Soad and Bardees

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I have previously bored you several times with my musings on this blog about sexuality and notions of respectability, and now i am going to do it again.

One of the Egyptian media’s favourite topics is female licentiousness presented in the form of moral outrage, because it allows readers to consume material of a sexual nature under the veil of condemnation.

Persecution of minorities presented as sexual deviants has also proved to be a useful political tool for regimes with no real sense of who they are or what they stand for. It allows them to both define themselves in terms of what they’re not (rather than what they are) and claim the moral high ground against a bespoke threat from perverts and degenerates. Usually this is a threat that exists only in their heads, and on newspaper front pages and it proves useful when trying to deflect attention from incidents of torture and rape committed by the police against members of the public.

In the tumult of recent years the Egyptian media has, even more than it did during the Mubarak years, appointed itself a moral guardian whose job is to hold the general public – rather than those in power – to account. This is not restricted to the state media; private channels have also espoused this philosophy, most shrilly during the hysteria following June 30 2013 when – having been brought to the precipice of the abyss of Brotherhood rule but rescued at the last moment – Egyptian society decided it was all hands on deck against the Islamist threat.

Media outlets that criticised the army, or the police, or flagged human rights abuses confirmed the nagging suspicion harboured by some members of the general public that the media is indeed a fifth column and part of the grand, evil plot against Egypt. Television presenters openly – and proudly – declared that it is the media’s role to support the government in its fight against terror; Egypt had given democracy a spin and look where it took us. Good governance through accountability be damned.

This paternalism is not restricted to the media. Members of Egypt’s artistic community have also taken upon themselves the job of protecting Egypt from the array of ills threatening it, in the process trampling all over what the point of art actually is, or rather assigning to it a purpose that it doesn’t have. The result is a clarion call for the ugly thing that is el fan el mowagah – “guided art” – or art with a message. In practice this translates into long phone-ins on chat shows where irate pompous personages from the world of cinema and television lament Egyptian society’s moral dissolution and the expression of this disintegration via the bouncing tits and gyrating bottoms threatening to burst through our screens and destroy public morals. As a society filmmakers and artists should be more concerned with the body politic than the body, is the message. Egypt after all is at war; with Islamists. With Shi’ites. With homosexuals. With Atheists.

As usual, in the majority of cases moral condemnation is usually directed at expressions of female sexuality (the exception is where the subject matter pertains to homosexuality). This condemnation rests on two central untruths:

1. As god-fearing upstanding citizens, Egyptian men do not consume sex in any form outside of the bedroom with their spouse(s).

2. Women are sexual objects who do no and should not enjoy sex and do not have agency over their involvement in any aspect of it.

The reality is something else entirely of course. Like every normal community of human beings Egyptian society is dripping with sex despite its conservatism; film producer Ahmed Sobky has not made his millions through films about knitting. Tamer Hosny did not become a pop superstar because of his voice; there is a market for hirsute men singing about endless devotion. One hit wonder Ruby’s song “laih bydary keda” went viral because men are not opposed to gawping at a crisp 20 year old riding an exercise bike. Like young people everywhere teenagers – male and female, veiled and unveiled – prowl the streets of Cairo in spray-on denim and clothes so tight that if it is true that god resides in the hearts of the god-fearing we’d be able to see his outline through their jumpers.

The problem of the untruths remains, however. The solution lies in blame. If the purpose of art and culture is to edify and educate and protect morals then any infringement of that is a crime against society, and this includes women who are overtly sexual in the public realm without permission (we’ll go back to permission later). Consumers of this “filth” are thus victims rather than villains.

The separate interviews of two women on television this week aptly illustrates all this. In the first Bardees, a woman who describes herself as a belly dancer, appeared on Tony Khalifa’s “Secrets from Under the Bridge” show. Khalifa has built a career on sensationalism and this episode was no exception. Bardees has made a cover version of “ya wad ya te2eel”, a song penned by legendary poet Salah Jaheen and sung by darling of Egyptian cinema Soad Hosny in the 1970s.

The video is a garish nightmare; Bardees is not a singer (as she herself acknowledges in the Khalifa interview) and attempts to make up for that with turbo-charged dala3 (in this context the closest translation is coquettishness) and sexually suggestive movements involving telephones and mops.

Bardees in her interview gives an impassioned defence of her oeuvre against intense bullying by: Khalifa, an art critic, Soad Hosny’s sister, composer Kamal el Taweel’s son and Salah Jaheen’s son. Khalifa’s problem with her clip is that it is a cover of a song written and performed by two revered cultural institutions. The art critic condemns the fact that every instant of the video clip is sexually provocative. He has faith however hat the general public that will reject such offerings and that Bardees will enjoy her 15 seconds of fame and then disappear like so many before her. Both men argued that Soad Hosny’s brand of dala3 was a different (more respectable) animal than Bardees’. Salah Jaheen’s son declared that the song has no connection with art and that it is sex presented in the basest of ways. He informed Bardees directly that she has “committed a crime”.

There was a strange – and telling – moment in the interview when Khalifa tried to force Bardees to reveal which Egyptian governorate she is from. Bardees deflected the question coquettishly with much hair flicking and batting of eyelids but Khalifa persisted in the manner of a police officer conducting an interrogation. After Bardees refused to reveal her origins Khalifa suggested that this is because either she is ashamed of her hometown or it is ashamed of her. “I’m asking so that anyone who wants to demand your hand in marriage knows where to go”, he said. But the truth is that he is asking because a woman’s honour is like jelly, and requires an exterior mould (of sanction and approval) for it to remain upright and intact; in pressing her on where she is from Khalifa is obliquely suggesting that she lacks this, that her family and familiars have spurned her. In short that she is a whore. I tried to imagine a similar line of interrogation directed at a male guest and failed.

None of this is to suggest that Bardees’ offering has any artistic merit: it doesn’t. She cannot sing and dances badly. The video is crude and ugly and painful to watch. Household items are abused in it. But this is a song, an act, a pretence. It offers a world of fantasy just as Soad Hosny and her band of belly-dancers in the original version of ya wad ya te2eel did, albeit in a more tasteful fashion. It should not be used as a yardstick to measure Bardees’ moral value, or to beat her with.

Ultimately Soad Hosny’s little girl act is selling the same thing as Bardees: dala3/sex. I wonder if a contemporary female artist made a video in which she twirled around her bedroom in an above the knee skirt and threw herself on the bed and then danced with half naked belly-dancers what the reaction would be. There is a strange disjoint between the past and the present that allows the same people who vocally condemn overt displays of female sexuality today to fondly remember the golden age of Egyptian art when you could not move for legs and boobs and wobbling waists. It again goes back to this idea of a women’s honour being defined by others and thus, by extension, for her being given permission to demonstrate her sexuality. Soad Hosny had this permission, Bardees does not. But that does not stop broadcasters like Khalifa from titillating viewers with her video; he just has to package it in an interview in which he bullies and humiliates her so his viewers can watch with a clear conscience.

I enjoyed watching this interview with Mona Hala, a Youtube comedian who was big a couple of years ago and who is currently pursuing an acting career in the United States because she rejects all this nonsense.

Mona seems to have been invited onto chat show el bayt baytak for no other reason than she posted pictures of herself in a bikini with her boyfriend on Facebook. The pictures were shown on the show and they are remarkably anodyne. Think about that for a second: a woman invited onto a prime time television show for an almost 30 minutes segment because of some holiday snaps, and then – again – interrogated by the presenters about her choices.

There is a glorious moment when Mona mentions her “friend”, using a term that could mean a platonic acquaintance but is often used to refer to an amorous relationship. The presenter asks her to clarify and Mona confirms yes, her boyfriend, without missing a beat. There is a hugely (9-month) pregnant (possible out of wedlock) pause before the presenter says ok, and laughs the laugh of the quietly morally astonished and outraged.

The other presenter then – NEWSFLASH – informs her that Egypt is a (conservative) eastern society [and that she is thus breaking numerous rules of probity]. Mona responds by telling him that she is no longer living in that society and that just as she does not judge others morally, she would like not to be judged.

Using the Khalifa method, the female presenter then questions her about her family’s reaction to the pictures, noting that Mona’s sister wears the neqab, the implication being surely their reaction was to condemn her to hellfire [because she is a dissolute woman]. After being pressed, Mona says that her sister’s reaction was to say “may god guide you [to the right path]”. The presenter pounces: “so your sister thinks that you are not guided [by god] then” she says, lingeringly. Later, she asks why Mona has not thought about marrying her boyfriend, to which Mona replies that she is.

“The problem is that eastern society has a problem with any woman who lives her life freely,” Mona correctly says, after being subjected to yet another condescending lecture by one of the presenters. Would a male actor be invited onto a television programme because he posted pictures with his girlfriend on the beach? Would he be interrogated about his family’s reaction to these photographs? Would he be subjected to a sanctimonious lecture about eastern society and its morals? Would roughly 5 minutes of a 25 minute interview be devoted to what that actor is actually doing, his projects and future plans after a tedious inquisition? These are all rhetorical questions.

So good for Mona for not buckling to these patronising dullards, imprisoned by societal norms and their lack of imagination. And while Bardees’ brand of entertainment is not my cup of tea, and leaving a discussion of artistic quality aside, she, in her own way, is fighting a battle similar to Mona’s – with the caveat that I wonder what degree of autonomy in her choices the entertainment industry allows her – but that’s a separate discussion. If her sexuality is crudely expressed that says more about the debasement of cultural output in modern Egypt than it does about Bardees. Without wishing to present her as a feminist trailblazer the fact remains that she is asserting her sexuality and refusing to be shamed for it as society chastises her – without being able to drag their eyes away.

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A walk through Tamer Hosny

 

تامر

Tamer – back in the days when he did not possess the funds to deforest between his eyebrows – alongside his old mucker Shereen.

As part of my interest in pop culture I have a minor obsession with Tamer Hosny, Egypt’s answer to the Kiwi fruit, all small and hairy.

I have watched his films and videos and was even thinking about him while Egypt fought its noble battle against dictatorship in that unsavoury 2011 business. During that business Tamer was ejected from Tahrir Square after prevailing on protesters to go home. We saw him in a video crying. But he and all the other true patriots came out triumphant and Tamer fought back by duetting with “stars” such as Shaggy, Akon, Pitbull and Snoop Doggy Dogg for some conferred coolness, like a man desperately wafting another man’s newly sprayed parfum pour homme onto his face. His Wikipedia page tells us that, “by this international Collaborations Tamer Hosny will be the 1st singer in Middle East to have all this collaborations with International singers”. We can only hope he used birth control.

Recently, Tamer has only collaborated with himself, and in March released a touching video called 180° which I will study here via the medium of the screenshot and also unemployment.

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1. Tamer comes off stage and discovers that My Love has called.

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1a. In fact she has called a total of 39 times. Compare with Yasser who similarly to My Love does not seem to be cognisant of the fact that one missed call is sufficient to alert an individual that a caller has attempted communication with said individual. He is however at least not a complete lunatic and has only called 3 times.

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2. Tamer chooses to call My Love back while speeding towards a red light.

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2a. …and is startled by the existence of traffic.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 18.40.182b. We are subjected to Tamer’s crotch and his ill fitting leather trousers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.36.552c. Interestingly, Tamer is able to cling on to his mobile phone despite just having been knocked off his motorcyle by a range rover while both were travelling at high speed. This is only right, since My Love did put in the effort of missed calling him 39 times.

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3. The inevitable shot. Is the “not admitted” at the top a reference to Tamer or what exactly. Apparently Tamer has had 14 events. Whether or not they involved a washed up American performer is not stated.

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3a. The budget did not allow the video makers to hire an actor doctor with a normal sized mouth because…

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.38.543b….the entire mouth budget was spent on My Love.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.37.573c. My Love is confronted by her new reality; Tamer is comatose and his hair is a mess. We understand this because he has the standard Egyptian symbol of infirmity, the head injury sweatband, and also his eyes are closed and his hair is a mess.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 17.37.083d. In case any dull minded viewers haven’t understood the events of the previous scene the director considerately spells it out for them.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.10.524. Tamer receives a double blow: 1. Never again will he receive almost 40 missed calls from My Love. 2 His mobile phone is still working and he is not.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.15.494a. A lingering shot on a blue-collar worker can only mean one thing: romance.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.21.014b. Well that moved fast.

 

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.25.055. It is not for you to say whether your family is lovely or not you cunt.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.17.195a. Even while bedridden Tamer does not neglect his makeup.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 17.39.565b. Left to his own devices Tamer contemplates his Wall of Me.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.30.525c. Future My Love inspects Tamer’s Wall of Me.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.17.595d. Future My Love realises she’s saddled herself with a right wanker.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.33.185e. Exhibit no. 1

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.34.325f. “Tosser”

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.19.136. The phone rings; it’s Mahmoud. Tamer doesn’t answer it because Mahmoud has not fulfilled the mandatory number of missed calls. In Mahmoud’s case this is six.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.38.066a. Tamer goes into a reverie; a flashback about his superstar days when he was photographed by paparazzi with not very good cameras…

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6b….in Carson City?

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.21.077. There is an unidentified woman hanging about in Tamer’s house helping Future My Love with menial tasks.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.21.417a. Ignoring the first rule of caring for the paralysed which is not to strip them of agency Future My Love attempts to spoon feed Tamer who tells her she can shove it with his eyes.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.46.577b. But then oh alright hahahhahhhaa go on then stuff it in me gob luv.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.22.388. Future My Love takes Tamer out for a walk. Tamer is wearing his Tudor sports collar and sports cardigan because he correctly anticipated that he would be in the vicinity of youths playing basketball.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 19.50.268a. Expert at balls.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.23.208b. The youths feel sorry for Tamer and let him play and score baskets.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.23.488c. Future My Love and Tamer share an embrace after he is allowed to score a basket. A single strand of hair comes loose so frazzled is he by their electric touch. It’s been an action-packed day.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.24.368d. Back at the homestead Tamer is celebrating his birthday with his friends. Only bearded men with V-necks and women with long dark hair are allowed into Tamer’s house. The friends celebrate with a traditional ritual of faeces throwing at the birthday boy.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.25.138e. Future My Love embarrasses Tamer while Andrea Pirlo standing in the background pretends not to notice. Notice that Tamer has got Future My Love wearing turtle necks for he has recruited her to his turtle neck cult.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.25.318f. Oh no. There is a wistful look in Tamer’s eyes and also he has on a sombre turtle neck which can only mean his mind is drifting.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 20.00.138g. Here we are inside Tamer’s head. He is remembering.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.26.308h. What the fuck is Pinstagram. BOMBSHELL. My Love has taken up with a fittie who wears the absolute opposite of turtle necks. Her forehead has doubled in size also.

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8i. Close up on Tamer’s chest accompanied by some disturbing acapella panting.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 20.09.218j. RIGHTEOUS FURY

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.26.578k. RAGE

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 20.12.048l. Future My Love comes rushing in, Tamer is having none of it. He needs to be alone.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 20.13.428m. Future My Love has a flashback about all the sacrifices she has made for Tamer including the wearing of turtle necks and realises what a dick move that was and that she should have scarpered when she saw his Wall of Me. She correctly buggers off.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 20.15.468n. But only momentarily because women aren’t allowed to have sense in music videos.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.29.168o. The couple embrace.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.31.148p. ALLAHO AKBAR. Tamer regains movement in his crippled hand through the love of a good woman.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.31.558q. Tamer plays air guitar to double check.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.32.048r. Future My Love, a trained medical professional brings Tamer his guitar in order to correctly assess the extent of his regained movement. This is a standard procedure used by doctors and usually involves a guitar or bongos.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.32.168s. Mojo.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 17.32.388t. Tamer is cured. Which is good because I was about to run out of letters.

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An Interior Ministry runs through it

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Note: this is a patriotic felucca not the Nile Taxi.

I used the Nile Taxi service for the first time yesterday. Boarding the boat involved two fights and the near arrest of one of the crew.

The Nile Taxi is a boat that ferries people up and down the Nile so that they can avoid Cairo’s congestion. For those that have never visited Cairo (and may never do so) Cairo excels at traffic problems and when I say congestion I mean Elvis Presley’s arteries in his white jumpsuit days. The Nile Taxi is thus a very good idea, allowing people to zip up and down the river between Shoubra and Maadi on a speedboat type craft and not expire in their cars.

It would be an even better idea if it operated in another country lucky enough to have the Nile run through it. Or on Mars, or basically anywhere to which the Egyptian Interior Ministry does not have access.

I rang up to book two spots for me and my mate Linda to go to Maadi. A polite voice told me to proceed to a certain eating establishment on the Dokki corniche where the boat would meet us. Off we went to said establishment where a man in a moustache and tie standing at its door denied us passage on the grounds that this is a restaurant not a port and they have argued several times with Nile Taxi about this and kindly bugger off.

We trundled up river to the nearest access point to the water (the entire length of the Nile within Cairo is fenced off so that poor people can’t gain access to it enjoy it) where a man at a boat rental place informed us that the Nile Taxi comes nowhere near here. I got on the blower again with Nile Taxi and the polite voice told me return to the eating establishment. At this point the idea of hopping to Maadi on my tongue was seeming like the better option but Linda remained quite zen while eating nuts so I battled on.

At the eating establishment I asked moustache and tie whether he would speak to polite voice. “Yeah i’ll talk to them why not” he said with his eyebrows raised and his chest puffed out.

There then followed the usual type of conversation that men have during these types of imaginary battles that mostly focus on form rather than content. Lots of “I am talking to you politely” and “ok I’m shutting up now so you can talk” with that bullish, big swinging dick tone that ensured that his ancient forefathers got all the best cave real estate. And then the call ended abruptly and polite voice – by this time sounding a bit frayed – instructed us to wait opposite the police hospital in Agouza. Off we went and – as was inevitable as the sun rising or Habib el Adly being released from prison – a rozzer soon appeared.

We were standing on the other side of a busy four (sometimes six depending on drivers’ moods) lane road from the hospital, which is surrounded by blast barricades. There we were, two foreign looking women in fashion stretch leggings and large sunglasses one of whom was shoving nuts in her mouth (stop it). The Interior Ministry never sleeps, and is always on alert against potential acts of sabotage by state enemies (except apparently when real genuine state enemies want to carry out an act of sabotage, of which there are many).

So this rozzer (a minion in the riot police) was despatched to have a word shortly after I had been pointing at the hospital and moaning to Linda how the police hospital is all swanky and handsome while general public hospitals are decrepit pots of shit. Perhaps they can lip read.

Fortunately, the Nile Taxi appeared at the same time as the minion. I made him look at the taxi and attempted to communicate to him nicely the fact that we would be boarding said vehicle in less than 30 seconds if only he would fuck off. Out of nowhere (the popo have an almost vampyric ability to swoop in on you out of nowhere) three more men appeared, this time plain clothed. One of them had a small moustache, a large belly and a leather jacket a combo which indicated authority, and he did all the talking.

A young man got off the Nile Taxi and instructed us to leap over a low wall onto some steps below like the agile mountain goats that we are. Linda bless her stood on the wall and stared at the steps giving her backside to the cops in what I hope was a deliberate move before declaring the impossibility of this great leap, and decided instead to slide down on her arse. All the while the young man was busy in conversation with leather jacket who demanded to know the meaning of this Egyptian boat freely using the Nile and this Egyptian man clambering on its Egyptian bank.

The tone got ever more irate and then the inevitable words were spoken to the young man, “come with us please”. He however proved an expert at stalling and had pulled out his mobile phone and mentioned what was presumably the name of some big cheese somewhere. He then instructed Linda and me to get on the boat, which we did, while he continued negotiations for his freedom with Starskey and Hutch, almost imperceptibly moving a yard further away from them every three seconds or so. Maybe the sight of a load of women and a man with a briefcase in the boat had persuaded leather jacket and his bozo friends that we were not the Muslim Brotherhood. Or perhaps they just couldn’t be bothered to climb over the wall. In any case off we jetted while leather jacket scowled at us, his face becoming lost in the boat’s wake as we were pleasantly buffeted by the wind.

As we sped along past the river’s verdant banks I wondered how it is any small business in Egypt survives when it has to deal with Interior Ministry dimwits. And I thought about the Egypt the Future investment conference and how wonderful it is that they attracted all that investment and everything but at the end of the day if a person can’t stand unaccosted on a pavement for 40 seconds then what’s the point.

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Progress

There is no doubt some bloke sitting in some distant corner of Egyptian bureaucracy who genuinely believes that building a new capital city is the answer to Egypt’s problems. He’s probably the same genius who suggested building walls in downtown Cairo to make protesters go away and traffic congestion be damned. The same visionary who proposed that the best way to deal with a sit-in is to physically wipe it off the face of the earth; tents, humans beings and all.

Making intangible problems physical is an attractive proposition to dullards.

Rather than address Cairo’s dazzling array of economic and social disasters, close your eyes, pick a spot on the map and start again. Build a city in five years or less. Delight the populace with this announcement in the manner of a man surprising his girlfriend with a marriage proposal in a car gently rolling off a cliff. Don’t ruin their joy with nonsense such as prior consultation or asking them for their opinion. Build your city, because the answer to the housing shortage and the water crisis is to construct a giant gated community in the desert, just as the correct way to deal with the individuals in Rab3a Square who opposed Morsy’s removal was to physically eliminate them, to make them disappear. The alternative would have required discussion, negotiation, ideas, thought.

Reduce the problem to residents’ complaints about noise and disturbance and be home in time for dinner.

Make the focus the protest, rather than the reason for the protest, and criminalise it and those who take part in it. Make this about a 10 metre stretch of pavement and 15 minutes yesterday afternoon rather than your broken promises and the future you destroyed.

Organise a two day conference in a tourist resort and then crow about it for the next month as if the country won a war, when in fact all that happened is that someone successfully organised an event, an uncertain amount of money was pledged, and Abdel Fatah was involved in a selfie. Measure progress through promises. While grave, existential problems should be made solid and pedestrian, keep progress as intangible, as ephemeral as possible; a cure for AIDS in 6 months, a shiny new city in 5 years. Keep them busy grabbing at clouds above their heads.

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Cheesed off

I had a mildly sectarian incident caused by pasta on my flight to England.

I had requested a vegan meal while booking my ticket online and knew even as I ticked the box on the website that the chances of it appearing were 1 in 80 million but there we are.

At check-in the bloke miraculously confirmed that the Egyptair kitchen gods had received my supplication. Mealtime rolled around and I interrupted my viewing of Stephen Hawking’s hanky panky with his nurse to watch as other passengers tucked into their various animal fleshed feeding bags and the aromas filled the cabins. My tray remained forlornly empty.

An air host rolled up with his trolley and enquired what type of animal I would like to consume. I informed him that I had requested an alternative meal so he demanded my boarding pass (to establish that I am not a liar or perhaps a nutter who rides planes to deliberately meddle with their meal lists) which of course I had lost as is customary. By this time I realised that I would probably have to eat the in-flight magazine to survive, like the time on another flight they forgot my meal and I went round begging people’s bread off of them. Anyway the air host buggered off and returned with a tray of grub whose centrepiece was a tray of pasta covered in cheese. By this point my blood sugar had entered the cross me and I will be a cunt zone.

I politely called the air host over and pointed at the cheese and informed him that I had requested a vegetarian meal. I said vegetarian because nobody knows what vegan means. Of course he said but that is vegetarian yaffandam so I had to resort to spiritual intervention.

“Deeh feha gebna wana talabt wagba vegan [this has cheese in it and I asked for a vegan meal]. ya3ni seyamy ["fasting" food. the context here is that Egyptian copts are currently fasting lent] ya3ni men gheyr gebna wala – [without cheese or – ”

“3ala fekra ana esmy andro [by the way my name is andrew i.e. christian],” he retorted, to shut me up. In my low calorie, addled, state I also interpreted this to mean: we are on the same heavenly team.

“ana mesh mese7eyya ana bas b7awel ashra7lak el far2 bayn vegetarian w vegan! [I'm not christian I'm just trying to explain to you the difference between vegan and vegetarian!] I blurted out – like a dickhead – in disgust (at Egyptair, not Jesus) because Egyptair regularly balls up my meal requests and I’d had enough. (I stick with them though because they tailor their luggage allowance to Egyptian passengers’ fluid definition of a kilogram).

Andro’s face shifted ever so slightly and I of course immediately felt like a prize arsehole/Yasser el Burhamy/is there a difference. There was a noticeable cooling the next time we interacted when I requested a cup of water. I cursed Egyptair and cheeses and veganism and everything and just wanted to shout out some of my best friends are christian! And then throw myself out the plane.

In case anyone has read this far: they did eventually furnish me with a meal, some pasta sans cheese which maybe Andro scraped off and replaced with a layer of imprecations.

Note: In Egyptair’s defence my friend Linda was presented with tofu – TOFU!!!!! – on her flight to Cairo from London. I live in hope.

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He promised you a war

eagle and bum

the worst thing you will ever see in your life

At lunch yesterday with members of my family the subject inevitably briefly turned to ISIS. Some of them argued that the group is a foreign (intelligence service) creation, and one of the reasons given was that its members are too well built to be Arabs.

They were referring of course to the video of the beheading of 21 Egyptians by the sea in Libya in which some tall, broad, masked blokes appeared. I try to spend as little time as possible thinking about ISIS but it seems obvious that if you’re a murderous paramilitary group spending an arm and a leg on producing a high quality propaganda video you’re probably going to give your portly 5 ft 6 and under members the day off. Also well built arabs do exist although none of them are on Egyptian Tindr.

Unsurprisingly the beheadings really shook Egypt; there was a palpable sense of sadness and shock. The state immediately swung into action and wheeled Abdel Fatah Sisi out to televise a promise of action. The military jets emerged only hours later as did the media platitudes about our brave leader and his courageous troops. Satellite channel CBC was able to recycle its “Egypt fighting terrorism” onscreen badge while wacko Faraeen temporarily suspended its Suez canal countdown counter for a badge reading “Egypt’s war” superimposed on top of a black band of mourning.

Sisi is of course now the hero who has “embarrassed America” with his swift and decisive action, who has stood up to ISIS where others are vacillating. Sisi himself appeared in a video wearing a fashion jacket and tapered trousers surrounded by troops saying that through this action in Libya the air force is defending “our country, our security and our religion”. He even repeated this sentence twice and made the officers and pilots complete it in a pedagogical fashion. “this is a sacred mission,” he declared. The alternative is “hundreds of thousands of refugees…ruin and destruction”.

I don’t know enough about libya to forcefully contradict that statement (two more informed gentlemen do so here, sensibly suggesting that Egypt should limit involvement in libyan affairs) but it strikes me that if limiting ruin and destruction is a priority then engaging in warfare might not be the best way of avoiding it. And where does it end? Libya is a lawless mess. Will Egypt bomb armed groups into behaving themselves every time they get out of line? And if security is a major motivation behind this bombing action should not the immediate priority be shutting down the routes by which weapons are brought into north Sinai from Libya to equip the insurgency there?

However Egypt’s foreign policy motivations for this action don’t interest me as much as its domestic considerations do. Sisi’s election platform largely consisted of two bullet points:

he will save egypt from the islamist threat
we are the light of his eyes

During the period when Sisi was pretending not to be in charge while Adly Mansour was president the regime dispersed the Rabaa Square sit in killing hundreds of civilians and then launched a massive crackdown on: the Muslim Brotherhood, anyone they suspected of being Muslim Brotherhood, non-muslim Australians they accused of being Muslim Brotherhood and just about anyone who is a nuisance politically. Since Sisi’s coronation in May 2014 Egypt has continued and stepped up its battle against insurgents in North Sinai in the process evicting hundreds of civilians from their homes to create a buffer zone.

Sisi has a brand, and it is brave defender of Egypt against terrorism. Rather like Hosny Mubarak who took over cockpit controls when Sadat was gunned down by his beardy opponents, Sisi is a man who hurriedly packed for this assignment but forgot to put any politics in his suitcase with his casual sports jackets.

In the months he has been in office he hasn’t forged much of a political identity despite passing a slew of legislation, some of it authoritarian and inimical to civil liberties. TIMEP have made this useful thing listing all the presidential decrees passed since June 24 2014. The tone was set with the decree passed on that date: it grants the president the right to appoint university heads and terminate their employment. In November 2013 the protest law effectively killed off most demonstrations, and has been used to imprison hundreds of people.

It was reported today that new legislation makes the hearing of witnesses in court optional and dependent on the volition of the presiding judge. I’m hoping that these reports are wrong but deep down i know that in two years’ time court verdicts will be decided by the flip of a coin both of whose sides are tails.

In just a little under a month ago the news was dominated by the murder of a protester, Shaimaa el Sabbagh, shot dead in downtown Cairo. The conspiracy machine swung into action, as did the public prosecution office, although the two are largely inseparable these days. Zohdy el Shamy a member of the political party Shaimaa belonged to was detained and questioned on suspicion of her murder. He had been standing nearby when she was killed and some individual with altogether too much time on his hands put together a 6 minute video to prove his case that el Shamy shot Shaimaa with a gun he had in his jacket pocket.

Two weeks ago there was more needless tragedy, when some twenty football fans were variously crushed, or choked to death when the police fired teargas (and according to some reports birdshot) at them as they were trapped in the metal structure meant to organise their entrance into the stadium.

And all this happened against a backdrop of weekly protests by supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi during which people were regularly detained, sometimes injured or killed during clashes. And irritating leaks, allegedly from Sisi’s political affairs office continue to find their way to the Internet.

War dominates everything. Domestic affairs have largely been forgotten about since the Libya business started as the media rolls up its sleeves for the war effort, eager to help. It is only enemies of the state or ungrateful pissants who would take to the streets now to clamour for their petty little demands, making a nuisance of themselves and distracting security forces from their noble mission.

This is not to say that sisi is rubbing his hands together in glee. He is presumably aware that Libya is a quagmire and that its intractable problems will not be solved by a couple of military jets. He and his advisors must also be aware that bombings that lead to civilian deaths will increase animosity against Egypt and might even recruit people to the very cause Egypt is trying to extinguish (and meanwhile Egyptian migrant workers are still being kidnapped in Libya). And it is highly doubtful that the flow of illegal arms from Libya into Egypt will stop.

But domestically Sisi has already won. Here finally Sisi and his public have their real war on terrorism requiring no messy killing of civilians in public squares or uprooting of Egyptian civilians from their homes. They have in ISIS a bone fide bad guy with none of that pesky equivocating about so called democratically elected leaders and their supporters. And as Sisi himself said in the video linked to above finally he can defend the (correct version of) the faith against this band of eschatological nutjobs. He promised them a war, and now they have it

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Charlie Hebdon’t

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I don’t know which genius made this photo but to him or her I raise my hat

Since world leaders give zero shits about the deaths of their own citizens never mind those of other nations the only conclusion to be drawn about their walkabout today in the city of love is one of the following:

1. It gives a sense of urgency and imminent danger to the threat of TERRORISM (where terrorism = an act of violence committed by a non state actor with a muslim name/who identifies as muslim/is identified by the state as a MUSLAMIC. State actors cannot commit acts of terrorism unless they are called KHAMAS.)

As we know Europe has been the victim of numerous attacks by the terrorists defined above. But the majority of these attacks have targeted locations more prosaic than a satirical magazine’s headquarters (buses, the underground and so on), and took place sans the gaze of a TV camera recording the brutal details. In Paris not only were the awful events filmed but they unravelled over the course of 24 hours like some dark reality television show. And then ended with the inevitable shootout, which sadly resulted in the deaths of some of the hostages but was generally regarded as the best ending that could be expected.

There was thus a sense of drama thanks as ever to the media and a (sort of) happy-ish ending. And on top of that the decision to target the Charlie Hebdo office is a gift for our friends the statesmen and their domestic concerns.

Because while attacks on states by their non-state enemies (“TERRORISM” – I use quotation marks because I think the word muddies more than it elucidates in its case closed moral judgement) are a real threat, the various WAR ON TERRORS that exist all over this pathetic little globe have all suffered from a serious case of mission creep i.e. been misused to advance geopolitical strategic interests/to silence political opponents/as part of an election campaign. Some of that naughtiness has been exposed over the years and placed governments on the back foot morally speaking, especially recently given their dithering on Isis and Syria (and i’m not suggesting intervention is the noble choice in case that isn’t clear).

This matters because if states cannot straight up say we are meddling in a region primarily for our own interests (as they generally can’t because it’s not done) they have to find some other excuse. Generally they claim that they are acting to protect lives or grandiloquently argue that they have right on their side and present it as a simple battle of good versus evil.

Such simplistic moral binaries rarely exist even if we dearly want them to (which is why people roll their eyes so hard when liberals attempt to talk about disenfranchised youth, jobless and discriminated against, raging in Parisian banlieues as a possible factor in the Charlie Hebdo attack. And to be clear I’m not suggesting it is one).

Judging on the basis of what we know the Charlie Hebdo attack is an example of something incontestably wicked and wrong and plain bad. It’s huge on symbolism, the pen against the gun, and has been presented as such in a million cartoons of solidarity since the incident. There is a rare purity about it: the masked gunmen storming in, cartoonists cowering in their offices who did not deserve to die even if the rag they wrote for loved to offend, sometimes in the crudest ways possible. The allegations of racism and stereotyping have not sullied that purity, could not hope to, because absolutely no one deserves to be shot to death for a cartoon.

Back to our travelling statesmen: what a dream to be able to associate themselves with that purity, to wipe off the filth of extraordinary renditions and Guantanamo Bay and innocent Brazilian migrant workers shot dead in a London street and Iraqi civilians murdered and tortured.

States are generally careful in their rhetoric to distinguish TERROR from Islam. They do this by claiming that the TERRORISTS (as defined above) do not represent Islam or are not real Muslims, whatever that means (there is another entity that decides who are Muslims and who aren’t on its own terms and it is currently busily doing that bloody triage in Iraq and Syria).

The TERRORIST must be transformed into an other so that he can be dehumanised and eliminated. You can’t just go around torturing or blowing up regular blokes with grievances unless you use a drone and they are anonymous brown people on the other side of the world. Ever the maverick and still making that desert bloom, Israel generally just goes right ahead and says that all Palestinians are TERRORISTS or if not themselves TERRORISTS then supporters of TERRORISM who harbour weapons in their children’s nappies. But the majority of other states are careful to keep it PC even if the loon fringe of their respective medias does not.

A prime example of this they-are-not-one-of-us rhetoric was spouted by the Egyptian state while it was attempting to delete the Muslim Brotherhood from public life in 2013 and since then. They are not real Muslims! The media screamed. They cannot be Egyptians! we were told. They are a cancer that must be wiped out! was the shrill message. And then in August 2013 the police and army killed hundreds of people in a sit in in central Cairo in one day who they tried variously to present as an existential threat or a nuisance to neighbouring residential buildings. Internationally, the regime got some serious heat for this and has devoted significant time and energy even as it washed the blood off its hands to making its case that EGYPT IS AT WAR and needs must.

Almost immediately after the Paris attacks took place Egyptians on my social media who have supported the regime’s actions since 2013 jumped on what happened in Paris as vindication – that Egypt is not at war with violent political Islam, the world is.  Since shock and awe tactics are necessary to see off the threat, they argue, the Egyptian regime – which has killed hundreds and imprisoned thousands since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster during its confrontation with insurgency in northern sinai and bombings and protests (!) in mainland Egypt – has committed no moral outrage and adorable but naive Europe will soon stop wringing its precious little hands and catch up with the best way of dealing with the menace. And in the meantime we have the ungodly sight of Benjamin Netanyahu on a march in Paris with assorted other douches pretend-walking for freedom while secretly they salivate at this gift thrown in their laps. I wonder what they’ll do with it.

The other possibility is:

2. They had air miles to use up.

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The Tahrir Square Defeat of Foreign Agents Youth Club

It is freezing in Egypt at the moment, the kind of cold that follows you wherever you go and harasses you, inside or outside. Drivers in their jackets drive hunched up against it. country boys turned into embassy guards light fires that spit out their warmth into it. On the way home in a taxi the passenger in the front seat and the driver looked at the wind shaking the trees. They discussed whether it was tooba yet, the coptic month whose name – like another coptic month, amsheer – is now used to describe the inclement weather that without fail strikes egypt at a specific time of the year.
Each month has its associations and its rituals, fixed certainties in the middle of all the confusion, the rocks around which the driftwood floats. Scheduled meteorological blips when enraged winds coat everything in sand in february and apologise in april with the sweetest, most gentlest of breezes during sham el naseem. Religious occasions, some of them lunar based and migratory, others – such as western christmas which has taken off in the past few years – not.
And then there is the country’s political ups and downs, much loved because they can mean days off. They have also provided a readymade lexicon of names for bridges, schools, metro stations and corner shops. numbers in the form of dates are particularly popular. Presumably they appeal to Egypt’s inner bureaucratic geek, its fetish for keeping a handle on everything and everyone with numbers scrawled on endless documents.
Since 2011 a flurry of new names and new dates have been added to the lexicon, and to the rhythm of the year. some have been very markedly left out, for obvious reasons. This is state building taken literally. A citizen travels to work over the 6 October Bridge or gets out at the Sadat metro station or buys his cigarettes from a June 30 kiosk and the intangible is made physical and unchallengeable. Something amazing happened on that date and the proof of that is that lads play football in a youth club named after it and not after something else.
Consider January 25. January 25 “police day” was only declared a public holiday in 2009 and was largely ignored by everyone except the establishment. Originally it commemorated 50 police officers killed and wounded when they refused british demands to evacuate the Ismailia police station in 1952. When Mubarak declared it a public holiday in 2009 he did so in recognition of the police’s efforts to maintain security and stability in Egypt. lol.
When the April 6 (more dates) youth group chose to stage mass protests on January 25 they attempted to turn this on its head, the equivalent of flying the flag upside down: a distress signal. And now January 25 has two associations, national revolution day (in unstated parenthesis: against police brutality) alongside national police day commemorating police sacrifice for the sake of the country’s security. Nothing better represents the contortions the regime has had to go through to reconcile its natural revulsion at January 25 with the fact that the incumbent regime would not exist were it not for the January 25 uprising. It tacitly acknowledges this (through gritted teeth) in its rhetoric and thus to delete January 25 from Egyptian history (as attractive a proposition as this might seem) would leave an unsightly gap. And so January 25 commemorates both the day when the people rose up against police brutality and the day the police “made sacrifices” (mmhm hmmm) for the nation’s security and stability, which when you think about it isn’t that far removed from what actually happened, so well done, Egypt!
And then there are the events ignored altogether, the ones that aren’t inscribed on any bridges, don’t adorn metro signs, are ignored by history books, hover over no confectionary goods and cigarettes. Almost exactly four years ago on January 2nd 2011, protesters marched from Shubra attempting to reach the Maspero television building. The protest was in response to the bombing of a church in Alexandria on new year’s eve which killed 21 people. Two days later there were more clashes, this time actually in Shubra (a Christian neighbourhood). The police – presumably not taken off guard as it had been on the 2nd – responded with greater violence.
Both sets of clashes were an extremely mild version of what would happen at the end of the month and there were no arrests of protesters other than 8 activists outside a church. But they were significant in the context of a police state that quashed mass public demonstrations of dissent everywhere other than on university campuses (and even there protests were carefully monitored). What happened on the corniche and in Shubra was a riot, a public demonstration of anger by demonstrators that descended into violence when the state attempted to silence them (in Shubra the stone throwing began when police blocked a march’s access to a church, on the corniche protesters were prevented from reaching the television building).
Like the Mahalla riots of april 6 2008 (also omitted from the state memory) these were crucial events that separately and cumulatively laid the groundwork for january 25 by revealing chinks in the interior ministry’s impenetrable armour. And now they are forgotten about. The early January protests were eclipsed by subsequent events but the same reason cannot explain the expunging of April 6 2011 from the public record, nor the deliberate ignoring of the bread riots of January 1977.
At the site of the August 2013 Raba’a massacre the state built an ugly statue honouring the army and the interior ministry. The purpose of the statue was clearly to shit all over the memory of the vanquished (Muslim Brotherhood terrorist as they were presented in state rhetoric) dead. I can’t understand why the state doesn’t build more monuments to its victories over its own people. It would put to bed any and all ambiguity over historical events. “The October 9 Maspero Defeated Hidden Hands Attack on the Army Conference Centre” is arguably better than producing badly edited military propaganda films to rebut an allegation of a state massacre. It is also an investment in public facilities, and a solid fuck you fact.
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Another week of Egypt

An occasional series that will appear whenever I can be arsed to produce it. 

As has been the case for the past year, this week was mostly dominated by news of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, counter-terrorism efforts and Abdel-Fatah.

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King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia modelling a new type of head dress that handily allows wearers to keep presidents of subservient countries within arm’s reach 

* One triple whammy news item combined all of the above, with reports that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are friends again and King Abdallah wants Egypt to do the same with that den of Brotherhood directed hostility against Egypt in the Gulf so that peace and brotherly love can once again be restored in the middle east, qualities for which it is the world’s envy.

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A recessive gene and his friend enjoy peace in the Arab region.

The news that Abdel-Fatah is “considering” the Saudi initiative sent his sycophants scrambling.

amr-mostafa A slightly transparent jumper

Musical composer Amr Mostafa (known for some really very catchy pop songs) has had a Facebook page since 2011. He has used it to warn of the dire plots against Egypt being cooked up by the 6 April Youth Group, the United States, Hamas, Palestinians, the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel, the Jews, the January 25 revolution, Mohamed ElBaradei (when he was still in fashion) and the word يريد (“yoreed”, as in el sha3b yoreed esqat el nezam, as in “the people will go out and protest against the regime and then change their mind three years later”). Amr thinks yoreed is a Hebrew word and this ties in which his theory about the January 25 revolution being a zionist plot.

When he started the page it had about 15 likes and everyone laughed at him and dismissed him as a lunatic. Now he has over a million fans and people are still laughing but most of them are in prison.

Anyway Qatar used to feature on that list of massive dangers threatening to destroy Egypt, until two days ago when this happened:

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Showing his strong commitment to his principles Amr says that he retains the crown for the “person in the world who most hates Qatar” but that “we want to build the country now”.

Various attempts were made to justify this U-turn by other members of the anti-Qatar crowd, most noticeably a cumbersome hashtag, #we_support_ourcountry_decision which arguably sums up why Egypt and every other authoritarian country in the world has ended up in the mess it is in since time began.

* While students at universities attempt to avoid being chucked out, arrested or killed for peaceful political activity some female students demanded that they be allowed to join the army in a protest held on a campus which was allowed to go ahead without anyone being shot.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 17.23.50  The Spice Girls announce that they’re reforming

The girls are demanding that women be allowed to volunteer to serve in the army and that military colleges for women be established. One student said that she knows that Egyptian soldiers are “men” (by which she means brave and tough rather than possessors of penises) but that girls too want to defend their country. Military service for males is mandatory in Egypt and it is an honour and a privilege and something that men look forward to. A Facebook friend of mine articulated his distress upon being informed that he had been exempted from military service in a status here, translated by Bing, and over 1,000 people commiserated with him that he had been denied this honour.

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Some girls have a different sort of relationship with the army.

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Say coup de foudre not coup d’etat!

In this, the greatest video in the world, we apparently see a herd of schoolgirls giving chase to two dashing soldiers. A shrill female voice can be heard saying yaghaty yaghaty yaghaty (“phwoar phwoar phwoar”).

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A man being carried away on a tide of turbulent teenage hormones indicates how many life jackets he needs for him and a companion

* This week in the Muslim Brotherhood a man said that the reason Egypt did not qualify for the African Cup of Nations was because of the bearded ones and their antics and their destruction of the institution of Egyptian football over the past three years.

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It’s a good job Egypt didn’t qualify because by Captain Azmy Megahed’s logic Mohamed Morsi would have had to have been appointed general manager of the Egyptian national football team

This week in music a short man in an Angry Birds t-shirt who looks like a Millwall supporter addressed a woman’s pubic region while requesting that members of his audience raise their hands if they hate the Brotherhood and love god.

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…and Bolbola annoyed a man while both of them were fully dressed in a swimming pool and continued to do so after they had got out of the pool in a feminist song.

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The bridge

Just beside the Qasr el-Nil bridge tonight a man suddenly appeared, distress contorting his face as he stared alternately between a police officer and a cart filled with peanuts. He may have been crying even, it was difficult to tell.

The cart, roasted peanut smoke coming out of its chimney, was being wheeled away by young central security forces recruits. They were also looking back at the officer, unsure where to take the contraption. The man appeared to be pleading with the officer, his words inaudible through the taxi window. the officer, a walkie talkie in one hand, grabbed him by his shirt collar, roughed him up a bit, as the cart got further and further away.

Further along, on the bridge, a young man was sitting on the outside of the railing as if to jump. but he was smiling. He hopped back over and ran to catch up with a woman who playfully refused to look at him and kept marching on, feigned fury, held up her palm to his face as she looked resolutely in front of him with the faintest of smiles concealed under the mask. The young man’s smile grew broader.

Even further along, underneath the lions, a man and a woman held up signs reading, “honk if you want the muslim brotherhood to be executed”. The woman’s other hand was in a victory sign. Nobody was bothering them, the police – busy at the other end, perhaps – were nowhere to be seen. My taxi driver didn’t honk.

On sunday night I went to see a film and walked home with a friend, The Pig. a homeless family lives at the end of El-Galaa Bridge and they are permitted (?) to roll out a blanket there late at night. As we passed a woman was seated on it, surrounded by what were presumably her kids. A man holding a plastic bag in one hand was using his other to twist her arm behind her back upwards while she screamed. Then he gave a vicious kick in her side, pushed her over, and so on. At one point he stopped to gently guide a tiny girl who had wandered off and was watching the events with her fingers in her mouth back towards the woman. He used the side of the plastic bag to shepherd her in with an obvious tenderness.

There is a group of policemen permanently stationed in El-Galaa Square. The Pig informed one of them, a heavy set moustachioed character in a leather jacket with the stink of the police about him.

Yes, but they’re together, the officer replied as he considered the scene across the street.

The Pig challenged him.

It’s between them it doesn’t involve any citizens does it, the policeman said. By them he presumably meant street low lives. The Pig, growing more and more irate again asked why he did not feel compelled to intervene to stop a man beating up a woman.

If a man was hitting his son would I intervene? No I wouldn’t, said the policeman, as he regarded the pig with obvious contempt, filled with the knowledge that the interior ministry are back in the position they were prior to 2011 and then some, with the licence on violence and brutality, the prison keys back on their belt.

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