By Johannes Amin Makar
It does not take much to consider Egypt a madhouse of giant proportions. An average walk in the streets of the country’s capital, Cairo, is all you need to rub shoulders with its audio-visual mania. Deafening horns, the hums of the, at times not so romantic, 1,001 minarets, and cars chasing around in a videogame-styled fashion, are some of the events in this urban circus. All of this, wrapped in a mantle of smog, guarantees first-time visitors to the city an unprecedented experience.
Its political leadership, too, resembles anything but coherence. In February 2011, after more than 60 years of dictatorial rule, Egyptians were –allegedly— found on the margins of a democratic fairy tale. As time went by, however, the internal forces of Egypt’s madhouse proved to be tenacious, and so yesteryear’s rosy narrative perished.
First, a military shepherd, known as Field Marshal Tantawi, took control over the country’s administration in what he labelled a “transitional rule”. Then, following the first “democratic” parliamentary elections, the first “democratic” presidential elections were in the making. Yet, as the latter were to come about, the outcome of the former had already been invalided by the country’s “independent” Supreme Constitutional Court.
The show in Egypt’s madhouse would go on relentlessly, and so did the presidential vote. Surprise, surprise, for no one else but a “moderate” Brotherhood man eventually won the ballot vote by 1.73% over his equally “democratic” candidate and Mubarak crony Ahmed Shafiq, part of the “ancien” regime.
Shortly after his election, the chosen president, Mohamed Morsi, pushed through a constitution without much popular consensus. Then, he made a name for himself in the international scene by reminding the world that “gas and alcohol don’t mix”. Indeed, Egypt’s former NASA man made the world go round with his thoughtful speechmaking. As for his enthusiasts at home, Morsi will be remembered for his words of wisdom on topics such as “al-Qasaas”.
Only one year after Morsi’s election, another huge shift took Egypt’s commentators by surprise. As the heroic armed forces had had enough of Morsi’s performance, the stage of Egypt’s madhouse was set to be cleared. THIRTY THREE MILLION Egyptians – CNN says – cheerfully danced the night away as they banished Egypt’s first, bearded, though “democratically elected”, president. The move was welcomed as the salvation of the nation, since Egypt was –reportedly – found on the brink of a civil war.
The man to surf the popular wave was no one but Sisi. Not the once fabled princess, but a five-foot-six-inch-tall man of few words, who displays a zebiba on his façade 24/7, certifying that he indeed is a righteous Muslim.
No winners without losers, and even in Egypt’s madhouse, this rule applies. The move that had led to the downfall of Morsi’s rule ended with the bloody crackdowns of protests which claimed the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Morsi’s supporters, who are, henceforth, indiscriminately identified as “terrorists” and “fanatics”.
The young revolutionaries too, some of them active since 2004, seem to have lost their momentum. The Square of the Liberation they once ruled, has, meanwhile, been replaced by self-styled court rooms and complementary grungy cells. The move was bolstered with a Protest Law that was issued under the pretext of “regulating” free speech.
Among other losers are the country’s Christians, who largely supported the takeover, but saw their churches burned by God knows who. Showing their loyalty to the great military leader, Egypt’s Christians faithfully continue to proclaim victory.
After the victorious takeover that some call a revolution, and others a coup, the would-be-Field Marshall, General Al-Sisi, faithfully pledged not to run for president. But in Egypt’s mad house, where (almost) no rules apply, everything is possible, and so the unexpected happened. After months of nattering, Sisi announced that he would take up “his responsibility” to run for president in the next round of “democratic elections”. Mirroring the shadow of late president Gamal Abdel Nasser, Sisi advertised himself as a liberator, and a man of the people. While the (former) military chief waits to ascend his throne publicly, Egypt prepares for another episode of its Arab Spring.
A new republic?
All of this recently reminded me of the 1957 Egyptian movie, “Ismail Yassin Fe Mustashfa al-Maganeen”. The movie features the famous Egyptian actor, Ismail Yassin, in a mental hospital. In one particular scene, two men take on the disguise of the historic figures, Napoleon and Nero. As the overweening duo engages in a dance performance, a mass of mad men instinctively goes wild. The comical scene is widely known among Egyptians, yet as time goes by, it seems as if the drama has taken control over its audience. With “leaders” putting on two-sided masks, and Egyptians blindly glorifying one strong man after the other, little advancement is made, and so it seems that Egypt’s “revolutionary” narrative is caught in a black (not so white) comedy.
What Egypt’s needs is its own enlightenment, one that gathers its people behind a national project of its own that is aimed at pluralism and directed to the future.
Johannes Amin Makar frequently writes on the Middle East and Egypt. He is a graduate student at Leuven University where he pursues a MA in Economic Policy.