I was offered the job of a justice minister in a hurry and almost took it. But Sophie, my therapist in Vienna, advised me against it. “With your design firm in Milan, a pending court case in Palermo and your frequent trips to Mogadishu, do you really think you have the time? I took her advice, but not for the reasons she mentioned.
I cannot be a justice minister. You know why? Because justice is such an illusive concept. Had there been justice in this world, everyone would be born in the sex, creed and class of their choice, and then allowed to change these periodically as their tastes developed.
Obviously, this is not going to happen. Look at the world around you. No one is happy with where they are. The Americans want to be in Iraq and the Iraqis want to be in Kuwait. The Lebanese want to be in France and the Syrians want to be in Lebanon. The Moroccans want to be in Spain and the Spanish in Tahiti. And they all have good reasons. How would I ever bring about justice? I shouldn’t even try. But being an obsessive compulsive, I often do. I will give you one example.
I like the Kefaya people. I run into them often at Beano’s and Cilantro, and I admire their sense of dress: Casual, nonchalant and appropriately conservative. In the few times we chatted, my infatuation by present and former dictators put them off. So now I just sip my cappuccino from a distance and memorize their faces. Last week, I noticed that none of them showed up for their usual croissant and e-mail checking. So I called Ahmad.
“What’s going on? Is there a new coffee shop in town? Where has Kefaya gone? Ahmad knows everything. He locates people for me and others when he isn’t hanging around the big blue trucks you see downtown quite often these days. I think he owns the trucks. Recently, I asked him if he would lend me a truck or two, personnel included, for a small job in Menya, but he demurred. “I can get my own, you know. I told him.
Now here is the reason I like Kefaya. Despite our political differences, I have respect for anyone who simply by showing up on a street corner on any given day commands the attention of thousands of men in riot-control gear. I have worked on movie sets before, and let me tell you this. The kind of deployment you’ve seen in Cairo lately would have taken Fellini’s assistants months to prepare. Kefaya should be on my side. Together we’d be a fantastic team. But they just don’t care.
I have to tell you what Kefaya has done to my boys of late. I’ve been working for two years now on a special program for the underprivileged children of Cairo. Someone had to do it. It’s like a ghetto over there – violence and abuse at home, sexual frustration, economic hardship and low self-esteem, not healthy at all. You wouldn’t want your kids to grow up there, I am telling you. So with a little money from a European fund, I started a project to enhance awareness and living standards.
The girls were given assertiveness classes, and the boys got some therapy and a couple of martial arts classes. When Ahmad told me a few months ago that he was hiring helpers, I recommended the top 10 boys in martial arts. My boys don’t get to ride in the big black trucks, but they stand quietly nearby and run errands. The boys loved it. It was like being movie extras, they told me once.
Last week, three of my boys came back to the center in tears. My Kefaya friends called them “dogs of the state. Ahmad was there when it happened. He told me later that when the boys heard that particular insult, they froze in their tracks. They stood there in the middle of the road, looking at each other, forgetting to grab the man in the checkered shirt across the street. All the oppression of a heartless life in the ghettos flashed before their eyes, and months of group therapy were blown in the wind.
Now I know I haven’t done enough for Kefaya. I could’ve supported them on the independent judiciary thing, but my loyalties, as usual, were divided. I did send them books about Pinochet and Noriega when they were taken into police custody. I do want to help out, and it wouldn’t hurt Kefaya a bit to stay on my good side.
But things are really tense between us now. They’ve insulted my boys, using a patronizing label that shows callousness and lack of sympathy. Now my boys weigh 300 pounds each and look quite mature when they stand around shaking their bamboo sticks in the middle of a protest, but they’re only 19. How would you feel if on your first real job outside the hood, someone half your size called you a dog? As I said, there is no justice in this world. And yet I’ve tried.