North Africa, West Asia

Today's Egypt in a song: Emperor Rima's clothes

A new catchy tune is circulating social media in Egypt. A brief interview with the lyricist and musician confirms the author's suspicions of the symbolism of the song.

Mamoon Alabbasi
21 February 2014
Yasser Elmanawahly.

Yasser Elmanawahly.

In Egypt, there is a new catchy tune circulating in social media pages. The song, which gives a symbolic description of current events in Egypt, is sung by an artist who is known for his strong leanings towards the 25 January 2011 revolution. Yasser Elmanawahly stayed true to his ideals even when they clashed with those who were in power following the fall of Egypt's dictator Hosni Mubarak. He was critical of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' (SCAF) reign and did not hold back in criticising the rule of the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. 

But today, following the coup that overthrew Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on dissent and on freedoms (of conscience and of speech), the stakes are much higher. When public and private media outlets sing the praise of the de-facto ruling military regime, and when political disagreement with that junta could have you end up behind bars, framed with trumped up charges, or simply six feet under - then now is not the ideal time to release a song about the "Emperor's Clothes."

Which is why his debut song 'Rima' is not only a work of art in the aesthetic sense but it is also a noble act of bravery. It sings truth to power without compromising on 'form' for the sake of 'content'. There is cohesion between the melody, lyrics and video clip, which are tied up together by a folkloric flavour.

The lyrics, written by Mohamed Elsyed, are themselves highly idiomatic where what is left unsaid is understood from the little that is said. Here is a rough translation of the lyrics:

Rima is back (to her old ways) after the change

With an old tale, that we've witnessed times before                         

With raised batons and banned speech

People are dying from bullets and hunger

Now she is back, but why is she back?

You see, the ill-fated one had a lamp

And brave children that he left to decay

He did not know how to drive without exceeding the limit

So he crashed into a post, especially prepared for him

Rima saw him and overthrew him

Now Rima is back 

You ask why Pharaoh is acting like a Pharaoh

Rima is back (to her old ways) after the change

With an old tale, that we've witnessed times before

You see, the ill-fated one had a lamp

Now Rima is back with repeated words:

'A movie hero is coming, O kids'

'A trustworthy statesman'

'Although he is affectionate, he is tough and brings down mountains'

With few drummers and capitalists

And permissible fatwas and filmmakers

Rima is back

Now Rima is back wearing many faces

Covering up a crime by crying for help

You won't fool us with your games, mean one

We've encountered fake ones times before

To hell with Rima!

In a telephone interview with the lyricist, he confirmed that Rima is "a reference to the police state". The choice of name is based on the old saying 'Rima is back to her old ways'. Why is the police state back? Well, it's because Morsi, referred to in the song as the 'ill-fated one', did "not listen to the revolutionary youth". Instead, "he left them to the old regime". A combination of Morsi's mistakes and the traps set by the deep state (like deliberate electricity outages, gas shortages and other orchestrated crises as well as misleading media campaigns) is beautifully captured in the lyrics: 'He did not know how to drive without exceeding the limit / So he crashed into a post, especially prepared for him'. Even though Morsi had a 'lamp' (a reference to his presidential post) he remained 'ill-fated'.

For those who follow current events in Egypt, the rest of the lyrics are pretty much self-explanatory: the glorification of the military by 'drummers' (propaganda praise), the idea of a superstar saviour (who is in effect a Pharaoh), the welcomed fatwas of pro-military clerics, the factitious news and the capitalists who fund the media. The lyrics are indeed powerful, which is what prompted Elmanawahly – who usually relies on his own lyrics when singing – to contact Elsyed in order to use them as soon as he saw them on the wall of the lyricist's Facebook page.

When interviewing Elmanawahly over the phone, he stressed that "the revolution is still on-going", expressing his "full faith in today's youth" to carry on the struggle "for freedom, dignity, and real independence". He is still daring to ask, "What happened to the martyrs of the revolution?" And he also asks about all of those who have died since, including members of the police force.

Many of the revolutionaries, he said, were "in a state of shock". But they are still committed to the path of January 25. He doesn't have to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military rule, because he sees a third way. Whether that third way ever sees the light is hard to predict. But unlike many self-proclaimed revolutionaries, he hasn't sold out to the returning dictatorship. In the meantime unfortunately, as the lyrics note, 'with raised batons and banned speech / people are dying from bullets and hunger'. 

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email

Comments

We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram