For years I thought I could have it all. Selling arms in the morning and acting as an undercover power broker at night; helping former dictators pick up the pieces of their sad lives then encouraging civil society to step into the foray and set things right. Even those two weeks I say I go to the Bahamas for a bit of rest, it’s all a lie. I shut myself in my cabin in the yacht, working from dusk to dawn on my next fashion collection. I have been a workaholic, and now the doctors are putting their foot down. They made me promise – one job at a time, maximum two. But what do you do when there is so much demand?
Out of the blue, someone gave me a call early this week, someone who works behind the scenes, trying to make people happy. “They want you in, he said.
My summer collection was due anytime now, and on the phone came another demand, or was it an honor? For reasons beyond my comprehension, I was being asked to take over the Ministry of Justice. My knowledge of the law is minimal. Once or twice in the dock doesn’t exactly qualify you as a legal expert, I told that to Ahmad – not his real name – but he already knew. “I swear I told them you have a case pending in Palermo, but no one would listen, Ahmad was apologetic.
Being in the limelight is not my thing, but the temptation is there. Justice Minister in a major African country cannot be too bad. Even Frankie would be impressed. So here I was, cancelling engagements in Zaire, phoning lawyers in the Bronx and contemplating my chances as the country’s new face of justice.
At 1 a.m., the Kefaya dossier was delivered to me by three plainclothes policemen, one limping slightly. I spent an entire morning reading the Kefaya files, then an entire evening reading the dissident judges file, then an entire morning talking to Mario, the designer from Milan.
Now here is the deal. Apparently, being a justice minister is one of the easiest jobs if you know how to do it. Everyone told me so, even Bastawisy and Mekki. Both dissident judges assured me over coffee that all they wanted was for me to give up control over the judiciary. “I leave you alone and you leave me alone? Is this all you want? No raises? No limousines? They didn’t want anything else. They even turned down my offer for free facials at Paulo’s for a three-month trial period.
As for Kefaya, things were tense at first. Someone had taken away their mobile phones soon after their arrest. And I had to call Mostafa – not his real name – from the interior ministry to arrange a meeting.
“Come on General. They’re only 174 people, and half of them are graphic designers. There is really no need to keep them behind bars. Now, you listen to me. Do you know who you’re talking to? I had to pull rank, you always have to. The next morning, I went to meet the urban rebels in a verdant prison in southern Cairo. After the preliminary name calling, Kefaya leaders and I sat down for business. Theirs was a simple request. They wanted the right to protest. I didn’t like the sound of it – but only the sound of it.
“We have a noise crisis in this country, I said, “and bad traffic too. And you’re only making things worse. You want a change of regime? Fine by me, knock yourself out. But how can we even discuss it when we cannot hear each other? Help me and I’ll help you.
I am proud to say that things have worked out quite well. As of next week, Kefaya will be miming its protests, keeping its voice low but gesticulating fiercely, which under Egyptian law (I checked) is not an offence. The judges, grateful for their promised independence, will give Kefaya a space behind the High Courts for miming sessions every afternoon. I will be providing free maple-frosted donuts to both Kefaya and the 10,000 policemen guarding them, from a special European Union democracy fund.
What’s in it for me? Well, apart from a sense of national duty, I got a little something. The judges will let me design their outfits. That, I promised, would be the extent of my interference in their affairs. From now on, the judges will appear in court wearing wigs in my favorite colonial style. I am not telling you the color of the wigs, it’s a surprise. But the shoes, you’ll love it. As of November, all judges in this country will be wearing golden shoes to court, comfortable loafers with a sapphire stone on the arch – Mario’s idea actually. Now, think of that. Not only have I restored dignity to the profession, I have brought in style. I simply couldn’t help it. Call me workaholic. But whatever I do, I do right.