North Africa, West Asia

Window on the Middle East - November 20, 2015

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. 

Arab Awakening
20 November 2015
  • From Beirut to Paris, we are all hypocrites and selective grievers
  • Cairo landscapes: a battle over history
  • Social media is still powerful in Egypt
  • No revolution this year: Sudan’s October Revolution and the Arab Spring
  • From Beirut, this is Paris: in a world that doesn’t care about Arab lives
  • Normalising bloodshed: education and the dreams of the Marshall
  • From Beirut to Paris, we are all hypocrites and selective grievers

    By Halim Shebaya


    Flickr/Markus Grossalber. Some Rights reserved.


    After the terrorist attacks that shook the French capital on Friday 13 of November, social media predictably witnessed an outpouring of sympathy and signs of solidarity with Paris and the French people.

    Beirut was also struck by ISIS terrorism one day prior to the Paris attacks. On 12 November, two suicide bombers detonated their vests in a residential area in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The attack killed 43 and injured more than 250 civilians.

    The Interior Minister revealed that four or five suicide bombers were originally targeting a hospital in the area. The plan was altered due to heavy security measures around the hospital and they chose a densely populated residential suburb during rush hour instead.

    Some people took issue with the disparity in the media response to the Paris attacks as compared to the response to attacks that take place on a regular basis in the Arab world and other parts of the globe. In fact, 18 people were killed on the same day of the Paris attacks in Iraq as a result of an ISIS suicide bomber.

    The criticism was not directed against the rightfulness of standing as one with the French people, as they deal with the tragic results of violent extremism—an ideology that manipulatively employs religion to justify heinous terrorism. Rather, concerns were voiced in relation to the media coverage, i.e. with regard to the terms used and the narrative set forth in explaining the event. 

    As Habib Battah brilliantly wrote for Al-Jazeera, “what was perhaps even more disturbing than the omission of the Beirut attacks from the international stage of outrage was the number of western news reports that sought to categorise Lebanese victims rather than mourn them.”

    This was in reference to the fact that the attack took place in what was called “a Hezbollah stronghold” or “Hezbollah bastion.” This choice of headlines was widely seen as a clear attempt to belittle the effect of the terrorist attack, and to dehumanise the victims.

    As one commentator noted, “It helps, of course, when the people on the receiving end of the attacks have already been so dehumanised as to eliminate the option for civilian identity.”

    Furthermore, this categorisation assumes that all the victims are Shi’a and seemingly justifies their deaths as being a direct result of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian crisis. Even if one were to accept this poor and tasteless justification, such faulty reasoning also ignores the fact that targeting civilians is a war crime.

    Moreover, the targeted area, as was correctly noted, “hosts other Lebanese, Palestinians, Syrians, and others of varying religious and political orientations. The Dahiyeh=Shi’a/Hezbollah formula fails to account for the area’s smaller Christian population.”

    On selective grief

    Whilst I completely agree with the fact that we need to challenge the narrative presented by the media and seek to treat all victims equally, the excellent debate we are witnessing with regard to selective grief and equal treatment of victims exposes uncomfortable truths about each and every one of us, on all sides of the political spectrum, in the east and west, and in the north and south.

    In exposing the selective justice of others, the pervasiveness of selective justice in our societies is revealed.

    In rightfully and legitimately condemning selective grief, Lebanon (and for that matter the entire world) forgets that it is a country that selectively grieves all the time.

    Lebanon grieves the death of a man killed on the streets as a result of a car chase and a horrific assault captured on video. But Lebanon does not grieve when a head of a municipality is caught on video violently beating his wife in the parking lot of a high-end shopping mall. 

    Lebanon grieves the death of Parisian residents on November 13, 2015. But Lebanon does not grieve the deaths by suicide of a large number of foreign domestic workers that occur on a regular basis.

    Lebanon grieves the innocent victims of the Charlie Hebdo killings. But Lebanon does not grieve over reports of child sexual abuse and show solidarity with its victims when the perpetrator is associated with one’s family, political party, or religion.

    Lebanon grieves the plight of Syrian refugees drowning at the shores of the Mediterranean. But Lebanon does not grieve the fact that there are 17,000 disappeared individuals from the Civil War whose families are still waking up daily with no idea about the fate or whereabouts of their sons. Nor do we grieve for the kidnapped soldiers and their families who have been living in fear and anxiety since August 2014.

    Lebanon grieves for Nelson Mandela and other public figures by posting RIP statuses on social media. But Lebanon could care less about the plight of victims from other sects or from opposing political parties. In fact, each side seems to only care about the crimes committed by the opposing parties domestically, and regionally. In Syria, media and individual solidarity is dependent on whether one supports Saudi Arabia or Iran, and in turn Assad or his opponents.

    Ultimately, if we really cared about human lives, our profile pictures would have been photo-shopped with the Syrian flag. With over 200,000 people killed65,000 disappeared, and the growth of a medieval terrorist organisation persecuting minorities, employing girls and women as sex slaves, and carrying out gruesome killings, the Syrian flag would most definitely qualify for an act of solidarity with “crimes against humanity.”

    If we really cared about human suffering, our profile pictures would have been shaded with the Palestinian flag where local inhabitants have been kicked out of their lands and have been living under occupation or as refugees since 1948—and whose remaining lands are being annexed by Israeli settlers, in clear violation of international law and causing outrage to few in the world.

    Selective grief is indeed hypocritical and disturbing. But the truth of the matter is that we are all hypocrites, we are all selective grievers, and we are all selective sympathisers.

    In exposing the hypocrisy of others, our hypocrisy is exposed. In exposing the selective grief of others, our selective grief is laid bare. And in exposing the selective justice in the world, the pervasiveness of selective justice in our societies is revealed.

    The hope is that the tragic events of the last week will be a catalyst for world leaders and citizens of the world to get off our high horses, wipe away our self-righteousness, acknowledge our ineptitude at dealing with human suffering, and to show solidarity—in word and deed, each according to our means—with all victims of terrorism, tyranny, occupation, torture, kidnappings, enforced disappearances, human trafficking, corruption, forced migration, sexual abuse, discrimination and armed conflicts.

    There is an acute and growing tension between the concern for safety and the protection of our freedoms. How do we handle this? Read more from the World Forum for Democracy partnership.

    Cairo landscapes: a battle over history

    By Sara Verderi


    Demotix/Shawkan. All rights reserved.A few weeks ago a video was aired portraying the graffiti-painted wall of Mohamed Mahmoud Street being partially demolished. This famous wall is the fence of the American University in Cairo’s premises in Tahrir Square. 

    The workers in the video explained that the wall was not going to be entirely demolished, only parts of it, as it was the only way to get the heavy construction equipment they needed to use inside the campus. 

    The wall is famous for having hosted graffiti portraying different moments of the series of uprisings commonly known as the 25 January Revolution. Among the artists who have been committed to painting the wall is the legendary Ammar Abu Bakr, recently arrested during one of his performances in Borsa, downtown Cairo.

    If one takes Pierre Nora's definition of lieux de memoir—that is, spaces in which collective memory is encapsulated and kept in store such as monuments, streets and museums—then Mohamed Mahmoud street and Tahrir Square have undoubtedly been the most central spaces of commemoration of the January 25 revolution. 

    In this short article I would like to reflect on the relation between space and the memorialisation of the Egyptian uprising. First, the way in which the wall demolition inserts into a broader urban restructuring of downtown Cairo; second, on the collective re-working of the narrative 'revolution', meaning the way in which a society (composed of ordinary people as well as of the establishment in power) give significance to political events and experiences. 

    The episode has once again raised a debate about the alleged battle of the writing of the history of the revolution that has been taking place between activists and the Egyptian state. 

    Changing urban landscapes

    According to a recent report, Khaled Mostafa, spokesperson for the Cairo governor's office, referred to the demolition of the wall as necessary for the demolition of the building behind it.

    The battle for writing the revolution is in the making, and the city is the battlefield in which it partially takes place.

    On the state’s side, numerous projects of urban re-structuring of downtown Cairo have been taking place, such as the construction of a mega parking facility in Tahrir Square, the iconic space of the uprising during the eighteen days of 2011; the dismantling of pavement cafes in Borsa, an area that used to gather young activists in Cairo; and the supposed re-location of one of the revolutionary hubs, Dar Merit publishing house.  

    It has to be said that among the residents of downtown, many have cheered the government’s decision of dismantling pavement cafes and street vendors, because their hypertrophic expansion over the past four years has suffocated public spaces. 

    Other projects include the re-qualification of the central railway station in Ramses Square and the construction of a mall complex in the same square, which is the object of dissent according to residents living in the surrounding neighbourhood.

    The re-working of January 25 uprising's lieux de memoir is not a novelty in itself, rather part and parcel of the stance the state has been taking towards January 25, which translates into urban restructuring.

    The battle for writing the revolution is in the making, and the city is the battlefield in which it partially takes place. Thinking about how this process reflects on the politics of naming: Mohamed Mahmoud Street was re-named the street of the “Eyes of Freedom” by revolutionaries, in remembrance of the many who lost their eyes to police fire during clashes in November 2012. 

    When I visited Cairo for the first time in March 2012, I had my first encounter with Tahrir Square. At that time the square was still animated by the presence of a permanent sit-in, tents and street vendors. A number of baltagiyya (thugs)—as referred to by the state—were part of the human landscape characterising the square.

    When I turned, my gaze captured a colourful street that was somehow distinguished from the rest of the urban landscape. The street was enclosed by barbed wire. Eloquent graffiti portrayed a face split into two halves: one half was General Mohamed El Tantawi, head of SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) in 2011, and the second half was that of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.  

    March 2012. Sara Verderi. All rights reserved.

    Tantawi was the head of the secret services and the de-facto head of the Egyptian State after the ousting of Mubarak in February 2011. 

    In 2014, a project for the building of a mosque dedicated to him was initiated in New Cairo. Today the minaret's mosque (one of the highest in the world, as army sympathisers emphatically claim) is visible from the road to Nasr City.

    In November 2013, the Mubarak-Tantawi graffiti was covered up along with all others in the vicinity. Notably, the next day new graffiti portraying a monkey carrying a banner of another monkey wearing a military helmet appeared on the wall.

    November 2013. Sara Verderi. All rights reserved.

    November 2013. Sara Verderi. All rights reserved.In 2013 a memorial monument for the martyrs of January 25 was erected in Tahrir Square. Few attended the ceremony and I did not even notice it despite my daily crossing of the Square. Right after, contestation took place and the memorial was covered in red spots, symbolising the blood of the martyrs, in a gesture of protest by activists. For activists and relatives of the victims, the monumental memorial was not a way to close ‘the case’. On the contrary, they wanted those responsible to be held accountable for the murders committed during the uprising.

    Sayable memories, unsayable memories

    On the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the uprising, I decided to go out hoping to stumble across a commemoration. It was not possible to reach Tahrir Square itself as it was closed and heavily militarised at the main entrances with tanks and barbed wire. 

    The regime is trying to erase the memory of the revolution by all means possible.

    While walking through the alleys surrounding the Square, I stopped by a kiosk and engaged in conversation in the midst of an unusually deserted downtown Cairo. "So today is the anniversary of the revolution," I said to the woman sitting behind the kiosk's window. She replid, "I'll tell you, the kids who are asking for the fall of the regime belong to the Muslim Brotherhood! Enough with the revolution, they destroyed the country!" 

    For this woman the militarisation of the square was normal and legitimised by the potential dangers that 'the kids of the revolution' posed to Egypt. State discourse resonated in the sense that the army was portrayed as the rescuer of the people of Egypt. 

    Curiously, a few hours later on the same day, another part of the state apparatus—the police—assaulted a dozen members of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, who had staged a sit-in in the vicinity of Tahrir Square to commemorate the anniversary. 

    One of the participants, trade unionist Shaima Sabbagh, was shot to death by a policeman even though she was only carrying flowers in remembrance of all those who had lost their lives during the uprising. 

    The fact that the soldier who killed her has been sentenced to 15 years does not change much of the Egyptian State’s discourse and practices of 'pre-emptive' repression. 

    Maybe the wall is on the verge of total demolition or perhaps it will only be partially knocked down. In any case, this episode suggests that the regime is trying to erase the memory of the revolution by all means possible. 

    Social media is still powerful in Egypt

    By Mina Fayek

    Flickr/Sharif Hassan. All rights reserved.

    Flickr/Sharif Hassan. All rights reserved.

    Supporters of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi often claim that Egyptian internet activists are powerless and disconnected from reality. They say that activists are living in their own virtual bubble; however, recent incidents suggest otherwise.

    When the 'Arab Spring' began in 2011, the role social media played was undeniable. Activists turned to Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to share news and updates on the ongoing clashes and demonstrations nationwide, as their regimes tried to silence and discredit them through state media and allied private outlets. 

    The internet was a helpful tool aiding the organization of protests and acting as an alternative means of communication, but the causes of these uprisings were already deeply rooted in Arab societies.

    Nonetheless, two years ago when the Egyptian uprising faced a setback, supporters of the regime claimed that activists could no longer change facts on the ground, because their ideas only existed virtually. Recent events refute such claims.

    Last week, Egypt’s social media sphere saw an uproar against pro-regime TV host Riham Saed. During her talk show, she tried to justify a video recorded incident of sexual harassment that had made its rounds on social media. She blamed the victim for the assault, arguing that the way she was dressed and how she behaved were what provoked the attacker. She then showed private images of the survivor at parties and by the beach, in an attempt to degrade her in front of the audience. 

    Shortly after the episode, an event was created on Facebook that called for putting Reham Saeed on trial and taking her show off air; hundreds of thousands joined in a few days. On Twitter the sarcastic hashtag 'Die Reham' trended with tweets criticising her unethical and unprofessional behavior. As a result, the TV channel that aired her show Al-Nahar issued a statement saying it would suspend the show and start an investigation. Saeed had supposedly posted twice on Facebook that she would be resigning, which she then deleted shortly after.

    Moreover, under pressure of criticism and threats of boycotts, more than 10 sponsors of the show announced on their social media profiles that they were withdrawing their sponsorship of her show; they also stated that they were not responsible for the content she had presented. Another blow for the channel—this time, financially. Renowned satirist Bassem Youssef used his Twitter account to salute the sponsors as they declared their withdrawal, which further encouraged more to do the same.

    This is not the first time that social media plays a key role in pushing public figures to take a step back. A few months ago, the former minister of justice made a classist statement about garbage collectors. He said that sons of garbage collectors cannot join the judiciary. The reaction to his statement on social media was huge, and he ended up resigning from his post.

    A couple of days ago Mohamed AlHelali, a postgraduate student and teaching assistant, wrote a sorrowful story about himself on his Facebook account. Mohamed was getting ready to attend a scientific conference in Jordan, and despite having all his papers ready, an officer refused to give him the travel permit needed to exit Egypt. “My dream is over”, he wrote at the end of his post. His story was spread widely and gained the sympathy of many. 

    Surprisingly, a few hours after writing this post, Mohamed edited the post saying that the presidential cabinet had interfered and solved his issue. He then posted a photo of himself with his passport saying that he will soon disclose the details.

    While Mohamed’s story showed how flawed and corrupt the country is, it did highlight the power of social media, which resulted in the president interfering.

    Egypt is a young nation with more than 60 percent of the population under the age of 35. According to a 2014 report, almost 50 percent of the country use the internet regularly. Numbers are likely to be higher now. This surely will help increase awareness about different issues that don’t make it to state media or private media owned outlets by pro-regime tycoons.

    The question remains, could social media help build another uprising soon?

    No revolution this year: Sudan’s October Revolution and the Arab Spring

    By Arwa Elsanosi


    Demotix/Rajput Yasir. All rights reserved.

    On 21 October 1964, the people of Sudan took to the streets in mass demonstrations and strikes that brought the military regime led by General Ibrahim Abbud to an end; this year marks the fifity-first anniversary of the 'October Revolution'.

    When the wave of revolutions flooded the Arab region in 2011, the Sudanese people rose up in protest against military rule once again. This time it was against the Revolutionary Command Council of National Salvation, led by Omar Al-Bashir, who came to power in a bloodless coup in 1981.

    This coup was later presented as the 'Salvation Revolution' (thawrat al-inqaz), a tactical move that aimed to evoke the legacy of the October Revolution and create a sense of popular support for leadership by the national hero, Al-Bashir. Using the rhetoric of the Salvation Revolution gave legitimacy and further power consolidation to Al-Bashir and his party, the National Congress Party.

    During the Arab Spring others across the region, like the people of Sudan, were deeply dissatisfied by the impoverishment caused by high level of corruption, devastating unemployment rates and austerity measures imposed by the government. In Sudan's case, this was while the governing elite, and their close acquaintances, had—and continue to have—exclusive rights to wealth.

    Even though Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, these elites continue to pursue their lavish life styles, widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Yet there has been a general lack of involvement by political opposition parties in the protests.

    Opposition parties condemned the government's use of excessive force against the people and its decision to lift fuel subsidies in 2012. However, the leaders of these opposition parties were hesitant to express their stance in support of the protests, which weakened the political weight of the protests. For example, Sadiq al-Mahdi, a leader of the National Umma Party, made no statement supporting the protests, yet some news agencies reported that hundreds of his supporters joined the protests following a speech he delivered at a mosque in Omdurman near his residence. Later on, the Popular Congress Party and its leader Hassan al-Turabi called on their supporters to participate in Arab Spring protests.

    In response, the government mobilised riot police at all protests, whether peaceful or violent, and the police did not hesitate to shoot live bullets at the protestors, and used tear gas even inside university campuses. They succeeded in dispursing protestors, and those who were caught were detained for indefinite periods, often without trials. Reports of torture and harassment by the government were made by many protestors. 

    The government also cracked down on opposition parties by issuing a decree that bans political parties from meeting without permission. This decree was announced only a week after President Al-Bashir met with opposition party leaders promising a deal that would ensure their freedom to operate and compete in the national elections of 2015, which Omar Al-Bashir won with an unprecedented 94 percent. 

    This state of general oppression has also reached cyber space, with the National Intelligence Secret Service's (NISS) creation of the so-called "Electronic Army", an internet-based body that looks for anti-government political activists and threatens them. Some have been prosecuted for their anti-government online activity.

    So, how did Al-Bashir’s regime manage to consolidate power for 26 years?

    Al-Inqaz regime is led by an elite that is distant from the population and that has complete and exclusive control of the military/security and party apparatus. The National Congress Party in Sudan almost fully controls the judiciary, executive and legislative branches of government, creating an almost complete monopoly over government bodies. The government is insulated by a relatively strong administration that depends principally on the military and the NISS.

    Moreover, the regime succeeds in shifting the public's attention by constantly engaging in wars of distraction; the government was initially involved in a civil war with South Sudan for more than two decades, then another war in Darfur that brought about serious charges of crimes against humanity, triggering a vast reaction from the international community and specifically 'the west'—which the government is also at war against.

    Another element of the military regime's consolidation of power is the use of Islam and the introduction of Shari’a law as a means of legitimacy. This was initiated by President Ja’afar Nemeiri in the early 1980s, but it was further implemented by the current government. For a society that has Islamic and Arabic traditions deeply integrated in its culture, and with the continuous marginalisation of African cultural elements, getting the average Sudanese man/woman to revolt against Al-Bashir’s 'Islamic' rule is quite difficult. 

    October has come once again, but the Sudanese streets today are quiet, with little activity on social media demanding justice for students killed by riot police, or the immediate release of political activists from prisons. The country continues to have internet blackouts—although less frequently than during the Arab Spring—and austerity measures are no longer a hot topic for discussion and deep resentment.

    From Beirut, this is Paris: in a world that doesn’t care about Arab lives

    By Elie Fares


    Flickr/Lion Media Productions. Some rights reserved.When a friend told me past midnight to check the news about Paris, I had no idea that I would be looking at a map of a city I love, delineating locations undergoing terrorist attacks simultaneously. I zoomed in on that map closer; one of the locations was right next to where I had stayed when I was there in 2013, down that same boulevard.

    The more I read, the higher the number of fatalities rose. It was horrible; it was dehumanizing; it was utterly and irrevocably hopeless: 2015 was ending the way it had started—with terrorist attacks occuring in Lebanon and France almost at the same time, in the same context of demented creatures spreading hate and fear and death wherever they went.

    I woke up this morning to two broken cities. My friends in Paris, who only yesterday were asking what was happening in Beirut, were now on the opposite side of the line. Both our capitals were broken and scarred, old news to us perhaps but foreign territory to them.

    Today, 128 innocent civilians in Paris are no longer with us. Yesterday, 45 innocent civilians in Beirut were no longer with us. The death tolls keep rising, but we never seem to learn.

    When my people were blown to pieces, the headlines read: explosion in Hezbollah stronghold.

    Amid the chaos and tragedy of it all, one nagging thought wouldn’t leave my head. It’s the same thought that echoes inside my skull at every single one of these events, which are becoming sadly very recurrent: we don’t really matter.

    When my people were blown to pieces on the streets of Beirut on 12 November, the headlines read: explosion in Hezbollah stronghold, as if delineating the political background of a heavily urban area somehow placed the terrorism in context.

    When my people died on the streets of Beirut on 12 November, world leaders did not rise in condemnation. There were no statements expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people. There was no global outrage that innocent people whose only fault was being at the wrong place the wrong time should never have to go that way, or that their families should be broken that way, or that someone’s sect or political background should be a hyphen before feeling horrified at how their corpses burned on cement. Obama did not issue a statement about how their death was a crime against humanity; after all, what is humanity but a subjective term delineating the worth of the human being?

    What happened instead was an American senator wannabe proclaiming how happy he was that my people died, that my country’s capital was being shattered, that innocents were losing their lives and that the casualties included people of all kinds of kinds.

    everett-stern-1 (1) copy.jpg

    Image: Elie Feras. All rights reserved.When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of our flag. Even Facebook didn’t bother with making sure my people were "marked safe", trivial as it may be. So here’s your Facebook safety check: we’ve, as of now, survived all of Beirut’s terrorist attacks.

    When my people died, the world was not in mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck on the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.

    And you know what, I’m fine with all of it. Over the past year or so, I’ve come to terms with being one of those whose lives don’t matter. I’ve come to accept it and live with it.

    Expect the next few days to exhibit yet another rise of Islamophobia around the world. Expect pieces about how extremism has no religion and how members of ISIS are not true Muslims, which they definitely are not, because no person with any inkling of morality would do such things. ISIS is obviously planning for Islamophobic backlash, so it can use it to point its hellish finger and tell any susceptible mind that listens: look, they hate you. 

    And few are those who are able to rise above.

    We can ask for the world to think Beirut is as important as Paris, but the truth is, we are a people that doesn’t care about itself to begin with.

    Expect the next few days to have Europe try and cope with a growing popular backlash against the refugees flowing into its lands, pointing its fingers and accusing them of causing the night of 13 November in Paris. If only Europe knew, though, that the night of 13 November in Paris has been every single night of the life of those refugees for the past two years. But sleepless nights only matter when your country can get the whole world to light up in its flag colors.

    The more horrifying part of the reaction to the Paris terrorist attacks, however, is that some Arabs and Lebanese were more saddened by what was taking place there than by what took place yesterday or the day before in their own backyards. Even among my people, there is a sense that we are not as important, that our lives are not as worthy and that, even as little as it may be, we do not deserve to have our dead collectively mourned and prayed for.

    It makes sense, perhaps, in the grand sense of a Lebanese population that’s more likely to visit Paris than Dahyeh to care more about the former than about the latter, but many of the people I know who are utterly devastated by the Parisian mayhem couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what took place at a location 15 minutes away from where they live, to people they probably encountered one day as they walked down familiar streets.

    We can ask for the world to think Beirut is as important as Paris, or for Facebook to add a “safety check” button for us to use daily, or for people to care about us. But the truth of the matter is, we are a people that doesn’t care about itself to begin with. We call it habituation, but it’s really not. We call it the new normal, but if this is normality then let it go to hell.

    In the world that doesn’t care about Arab lives, Arabs are on the front lines.

    First published on A Separate State of Mind on 14 November 2015.

    Normalising bloodshed: education and the dreams of the Marshall

    By Hesham Shafick


    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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