I admit I owe her a lot now, much more than she can imagine. I am too old to seek my mother’s approval for anything, but it is thanks to this theory that I am able to decipher actions quite similar to hers even though the comparison is too unfair. This time it is done on a much broader scale: a national one.

“Why not from the start?” wondered Egyptians as they stared at the TV screen to hear the Presidential Elections Commission announcing the exclusion from the presidential race of two of the most controversial potential candidates: the Salafi Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and former intelligence chief and Mubarak’s first and last vice-president Omar Suleiman. Nobody was able to figure out this unjustified delay even though it was obvious that none of them was eligible even if for different reasons. It was then when I retrieved the parents’ theory and was amazed at how applicable it is to the current situation and to any dictatorial system of governance that is constantly preoccupied with the means to teach its people lessons and use them as guinea pigs.

Reports about Abu Ismail’s mother being an American citizen, which violates one of the main candidacy conditions, were leaked, nobody has a clue by who exactly, at a time when his popularity had reached its peak and his supporters were multiplying at the speed of light and also at a time when there was growing concern over the possibility of his victory – an assumption that was totally dismissed two months before. It will be extremely naive to assume that Abu Ismail, a Salafi preacher who appears on religious TV channels and promotes all kinds of extremist ideologies under a government that had zero tolerance for Islamists, did not have his name adorning the cover of a fat file at the State Security Bureau. The file would definitely include all sorts of information about his family including his mother’s favorite underwear, let alone the fact she had lived for years in the United States and was already a registered voter in Santa Monica, California. The Interior Ministry, and of course the Higher Council of the Armed Forces, would have then taken the easy and most logical way and would have announced from the very beginning that the man could not run. Yet, they chose to let him place his posters in every single corner until he haunted us in our dreams and to be on TV every other day talking about his plans of forcing women to wear the veil and separating between sexes in the workplace and to garner that sweeping support that suddenly translated into in six digits. A clear-cut verdict on Abu Ismail’s inability to run could have also been issued on the spot. Yet, it was important to leave the matter hanging for a while to allow for mass rallies by bearded men carrying black flags and shouting slogans with every other word being “jihad” or “bloodbath” or their synonyms. The end result was scaring people to death of the theocracy Egypt was bound to become if the man made it and making many turn to the military council, which I believe has the last say over the court and the elections commission, for help in a tacit admission that it is only their last-minute interference that would save the day.

Is that a lot different from the “who’s the boss” strategy my mother religiously adopted? Not really! I would only change its name to “the scarecrow strategy,” one in which you need to make your adversaries feel how indebted they are to you and how unable they are to manage without your assistance.

Suleiman was the head of intelligence for two whole decades, a time seen as Egypt’s worst in terms of democracy and human rights. He was also the vice-president Mubarak chose to reassure the people about his sincere readiness to implement democratic reforms and respond to the demands of the street. Let us set aside a shameful CV, a big part of which can be compiled from Wikileaks, that includes his involvement in the siege on Gaza and the efforts he exerted to deepen the rift between Palestinian factions to suck up to Israel, his role in providing the U.S. with information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, his supervision of extraordinary rendition programs in which terror suspects were sent from the U.S. for extortion of confessions under torture. Let us instead focus on one very meaningful scene that depicts the reaction of protestors in Tahrir Square to Suleiman’s appointment as vice-president and this will be more than enough to consider his candidacy an outright treason of the revolution. Let us also look at Suleiman’s interview with ABC, in which he clearly stated that Egyptians are not fit for democracy at the moment and accused all the revolutionaries of being funded by foreign powers while asking them menacingly to “go home.”

In short, there is nothing about Suleiman that would have made him play any part in a country struggling to get rid of an autocratic past together with all the people that represented this autocracy and helped it survive. Suffice it is to say that a few minutes after Suleiman’s candidacy was announced the imagined title of his campaign that got viral on the internet became “You are all Khaled Saeed” after the famous Facebook page “We are all Khaled Saeid” created to pay tribute to the young man brutally beaten to death by state security and who is considered one of the main triggers of the revolution. It is not clear who really fielded Suleiman but rumor had it that it was the military council. Even though the two are not generally on good terms, they were both an integral part of the former regime and therefore could be the only ones remaining outside bars who have full access to information about its crimes. They might find it in their best interest to cooperate towards the elimination of any of its traces that might implicate them in the future. The timing was also perfect to an extent that the man previously looked upon by Egyptians as a ruthless monster who would turn Egypt into an open air concentration camp, was starting to be seen by the misled-cum-scared few as the guardian angel who will save Egypt from the grip of Islamic rule. Yet, there was no consensus on the necessity of banning a candidate from running like that on Suleiman. It was actually because of him that some miraculous unity was forged between Islamists and liberals, regardless of course of the huge difference between the motives of each. Suleiman failed with misery in the test the military council set for the Egyptian people and he was out in a split of a second, definitely not because of the geographical distribution of popular endorsements or the missing four signatures.

Is that a lot different from the “push your limits” strategy my mother religiously adopted? Not really! I would only change its name to “the test balloon strategy,” one in which you gauge your adversaries’ reaction through embarking on a provocative action while pretending it is well-intended, then innocently withdraw when you are shocked by how furious they are at your decision.

One thing I am sure of: dealing with grownups as if they are children is bound to send you shamefully defeated and leave you utterly helpless as you lament your inability to judge how mature those “children” have become and how resistant to pressure they are.

Just think how the situation would be if those grownups are also revolutionaries!

Letter from Cairo: Vilayet-e-Brotherhood


On January 27, 2011, I sent a message to a group of friends on Facebook asking who planned to join the protests the following day, commonly known as the Friday of Anger. Amidst rumors that cell phones and the Internet might be cut off in a few hours, I was getting more and more nervous as I imagined this happening before we managed to agree when and where we would meet. As I was begging everyone to reply as soon as possible, one of my friends came up with what I thought was the most provocative response ever: “I don’t think I can make,” she wrote. “My mom and dad won’t let me go out.” I am not sure I thought for even a few seconds before I typed what I later realized was a very aggressive reply: “We are trying to save a country from falling apart and you’re worried about your mum and dad. I am afraid none of us has time for this bulls**t, so just stay at home and have fun.”

I was so furious and I felt totally fine saying that even though several of my friends who were included in the message said I was too harsh and warned me of judging people without first putting myself in their shoes. I was not convinced of course and I kept arguing that it is a matter of knowing what your priorities are and that it was messed up to allow a bunch of people to take precedence over an entire nation.

However, as the protests turned into a revolution and the question, “Do you go to Tahrir?” popped up into every conversation, I started realizing that the likes of the friend I snapped at were much more than I had imagined.

A lot of adults I know, especially women, would have liked to have taken part in the revolution but weren’t able to simply because they could not get their parents’ and/ or spouses’ approval. For someone as rebellious as me, this was absolute nonsense since there was nothing easier than “I am going whether you like or not” followed by a slam of the door. But I gradually started to think of friends’ advice about how flawed my judgment of other people’s actions will be if it is not based on a comprehensive analysis of the circumstances under which those actions happened or the pressure under which the people who did them were placed.

After a lot of deliberation, I reached the conclusion that it is quite unfair to expect everyone to be revolutionary because a sizable portion of them are just not made for that basically owing to an upbringing that created of them submissive creatures who are not willing to take the risk of defying the authority they have been obeying for years. I would be exaggerating if I said I found this a justification since a revolution would, by definition, be meaningless in the absence of a set of unyielding rules that will remain unbreakable unless some unruly power decides to change that. All what I can say is that I just managed to come to terms with the fact that some people are not free enough to be part of a freedom struggle and that if you personally lack an independent will you cannot demand it for others. To put in the simplest terms ever, we can say that some people are made to lead while others are content to be led.

After adapting to this theory as a fact of life, I stopped giving people hell for not taking part in the revolution or the protests that followed and I even reached the point of forgetting about this categorization altogether as I got more or less self-programmed in my choice of people I spoke to about activism and rebellion and all other forms of “outrageous” conduct. It was only with the sweeping hegemony of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian political scene and with the group fielding a presidential candidate in particular that this sharp division made a forceful comeback.

I have always had very strong reservations about the Brotherhood and this was not only about the way they used religion for emotional manipulation and political gain, shrouded all their activities in a kind of secrecy that made them more of a cult, struck deals with the devil as long as it gave them access to power, but also because of the way they demonized their rivals and created untouchable demi-gods of themselves. This is also in addition of course to the fact that they only joined the revolution when they were sure the cake was too delicious to be left to those who baked it. However, none of those is what makes me feel alarmed at the moment, for I am rather obsessed with the Brotherhood’s certain inability to be part of a revolutionary setup, let alone establish a democracy.

The most important rule any Brotherhood-to-be needs to learn before deciding to join it is absolute obedience of the leadership and indisputable reverence to the hierarchy based on which the group is structured. This makes of the Brotherhood an extremely conservative entity whose members operate within a predetermined order and work towards serving the interests this order dictates. Violations are punishable by one immediate measure: expulsion. It doesn’t seem likely that such an organization can produce freedom fighters and the moment it does they are instantaneously declared ungrateful dissidents and are sent to fight their battles “anywhere but here.” This means that all those who remain part of the group still subscribe to this ideology and do not, therefore, have a mind of their own nor do they represent their own individual selves in any action they take or any statement they make.

How then is it possible for the Muslim Brotherhood to be in control of a parliament and a constitution that are supposed to be the product of a revolution and are expected to embrace all the values enshrined by this revolution?

Let us put aside the argument they use about how they became MPs because the people wanted them to be or how they formed the assembly in accordance with the constitutional declaration and think of the outcome this might produce. Brotherhood members in both the parliament and the assembly will not cast their votes on legislations or constitution articles as individual freethinkers who act upon the dictates of their own conscience together with what is best for the country, but rather as parts of a whole that are put at the disposal of one individual who possesses the sole right of giving direct instructions and determining which course the group and its members should take.

By the same token, if the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate makes it, who or what will he pledge allegiance to? In other words, if the interests of Egypt and/or the demands of the people collide with the wishes of the Supreme Guide, who is he going to obey? Would he risk ruffling the feathers of the group that made him what he is and that has the capacity of stripping him of it all? Or would he simply usher Egypt into a new form of dictatorship where a spiritual leader is the actual head of state while the president is not more than an executive power?

A quick look at the Vilayet-e Faqih doctrine as explained in Ayatollah Khomeini’s book Islamic Government: Governance of the Jurist and as applied in Iran since the eruption of the 1979 revolution shows this system as the eventual product of a Brotherhood president. Shortly after, presidential and parliamentary candidates will have to be approved by the Supreme Leader who will function as the head of the army, the police, and the judiciary and as the one official who retains the exclusive right of declaring war and making peace. And by the way this has nothing to do with Iran being Shiite and the Muslim Brotherhood Sunni, for tyranny has no religion and abides by no sects.

My friends who preferred to stay at home during the revolution would have been lying to themselves and to everyone else had they claimed they are revolutionaries after the regime was toppled. Similarly, the Muslim Brotherhood is more synonymous than ever with hypocrisy now that its members pretend to carry the banner of an action that involved breaking the rules and rejecting any form of oppression, all capacities they are not equipped with and will never be as long as they do not change their affiliation.

I really respected my friends who stayed at home for realizing that if they leave they will either pack and take a one way road or come back with a declaration of independence and for not once thinking that a couple of visits to the square after all subsided would make them claim as their own victories they have never fought for. I respect them for acknowledging their limitations and living with them.

I guess this becomes a lot harder when the bounty involved is too big to allow space for a little bit of ethics.

Letter from Cairo: Constitutionally ever after …


A caricature of the parliament speaker with a dreamy look on his face sitting next to a portrait of the field marshal and listening to the classic Egyptian song, “Why did you make me love you?” came as a genius and timely depiction of that passion that has developed between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) since the toppling of the former regime. While at a first glance such an unlikely union would seem like a fling, time and some other few calculations have proven otherwise and it seems the love birds are soon to be standing at the altar while closing the church door in the face of all the unwanted guests desperately trying to barge in and knowing that if they don’t “speak now” they will have to “hold their peace forever.”

The romance started almost right after the regime was toppled or that was rather the time when it was made public and when a long-term project to sideline the revolutionaries and create a new balance of power in post-revolution Egypt was given an official launch.

Early signs of flirtation were detected with the Islamist-dominated committee assigned the surreal mission of amending only a few articles of a constitution that was technically rendered void by the eruption of a revolution and that was supposed by be replaced by a brand new one. The resulting Constitutional Declaration marked the official inauguration of a long dating season with all lovey-dovey proclamations this might involve. In the declaration, the parliament was given the right to elect a 100-member committee to be in charge of drafting the new constitution and SCAF was endowed with all sorts of powers that enable it to become the de facto ruler of Egypt.

With the long-outlawed MB forming a political party and with the massive mobilization of the masses to approve the amendments in a ferocious campaign that put the people of God against liberal delinquents who want to rob Egypt of its Islamic identity, the picture was becoming a lot clearer. With 77 percent voting yes and 99 percent of those doing so in compliance with what was presented as a holy call, the results of the parliamentary elections looked as predictable as those held at the time of the former regime. Becoming more confident of a similar victory in the parliament, the MB waged war on all political powers that belonged to the constitution-first camp and with the blessing of SCAF, the elections were held without a proper constitution and the results were even better than expected and SCAF turned a blind eye to all the violations committed before and during election time whether in terms of bribing voters, slandering rivals, mobilizing Muslims against Christians, and campaigning in places of warship. The crowd cheered as SCAF and the MB exchanged a passionate kiss, after which the first whispered more promises while the second winked seductively.

It might not be very relevant here to talk about the unabashed public display of affection that happened under our very noses when SCAF sanctioned and/or covered up for the killing of unarmed revolutionaries and MB MPs kept referring to the first as the protectors of the revolution and the second as outlaws, but this serves to shed more light on all aspects of that thriving love story and the constitutional honeymoon in which it is expected to end. MB support for SCAF was important at that time to guarantee that the exchanged vows will remain unbroken in order for both sides to be able to bring to the world the much awaited fruit of their love: the constitution of post-revolution Egypt.

The reason why SCAF and the MB want at any cost to oversee, or rather monopolize, the constitution is the same one that drove both of them to take part in the revolution or pretend to side with the revolutionaries: fierce determination to maintain power in the case of the former and desperate keenness to come to power in the case of the later. Putting a long history of grudges aside, both needed to unite in the face of the one power that jeopardizes their ambitions: the revolutionaries. The genetically processed embryo would be a constitution that would establish the kind of state that for the first time in their would allow the MB to launch their Caliphate-like project while giving SCAF and the army the special status that endows them with constitutional legitimacy and protects the influence they have been exercising since the 1952 coup. SCAF will be much more lenient than the former regime as far as the Islamization of Egypt is concerned and will reassure Western powers that this is no way would harm their interests in the region nor threaten the security of Israel. In return, the MB would approve the inclusion of a few articles in the constitution that protect the enterprises run by the Armed Forces, which controls almost 60 percent of the Egyptian economy and owns a whole lot of businesses that range from electric appliances factories and tourist resorts to gas stations and bakeries, and that do not subject the army’s budget, with all the fishy items it is said to contain especially as far as arms deals and unjustified astronomical payments made to senior officers are concerned, to parliamentary scrutiny or public monitoring.

The formation of the Constituent Assembly that should be in charge of drafting the constitution signaled the start of a series of intimate encounters that are to be crowned with the arrival of the much-awaited baby. The MB-controlled parliament decided that 50 percent of the members of the committee will be from the parliament and of course it was no surprise to find out that 25 of those 50 were from the MB’s political wing the Freedom and Justice Party and 11 from the even more conservative the Salafist al-Nour Party while many of the remaining 14 were electoral allies of the MB. It is also no surprise at all that most of the 50 non-parliamentarian members of the committee were in some way or another linked to the MB and its party and this ranged from members through allies to sympathizers and/or vocal supporters. The remaining few were a bunch of liberals, seculars, and socialists, non-Islamists if wish to group them in one single ideological camp or third wheel if we wish to define their position vis-à-vis the unbreakable love affair that seems to have greatly thrived on the discovery of a common enemy. The withdrawal of almost all the unwelcome minority came as a logical conclusion to the farce they preferred to stay away from and to the copyright infringement offence they would have committed had they added their touch to the sacred constitution.

Timing and conditions for the long yearned-for “maculate” conception cannot be more favorable. The constitution of post-revolution Egypt will be different from that of pre-revolution Egypt only insofar as the identity of the tyrant(s) and possibly the means through which the people are to be subjugated. The shape the new state would take could also change a little bit so that it is taken from the basic level of a dictatorship to the more advanced category of a military theocracy where rebellion becomes both high treason and apostasy and where the people by which and for which the revolution erupted will shift from second to third rate citizens and where words like “rights” and “freedoms” will be followed by expressions along the lines of “provided that” and “as long as.”

It is, however, quite pointless to keep dwelling on how disastrous and how unrepresentative of a country that has just rebelled against oppression the coming constitution would be. It will be much more fruitful to wonder how long this constitution is expected to live and how long it will be before everyone sees it as a grave insult to the revolution and as detrimental to the democracy it was supposed to establish.

The life expectancy of the constitution is inseparable from the nature of the alliance that made it see the light and the sinister interests that united its progenitors. A freak of nature is likely to perish shortly after its birth and if it survives its chances at turning into a healthy being are almost nonexistent.

Couples are advised to undergo pre-marital screening lest their genes are too corrupt to make their union risk-free and their blood types too incompatible to beget a normal offspring.

Otherwise, so much for the happy ending.