North Africa, West Asia

Normalising bloodshed: education and the dreams of the Marshall

What are the people in Egypt forcing themselves to believe in order not to deal with the harsh realities of the past four years – let alone the years before?

Hesham Shafick
14 November 2015

Demotix/Paolo Gargini. All rights reserved.As a child I made a brief but close friendship. Every day for two consecutive weeks, I would go share what had taken place in my day. My friend seldom talked back except for a grunt here and there, but when I talked, he listened. It was only when his head was chopped off in front of me that he screamed, then died in silence. The cherry on top: his meat tasted epically delicious. 

After my friend was slaughtered for the Al Adha feast, my memories of him, like his meat, went in vain. This took place every year. I spent years and years enjoying rare/blue meat, but at the same time I had developed a phobia to living four-legged animals. However, I took this phobia for-granted as being part of my ‘nature’, as many people do, and never thought that it could be connected to my childhood four-legged friend. 

Until one day I decided to become a vegetarian. It was then that my hostility and disdain to animals began to diminish. I no longer freaked out when a dog was within a one-mile radius, or felt disgusted when a friend pet a street cat. Most significantly, I now recall every detail of my friendship with my four-legged friend. It seems like I had been forcing myself to believe that animals were not only inferior but also evil; a belief I definitely needed to indulge as a child to justify the ingestion of my friend.  

According to Freudian terminology, by quitting meat, I accidentally came into confrontation with my (formerly unconscious) childhood trauma and positively reverted it. Freud would assert that this is a very rare and fortunate case. Usually, these childhood crises keep growing in adults, unnoticeably defining their behaviours. Indeed, their effect becomes more draconian when the child grows up to be a national leader. In such a case, the childhood crises might not only determine this leader’s fate, but the fate of a nation.

Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El Sisi is an example. A few days before the official announcement of his candidacy for president, the following recordings of his childhood manamat (suggestive dreams) were released.  These manamat allegedly signalled his indispensable fate of “leading the Egyptian nation.” 

Sisi’s manamat

“Many years ago, I saw in a manam that I am raising a sword that had la ilah illa Allah inscribed in red on it…”

“I was wearing a watch with a gigantic green star on it... Omega…. And people kept asking me why I had this watch… I replied: it is in my name… it is Omega and I am (in a western accent) Ab-de-l-fa-ta’…I linked Omega to universality to Ab-de-l-fa-ta’…Another manam, I heard (dreamt of being told) a voice telling me “we will give you what we never gave anyone else...Another manam I was talking to El-Sadat and he told me that he knew he was going to be the president of Egypt and I responded to him saying that I knew I was going to the the President.” 

Analysing the recurring themes within these dreams may help us understand what shapes Sisi’s frequently incomprehensible behaviour. Simultaneously, by revealing what is embedded in Egypt’s (post-colonial) educational system, it may become clear how the behaviours and beliefs of the Field Marshall—being a modern-day educated Egyptian—are induced childhood crises and not anomalies among educated Egyptians.

Whether or not these dreams are genuine is negotiable, but it is interesting that he has such a clear memory of dreams he supposedly had 35 years ago, and that this recording was leaked just a few days prior to the announcement of him running for president. However, the purpose behind analysing dreams in the realm of Freudian psychoanalysis, is not to interpret dreams as an objective truth, but rather to interrogate the subconscious psyche of the person based on his subjective selection, description and interpretation of his own dreams—whether they are real or made up. 

That being said, there are variant psychological themes that can be traced from these dreams. There is an obvious fascination or maybe glorification of western culture; their consumption behaviour (the Omega) and accent (Ab-de-l-fa-ta’) indicate that he sees it not only as a sign of greatness but of universality as well. To him omega’s proximity to Ab-de-l-fa-ta (if they are in anyway proximate) indicates “universality”.

Another intriguing theme apparent in the quotes is his peculiar historical consciousness. Not only the historical figures he dreamt of, like President El Sadat, but also the historical symbols that recurrently appear in his dreams, such as the raised sword with an inscription in red (signifying blood?) and ‘la ilah illa Allah’ (signifying an Islamic crusade?).

This understanding echoes the history of Islamic Egypt as taught in public and private schools as the government curricula. To begin with, stories of Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Haroun El Rashid, and others (taught in primary and preparatory levels) speak of ro’ya and manamat as established sources of truth. 

It comes as no surprise then that Ali Gom’aa assured Sisi that “God and his prophets” supported his war against the Khawarej (meaning the Muslim Brotherhood) based on the conclusive evidence of recurrent dreams. This teaching of history, which hazardously mixes reality with myth, establishes an open door in a child’s mind to irrational holy wars in which myth (dreams, calls, etc…) are divine permission to kill a fellow human being. 

The most dangerous effect of the government curricula however is the normalisation of bloodshed. Sisi’s image of the “warrior with a raised sword” is exactly the same as the front-page of the “Fath El Andalus” book, which is taught to preparatory students. Inside the book, there are heroic stories of mass killings not only of the ‘Other’ but sometimes of members of the Islamic state who sought to escape the war. 

But no story is as intense in its brutality as the “massacre of the Mamluks”. Portrayed as a symbol of Mohamed Ali’s intelligence and reform, the story goes as follows: Ali invited the Mamluks for a welcoming dinner, and when they arrived unarmed, he had them all killed and ordered his soldiers to walk around town with their severed heads. The massacre is interestingly justified in that Ali had to make an example out of them in order to gain full control of the state (which the Mamluks had penetrated) to apply his reforms. What if we were to replace Ali and the Mamluks with Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood? 

I am not herein assuming that this version of history was taught with the conscious intention of facilitating modern massacres, or that these school teachings are indisputably accepted by the students, or that they would automatically be normalised into acceptance of the ruler’s brutality or the celebration of violence. 

However, when a child takes the shock of bloodshed young, it will not be as shocking later on; the exact same way the first time seeing a sheep’s head chopped off made the killing of other cattle normal to me. 

Just as I made myself believe that I hated animals to get over my trauma—what are the people in Egypt forcing themselves to believe in order not to deal with the harsh realities of the past four years, let alone the years before? Is Sisi’s hate discourse particularly popular amongst the Egyptian educated class because throughout their schooling they became used to the discourse of hate?

Twenty-five years ago Timothy Mitchell answered ‘yes’: “post-colonial education [in Egypt] did not only produce obedient soldiers, but faithful ones as well.”

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