First published in Mada Masr
I’ve been hard pressed to recall a time when Egypt was not subject to the whim of one man. For the majority of my life that man was Hosni Mubarak, and prior to January 25, 2011, I remember we were whiling away the days wondering whether he would hand the reins over to his son at the next election (then slated for September 2011) or whether he’d keep going.
We never did find out, and even though the revolution has taken quite a battering in the intervening period, I had hoped that at least we had seen the timely demise of the one-man-ponders-while-the-whole-country-awaits-with-bated-breath scenario.
But then why, when everything else has been lost, would this little thing be left for us? It is foolish to think it is just because of an individual’s whim; well, a citizen’s whim, for some people are assuredly much more important than others.
Tales from the Cairo Twilight Zone (CTZ).
In recent years Egypt has seen an influx of smuggled Chinese cigarettes that go for a much lower price than their taxed Egyptian counterparts. For the Egyptian government this is discomfiting because the state-owned Al-Sharqiya Lil Dukhan that monopolizes all locally produced cigarettes is a tremendous cash cow.
So what to do? Simple. A government-led campaign warning against the consumption of these cigarettes. Why? Because – according to state officials in quotes to Al-Masry Al-Youm – these cigarettes are cancerous. Yes, cancerous. And will lead to inevitable death.
To add to the unedifying spectacle, a presenter of a show on ONTV is having a fit, exhorting people to avoid these cigarettes at all costs, holding up a sample and hysterically bellowing, “They’re cancerous! They’re cancerous! Don’t do this!” It must be pointed out that the presenter genuinely believes this, and is sincerely frightened that people will continue to smoke the stuff and almost-inevitably and instantaneously clock out.
This is Egypt circa 2013 in a nutshell. A hysterical absence of reason coupled with an easily whipped up sense of fear, driven by an unshackled state with no sense of morality or responsibility. Absolutely nothing should surprise you.
There is a certainty about blood, a visceral definition of the shapes of things; that distills the essence of a situation to its purest form. Stark contrast of black and grey – for there isn’t such a thing as unsullied white – press against the inside of your eyes pushing outwards. It is an experience usually only available to you right there and then in the midst of rabid violence, rarely is it gleaned from afar.
It is in that moment when you see the measure of things, against other things, small and large and petty and trivial, lives and loves and time, always time. Running out of it, chasing it, hoping to prolong it, more properly utilize it.
What price is blood? When was it that blood, and death, no longer sufficed as payment in kind? I can’t bring to mind the moment it transmuted to a mere stepping-stone on the path to another destination. Maybe it was always this way, here, in this place. Read more…
I have long since given up on attempting to recapture that euphoric sense of almost limitless potential in the wake of Mubarak’s ouster some two years ago. In my mind’s eye at the time, the possibilities for what might come next were truly exhilarating. After decades of enforced torpor, people rose up and … well you know the rest.
Then matters got exceedingly messy. It was expected to a degree of course, but the extent of how things went wrong was quite devastating for those who were lucky enough to witness that initial jolt of an irrevocable turning of the tide. In the fallout, a palpable sense of despair weighed heavily.
I was knocked out of my stupor by a slogan ubiquitous in recent protests. “Despair is betrayal,” it said. Indeed. Sometimes a pithy remark is all it takes. There has been too much sacrifice, too much loss, to just wash our hands off the whole thing.
Events of the past few weeks since Morsi issued his November decree can be described as – to appropriate British parlance – an utter ‘omnishambles’. Midnight decrees rescinding previous ones, 2am about-turns on decisions taken hours before, all add to the farcical turn of events that is supposed to culminate in a referendum on a hatchet job of a draft constitution so littered with vagaries it will only sustain this imbroglio for years to come.
Rather interestingly is the tack of some (many) who read all this as an attack on democracy. No not the Morsi madness, but the opposition to it. The reason? Morsi is a democratically elected leader. He has a democratic mandate. Those who oppose Morsi are sour undemocratic cretins infiltrated by regime remnants to overthrow legitimacy.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Morsi currently holds both executive and legislative powers. Not content with that he decides that he needs to ensure that the one remaining branch of governance not directly under his control does not pose a threat to him, and by extension his constituent assembly and the Shura Council. Embalming it in the glory of protecting the revolution (because he’s oh so obviously fixated on reforming the Ministry of Interior for example) Morsi includes a catch-all clause that grants him the right to take whatever measures he sees fit to safeguard the revolution, national unity and national security. Whatever. The. Hell. That. Means. Read more…
Mohamed Gad al-Rab, more commonly known as Sambo, was not a committed revolutionary. He did not participate in the 18-day uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak nor the immediate events that followed it.
Inadvertently, he became something of an icon in events that followed later, having been caught up in the struggle between revolutionaries and the regime over the country’s future post-Mubarak. He also inadvertently became the center of the discourse over how best to respond to state violence, in kind, or by turning the other cheek.
The violence did not end after Mubarak was overthrown; it ascended toward an upward trajectory of even more bloodshed through clashes between protesters and, at times, police or army forces. The names are known: the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes (which took place at two different times), the Cabinet clashes and the Abbasseya clashes. Read more…