December 2012 archive

Open Letter to the Egyptian President

Dear Morsy,

Like many Egyptians, I was looking forward to your government’s attempt to implement its decision to close down shops at 10 pm out of the sheer comic value it would’ve presented. I had set up an observation post in front of my building in Roxy Square, chairs, Shisha, et all, to have a front row seat to the Tom & Jerry-style shenanigans that would take place the moment you tried to shut down the shops there. And then the news came in that your government backed down on its decision and were delaying it for another week, which at first got me into a fit of laughter, which to my amazement got replaced with increasing levels of anger as time went by, with a single thought dominating my head: Have you no shame, at all?

The Point of any state is its ability to enforce its authority on the ground; it is what is referred to as political will. Any state that doesn’t do that is basically turning itself into another Mirage state, one that only exists on paper, which is not what the Egyptian people signed up for when they went to the election polls. The people wanted a functioning government: one that has a vision, runs the country based on that vision and can enforce rule of law, which your government fails on all fronts. Is the Decision to shut down the shops a bad idea? Yes! Absolutely; but here are the options that any government has when it gets such a bad idea: 1) Don’t propose it at all, or 2) Go through with it and try to enforce it, even if it is doomed to failure from the beginning. Since you decided to propose it, I wanted you to try to close the shops, and fail, but at least you would’ve failed with some semblance of dignity or self-respect. Your government now has neither and has become the laughing stock of the entire country, which brings us to the real question: Dear President, what the Hell are you doing exactly?

What exactly was the point of the MB running you for President in the first place? To be in Power? What Power? What’s the point of power if you are incapable of exercising it or enforcing it? So far me and every Egyptian I know can count at least 5 major decisions that you or your government took in the past 4 months and couldn’t enforce. And it’s not like those decisions were great ones and there is a conspiracy preventing you from executing them; they were simply bas decisions, either legally or practically, and they showed an embarrassing amateurish style of governance. If you can’t handle the trappings of power, why go for it? So you could give us a weekly sermon every Friday? So that your governments gets us more in debt and executes shady international business deals that we know very little about? I mean, we get that the grand ambition of the MB is to have the same kind of business corruption that the NDP enjoyed, and that unlike every other Egyptian, the top honchos in your secret society are enjoying ridiculous sudden economic prosperity, but at least the NDP were trying to make it look good, and they were not scared to enforce their will, two things your people can’t seem to do. And yet again, is that really all there is to you? Did you not learn from your predecessor at all?

Listen , when the people elected you they didn’t do so in order to watch you make a mockery of the national symbol of the Presidency by having you touch your privates, nor did they do it so that you can give us religious sermons that, are not only boring, but are falsely interpreting the Quran verses you are citing as well. They elected you so that you can make things better, fix the country, and create a functioning government. They basically elected you to work, your Excellency, and you are not doing your job at all, and it’s starting to show. Not only that, but the people are slowly getting the message that this is a government without vision, plans or tools to execute or enforce their laws and decisions, and will start ignoring you. And then the question won’t be whether or not the opposition will be able to unseat you or your party in the next elections, but whether if there will be a point to another election in the first place, because nobody wants to be part of a government that has no power of execution. And why would they? If they wanted a place to go exchange ideas and draft laws that won’t be implemented, they would start a Think Tank or a social club, and it would be one where they don’t have to debate with idiots whether or not a 9 year old is eligible for marriage because she had her period. It’s not only you that’s failing, it’s the entire concept of the state, and if that falls, well, good luck bringing that back. Am I getting through to you? Do you understand what’s at stake here? Do you get that you are taking the country into anarchy?

And mind you, anarchy will not bother me nor my friends. We will adapt, get guns and electric generators and generally be fine. Others won’t be though. We will turn into the land of do as you please, and the supreme majority of the country- some of which are MB- will suffer greatly. Is that what you want? No? Then stop being such a joke, and work. Do your job. Or step aside if you are unable to. Whichever choice you make, you better make it quick. We have serious problems that require serious solutions implemented by serious people, and so far you have shown that you neither have the solutions nor are you serious about finding them. You better change that quickly, because we can’t take 4 years of this. It has been only 4 months and we are already cracking.

Sincerely yours,

Mahmoud Salem

 

The First Egyptian Revolution

It is said to have started sometime around 2181 B.C. , although the exact date cannot be pinpointed for sure. The first Egyptian popular uprising took place around then, thus ending the reign of the 6th dynasty and the era of the old Kingdom. It overthrew the rule of King Pepi II, who has ruled the country for a very long time, some even say into his 90’s, with the documents usually describing him as an ageing King secluded in his palace and disconnected from the outside world. Stop me when this starts to sound familiar.

The causes behind the first Egyptian revolution were as follows: The long reign of the King created problems with succession in the royal household, where there was no clear heir apparent who could hold the keys of the Kingdom and stop the infighting that had plagued the royal court for years. The Infighting was mainly due to the weakening of the King and the centralized authority, which lead to emergence of many forces and individuals who were part of the royal court but started to act with impunity, prompting many to question the authority of the King. Extravagance and corruption reigned supreme all over the land, along with extensive injustice and class discrimination. The agricultural based economy was getting controlled by Feudal Lords who cared very little for their workers, and who were more interested in conflicts over political influence and economic prosperity between each other than the well-being of the country. These conflicts dominated the life of the general Egyptian population until one day they had enough, and started the first Egyptian revolution.

Like any revolution, the first Egyptian revolution had its negative and positive consequences. On the negative side we have the complete destruction of state authority and institutions (local and central), the collapse of the security and judicial apparatus, and unprecedented wave of crime and looting. This lead to the eventual economic breakdown, with production collapsing and internal and external trade halted due to production and security issues, and the people refused to pay their taxes, which lead to the complete failure of the little state services they had. This, in turn, lead to the collapse of the religious and moral values that defined the Egyptian society for decades, and to a wave of atheism unprecedented amongst the Egyptian population, with many of them feeling that if the gods existed, then they have forsaken them.

The positive consequences were mainly in the area of rising political awareness of the population, with the ideas of equality and rights taking hold amongst them against the previous stringent class system that existed before, and with the establishment of schools of political thought, which aimed to come up with policies that would ensure good governance of the land and the rules rulers must follow. This era was also marked with the emergence of new artists, who brought new styles and interpretations to classical Egyptian artworks and archoitecture.

The first Egyptian revolution spanned 4 different dynasties, rising, trying to rule the country, and failing, to the point that Manheto, a historian of the Ptolemaic era, describes a period in it where 70 kings ruled for 70 days. This era was marked with a divided Kingdom filled with civil strife and conflict, not to mention attacks from invading tribes from our Asian and Libyan borders. The general weakness of the country, and the insufficiency of regional and minority rulers, made Egyptians very wary and tired of localized governance. Eventually Egyptians decided that what they needed was a strong centralized monarchy that doesn’t infringe upon their rights, which paved the way for the 11th dynasty to take over the country in absolute monarchial rule once again, under Menuhotep II , who unified the country and ushered in the era of the middle Kingdom, which was marked as an era of great wealth and prosperity, ending the revolution.

The first Egyptian revolution lasted 141 years, with the people, in the end, demanding the return of the monarchial rule that they revolted against in the first place. If you are a believer that history repeats itself, and this information is disturbing you, please remember one thing: they didn’t have internet back then.

 

 

 

 

The Circle Jerk

 

Just the other day I was contacted by my good friend (whom we shall call here A.) to inform me that he intends to marry his foreign girlfriend (we shall call her B.) and mother of his future twin babies the next day, and asked me to be his witness during the efficiation of the marriage with the egyptian government. I was naturally honored to be chosen, but also intensly curious, since he intended to have an Egyptian “civil marriage”, which is the same as the regular one, but instead of going to an Islamic efficiarry to register his marriage, he would do it directly with the Egyptian department of Justice. Given eternal fascination with Egyptian beauracracy, I couldn’t let the opprutunity go to witness it in action, especially in a civil marriage situation. The experience that I went through with them, the one I will share in this column, has been nothing short of affirming to my commitment phobia.

When A first went to the DOJ, they simply informed him that they needed simply his and her ID, and the embassy’s approval of theiur marriage, with them confirming B. citizenship, religion and marital availability. This required A to go get papers from everyone that he knew stating that they knew him and verify him, as well as all his personal papers, and then go to our ministry of foreign affairs, to get it stamped. After stamping it, he had to take the papers to a MFA-certified translator to translate everything, then back to the MFA to get it stamped again, then take it all to the embassy to start the paperwork cycle and get the confirmation regarding B. The embassy took a month and a half to process the papers and interview them, and then informed them that they can give them everything that the Egyptian government needs, except the religion of B. since the government there is secular and it has no reason to keep records of its citizens’ religion. So, in order to satisfy the requirement, B. went and converted to Islam, to get that ball rolling. After finishing all the paperwork, they went back to the DOJ to finally get their marriage contract, a journey which I accompanied them on.

After submitting all the papers, and verifying that everything in order, the government employee started to go ahead with the paperwork, when he noticed B’s baby bump, which started this exchange:

“You are pregnant?”

“Yes.”

” Are you married?”

“No”

“Were you previously married?”

“Ehh..No!”

“Ehh…then how could you be pregnant?”

“I am not sure..It’s a mystery!”

It took the government official a few minutes to get that she is kidding and that he isn’t witnessing an immaculate conception, before informing her and A that he can’t go through with the paperwork unless they were originally married. After pointing out that this is insane, since they are there to get married, he informed them that they need to create a urfi “custom” marriage that is dated before the pregnany so that he could go through with giving them an official marriage certificate. Ignoring the fact that the government employee is asking them to forge a piece of paper, they asked him how could they get Urfi married right now, to which he informed them to go to the bookstore in front of the ministry, where they sell the Urfi Marriage forms. So, we went to the bookstore, bought the form, filled it, and then submitted it. Satisfied that now the couple in front of him are officially not having babies out of wedlock, and thus not sinful infidels that should not grace his presence, the government official started asking B. about the conditions she wants in her marriage contract.

B simply wanted to state in the contract that she has the right to travel with the children when she pleases, which the official informed her is illegal, since the marriage contract conditions can not cover future conditions, and since there are no children yet, and she could miscarry, this condition could not be inserted. When she asked what she can have as conditions in the contract, he informed her that she has the right to 1)Divorce him if she wishes , 2) to work without his permission, 3) travel without his consent and 4) keep separate finances. He then assured her that Islam protects her right as a mother and that she will have equal control over her children by the law and religion, and when she asked him why he can’t add that to the contracts, he informed her because it would be illegal to do so. You figure it out.

After 3 and a half hours, and a ton of signitures and photocopies and paperwork, we were finally in the stage of printing the marriage contract and signing it. The female government official handeling that aspect noted the exhaustaion that all of us were in, and then asked me what was the problem. When I informed her that the process simply took longer than originally anticipated, she told me “By the way, this is very quickly. Did you know that had they come in two months ago, they wouldn’t be able to get the marriage certificate before a week of submitting their papers?” Astonished, I asked her what happened to change this. Was there a new law that we were not aware of? Or is the new minister maybe pushing for more efficiency? She snorted at the notion, and told me : “No. we are the ones that were bothered by it, and staged a meeting with upper management to change the delay, since it made no sense to delay people who wanted to get married.” “And they agreed?”, I asked, and she replied with a smile, as she is giving us the marriage contract, “Of course. They had no choice when they realized we were all united here on this. Didn’t we have a revolution to make everything better? ”

Ahh, man. Faith truly gets rewarded in the strangest of places….

 

Hope

 

Legend has it that when Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus took vengeance by creating the first woman, Pandora, and presenting her to Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother. With her, Pandora had a jar which she was not to open under any circumstance. Impelled by her natural curiosity, Pandora opened the jar, and all evil contained- every kind of disease and sickness, hate and envy- escaped and spread over the earth. She hastened to close the lid, but the whole contents of the jar had escaped, except for one thing which lay at the bottom, and that was Hope. When she opened the Jar again, Hope sprang free, and flew out into the world, a world that now held Envy, Crime, Hate, and Disease – and Hope.

We are comforted by the seemingly happy ending of this legend, but the truth is, it’s a false and misleading ending to the story. You see, hope is not what we think it to be. Hope was locked in Pandora’s jar for a reason. Hope was not a force of good, but rather the worst evil of them all; a demon so vile, it was hidden and buried deep in the bottom of the jar. Hope was a demon that fed on human suffering, and aimed to prolong man’s torment as much as possible. It clutches itself to humans in their darkest hour, and whispers in their ears to wait, to be patient, that the misery and suffering in the world must end, and that all will be magically well some day. And the humans believed the demon and grew to feel comforted by its whispers, so when misery and decay takes over their lives, they remain calm, still and hopeful, and end up suffering longer then they would, had they just confronted the evil that’s in the world. They lied to themselves and let it into their hearts, even though what they needed to do to fix the world didn’t require it one bit.

You see, upon further reading, we discover that Hope, the demon succubus of our souls, alongside with every other evil that was in that jar, can only be truly vanquished by Tabbris, the Angel of self-determination, choice and free will. The truth that nobody told you was this: You don’t need hope. You never did. Even at your darkest hour, it wasn’t necessary. What you truly needed to overcome it was determination; to make the choice to face the evil and the suffering head-on, without blinking or hesitation, or hope. We urge you to remember the evidence of this throughout the history of humanity; that those who fought the great wars of old, those who faced the might and machines of evil men, they did it without hope, and they confronted it directly and fiercely regardless, which is why they won.

So, if what’s going around in your life, your country, or in the world, is terrifying you, and the situation seems so gloomy and ominous, to the point where you admittedly claim to have lost all hope, well, be glad, for getting rid of it is half the battle. Once you are at that point, all that is left for you to do is to make a choice. You can either decide to vanquish the rest of the evil, the source of your suffering, if you wish to live, or you can choose to run away, forever a quarry to suffering and misery, and a possible prey to Hope once again. If you make the second choice, you will live the rest of your life a victim, without having any power over it, which, when you think about it, isn’t a way to live, at all.

 

So please remember, when the world is at its darkest, when your friends fail you, when your allies betray you by their malice, cowardice or surrender, when your best-laid plans fall into disarray and all seems lost, please, abandon all hope, for it only buys evil time…

 

..and make the choice, to live or not, once and for all.

 

 

The view from here

    

Dear World,

I have a confession to make: while the whole world was transfixed on us, yet again, due to that whole attack the embassy business, I was going through a tumultuous emotional journey, alternating between bewilderment, horror and shock-based laughter, ending with the most unexpected of feelings: Pride. I must say that currently I am filled with a sense of ironic pride with my country and my revolution, for the status both have achieved over the past 19 months. The attention and importance given to Egypt, well, it has been nothing short of overwhelming. We sure have wow-ed you.

Sure, the scenes on your screens might be so disturbing , that some of you openly wonderd if we are going through a second revolution or something, but let me assure you with both facts and personal experience: There is no second revolution, there are no open riots on the streets, the action was totally confined to a 250 meter radius around the embassy, with people going to eat, drink, smoke hookah right nearby it. This whole video thing didn’t affect us at all, with the majority of the 2500 stationed around the embassy in the following clashes were the Zamalek Ultras (Super Football fans) who were there simply to clash with the police the following days. Really. Nope, in reality, we are doing just fine.

Sure, there are scary indications of things to come, like the attack on the MFO camp where the AlQaeda flag was hoisted, the same flag that became a Tshirt being sold in Tahrir; or the arrest of Alber Saber, a guy whose crime was sharing the trailer of “innocence of Muslims” on his facebook page while being a copt and an atheist as well, and whose house was attacked by a mob as this glorious movie shows, but such things are trivialities compared to our other Problems.

I mean, sure, it’s brilliant that we have AlQaeda now openly operating in Egypt, or that a revolution that was organized by a facebook page presenting ideas that the previous regime thought offensive and dangerous for national unity would end up with a government that actually arrests a guy for sharing content on facebook that it considerd offensive and dangerous for national unity, but really, such things are besides the point. What is the point you may ask? Well, the fulfillment of the Pakistan model of government in Egypt, of course. How we are slowly becoming a dangerous broken rogue state, just like them. We are implementing the Pakistan model here, you see, and the results have been fantastic. Just yesterday we had a salafi member of the constuient assembly (the people who are writing the constitution) talking about efforts to remove or change the amendment of human trafficking to allow the bringing down of the legal Marriage age for girls to the moment they reach puberty and have their first period, even if she was as young as 9 years old. Yes, we might end up having a constitution that grants us Child marriages. And you thought you had a culture war.

But this all sounds horrifying ,you say? Where would such pride that I spoke of come from, you ask? Well…

For me, and others, the most fascinating aspect of all of this has to be our effect on the American elections, and how suddenly we became an important campaign issue in the snoozefest that is the Obama vs. Romney elections, primarily against Obama. How Obama, he of the message of peace and understanding with the Muslim world, must now contend with islamist rage fueled by those whom he – and a million thinker, analyst and pundit- referred to as a moderate Islamic group, the Muslim Brotherhood. The same moderate Islamic group whose people met with his people over 14 times this past year and a half, who convinced them that they should support them because Salafis and Liberals are unpredictable and undesirable, and because they will bring peace to the region. The same moderate Islamic Group who actually called for and facilitated the protests at the US embassy on the anniversary of 9/11, all the while pretending to have nothing with it to the English-speaking world. The same moderate Islamic Group that now controls all aspects of Egyptian government, and the source of his current dilemma. How in 4 years Obama’s name went from the praised American President who wasn’t Bush, to the target of hostile chants by religious extreemists that utilize the “Obama/Osama” rhyme scheme, the one pioneered by anti-Obama American religious extremists, in anti-US demonstrations. If this ends up becoming a hot campaign issue, and Obama loses, pundit and historians will say that the Obama presidency started with Egypt and ended because of Egypt. As an egyptian political geek always enamored with international Political Theatre, well, how can I not be proud of that? How awesome is that?

The cherry on the cake in this whole Obama/Embassy affair has to be the role that the MB had in this attack, and how it provides fantastic fodder for conspiracy theorists and political analysts alike. Here is what we know: A bunch of Mulsim Brotherhood and Salafi figures started making an issue of this movie, who no one heard of before, a few days before the anniversary of 9/11. A call for protests was made by both the MB and supported by the salafis at the US embassy was made on the anniversary of 9/11. That day, as a friend who works for the embassy has informed me, the employees who left at 4 pm noticed that both the Police and the Army forces protecting the embassy had both vanished, followed by the attack that you all watched on your television. The following days the MB would praise the attackers in Arabic media and condemn the attack on their English language media, prompting a testy exchange between the US embassy and the MB’s English twitter account, and for Obama to inform the world that he no longer views Egypt as an ally.

Damage control by MB operatives and apologists was exerted, asking the world to understand Muslim anger (the demonstration again never exceeded 2500 people from a city of 20 million)and blaming the affair on the Police who assured them that they had this under control. Any person with half a brain would’ve asked about why the army- who Morsy now fully controls- didn’t defend the embassy, or why Morsy didn’t fire or even reprimand a single employee of the Ministry of Interior for failing to fulfill their duty, but really, no one botherd because no one believes the MB on this. While analysts and conspiracy theorists scrambled to come up with a theory explaining why the MB did this, and how maybe the MB hopes to have Obama lose since having Romney would give them the external enemy that they can use to silence internal dissent, the rest of us marveled at the circus that took place internationally because of it, one that we know will lead to nowhere, like all such manufactured crises, just like the Danish cartoon affair, although far more entertaining: We now have a call to reinstate the emergency law, again, and a call to boycott Google, which is so absured it’s hilarious. I wonder if they will have Gmail account deletion parties and android-phone-burning events soon.

For real, how can I not be proud of all of this? On how, my little country, is affecting the world the way it is? How we inspired the world with our revolution, and then broke its heart? How, because of us, a at least half a dozen other uprisings, not to mention general social upheavals, took place all over the world, at a time when it simply can’t afford them? How the images that occupied news about Egypt changed from a cute flag-waving westernized-looking Egyptian girl, to the image of Previous Grand Marshall Tantawy in army uniform, looking like the dictator of some African banana republic, with the image of the army beating up protesters in the background, finally ending with the bearded image of our newly elected President, Mohamed Morsy, with images of islamist protests in the background, to the horror of anyone who was still watching? How we became another cautionary tale, your favorite world drama, the harbinger of bad things to come, the uprising that singlehandedly saved journalism internationally, changed governments, broke international markets and now threatens the US elections, and whose twists and turns rivals that of the Game of Thrones? How my little country, my beloved Egypt, did all of this with one peaceful revolution. Imagine.

Sure, it is safe to say that the original revolution is now over for the time being, with the secular minded revolutionaries, so abused and traumatized by the bloodbaths carried against them by both the MOI and the Army , are now solely focused on holding the army and the police accountable, instead of actually working to create the country of rights and freedoms that they originally set out to do. Sure, it is safe to say that with Islamists in power, the whole child-marriages amendment affair is nothing but a taste of the horror we are bound to see under their rule. Sure, it is safe to say that the dream of a modern functional Egypt is destined to remain just a dream at this point, and that this breaks my heart in ways I can’t even begin to describe. But, on the bright nihilistic side, we will continue to amaze you for the time being and you won’t be able to to be smug about how much of a broken state we have become for long, because you are joining our ranks very very soon.

You see, when we called for this revolution we were dissatisfied with the conditions of our country compared to those shiny clean advanced first world countries of yours, and many were driven with the desire to fix this country so that we-as a country- can advance and hopefully one day keep up with you. But now, looking at the ensuing economical tsunami that is bound to hit this entire world- especially first world countries- the hardest, we realize that we don’t have to worry about advancing to keep up with you anymore, because you will be brought down and regress to our level very soon. We don’t have to come to you; you will come to us. We will all be miserable equally. That horrifying Egalitarian Ideal. And we started it. US. We broke the world. Without Armies. What a remarkable achievement. How can I not be proud?

Egypt is firmly in the big leagues now, people. Get used to it!

Best Regards,

Mahmoud Salem

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