The Egyptian legal system hasn’t been at its best this week. On Wednesday 19 year-old Mahmoud El-Esawy was found guilty of a double-murder and sentenced to death. The case is high-profile because one of the victims was a the daughter of a well-known singer, and the heat the police knew they would get if they didn’t find the perpetrator seems to have spurred them to either:
a. carry out a remarkably fast and efficient investigation, or
b. stitch up some poor bastard who doesn’t have the connections to buy himself out.
I know which option I’d bet my mother on, if this tragic video is anything to go by. For non Arabic-speakers, El-Esawy was taken to the villa where the murder took place and filmed by the police while he “explained” how he carried out the crime. This unedited version was leaked by a newspaper. El-Esawy is clearly being coached as to what to say, but the most telling part is when – after El-Esawy doesn’t perform as required – the agitated, offscreen voice says ya Mahmoud, hatsa7sa7 wala a7’lly 7ad yesa7sa7ak? [Mahmoud, are you going to wake up or shall I make someone wake you up?]
I don’t understand why this video, plus the fact that the only thing linking El-Esawy to the crime is a blood-stained vest which he says doesn’t belong to him, wasn’t enough to make the court dismiss the charges.
Speaking of obscenity, today I spent the morning in Abdeen Court, where the author of a graphic novel and the individual who published it are standing trial for “infringing public morals”. The graphic novel in question, Metro, has a couple of illustrations showing the characters – cover your eyes, ladies – copulating under a blanket. While the comic’s presentation of the grim realities of Egyptian society isn’t exactly kosher in National Democratic Party terms, it doesn’t say anything which hasn’t already been said before, either. The backstory to this is that the publisher, Mohamed El-Sharqawy, has done bird previously for his political activity, before his reincarnation as a bookseller, and this would seem to be about settling old scores.
Abdeen court is currently in the process of being renovated, and the courtroom the case was heard in was all shining marble and clean walls. The carcass of half a fan was nonetheless inexplicably strewn to the right of the judge’s bench, underneath a desk, together with other assorted crap.
The judge himself has a very good, sonorous voice, which he used almost immediately we went into the courtroom to tell Sharqawy off for talking. I meanwhile spent the court session in battle with a copper who spent the entire time telling people to put away their (silent) mobile phones or in my case a voice recorder, which was also apparently contraband. When not doing this, we fought over the 30 cm square area of land I was allowed to stand in.
The wonderful Sonallah Ibrahim gave testimony today, as did Ahmed El-Labbad, a graphic novel artist. Ibrahim and El-Labbad were asked a series of inane questions about whether they found the two scenes in question offensive, and about the criteria separating a graphic novel from porn. It was all so ridiculous, I waited for the judge to stop at any moment and announce, “right this is clearly a load of old bollocks. Sharqawy, gentlemen, get your coats and let’s all go for a round of mini-golf.”
But there we are, in Egypt reality really is stranger than fiction, and fiction depicting reality is wrong, and you’ll never believe this but on the way home from court a bloke I had never met before proposed to me.
I heard a cheery saba7 el-foll! [top of the morning!] and looked over to see a spritely-looking gentleman of around 70 in a sharp suit sitting on a chair. I waved. He beckoned me over with his baton sale [breadstick]. I went over , established that his name was Farouq and that he is the proprietor of a furniture store before he got straight down to business.
“Te2o3dy fe masr we tetgawwezeeny?” [How about settling in Egypt and marrying me?] he said, while waving his baton sale at me.
“Mana already 2a3da fe masr” [I already live in Egypt]
“Tayyeb! Tetgawwezeeny ba2a!” [OK! Marry me then!]
After rebuffing repeated gentlemanly offers of tea and marriage I left. Neharek sa3eed! [Good day! – a charming and now virtually obsolete greeting from another age] he called after me.