Today was Ibrahim Eissa’s appeal of his conviction on the farcical charge of undermining national stability by publishing articles suggesting that Hosny is not in the best of health.
The Abbaseyya court building is fairly typical of most of the court houses I have frequented in Cairo. The grey, monolithic prosaicness of its external architecture somehow embodies the unremitting, uninspired, functionality of the cases I seem to end up attending, many of which are brought by ‘7esba’ (political score settling) lawyers: an unthinking, almost automaton, trigger response to perceived attacks on select interests which cares nothing about the nuances in the law, about justice and detail, and instead turns what should be a scalpel into a sledgehammer.
The building’s interior is testimony to the neglect, the relentless repetition of the everyday corvee and the death of inspiration which have given birth to cases such as that against Eissa. It is dark, suffocating, filthy, desperate. Half-torn Lawyers’ Syndicate election posters leer out from grubby corners while locked cupboards line corridor walls, stickers affixed on them reminding passers-by of the oneness of God. Snatched shots of offices reveal rooms bordered not with walls, but with case documents, floor to ceiling, hundreds upon hundreds of complaints and losses and gains towering over the clerk sitting in front of them.
The exception to this is the lawyers’ room, a corner of high animation, almost a boys’ club of tea drinking and joke making and strategy planning. A girl passes between them offering for sale a collection of law books. Nobody buys them.
Outside a toilet sits a middle-aged woman, on an upturned bucket. Next to her, above her on a chair, sits a girl of about 12 with short ingénue hair and earrings, eating a biscuit. She clutches the biscuit with both hands, her thin fingers are flayed oddly, her eyes follow movement slowly. The woman has tied her to the chair, a thin piece of beige string tied round her waist and affixed to the armrest. She admits you to the filthy toilet before returning to her bucket seat.
Later on someone – a foreigner who attended the trial – also needed to use the toilet. I took her to it and found the woman sitting next to the absent girl. She told me that the toilet was not for women’s use. But I’ve just used it I told her, growing increasingly agitated by the madness of her argument. I know, she said, but now it’s not for women. Go upstairs. We complied, went upstairs, and I looked back to see the women untie the girl and lead her by the rope into the toilet.
There were children in the courtroom, too, The two sons of a litigious lawyer who has already raised one unsuccessful criminal case against Eissa and so has decided to try his luck with a civil claim. There is something positively Dickensian about this man, his odd features, his obsequiousness to the court and disparagement of defence lawyers, the hunch of his shoulders as he addressed the judge, the black prayer beads wrapped around his left hand shining ostentiously as he gesticulated. His sons, he said, had been deeply disturbed by the reports published in El-Dostoor about the president’s health and had come crying to him in his office, traumatised. He requested that they be able to present their testimonies to the court.
Behind me his youngest son – who appeared to be six years old – slept. The older boy was perhaps ten and enjoying watching Dad at work like any child his age would.
There was an interesting moment shortly before the verdict (an adjournment) was pronounced when by chance and in the chaos the two boys and Eissa ended up sharing the same bench in the courtroom. Eissa looked over, caught the older boy’s eye. Ezzayak, he laughed. There was the briefest of hesitation, a charged confusion, but Eissa’s irresistible affability and – perhaps – the boy’s as yet unspoiled decency prevailed, and he responded: I’m fine.
There is undoubtedly something despicable about an apparatchik father prepared to use his own children as tools in his boot-licking campaign. But there is not a lot separating him from the beggars I saw outside the court house, one with a cleanly amputated foot. The bright red end of his leg burned fiercely in the sunshine. Further on was another beggar, with two symmetrical limbs missing. Exigent, impossible, circumstances call for the maiming of what is closest, seems to be the moral of the story.