In many of the new nations that emerged in the 20th century, literary fictionists were often expected to supply the myths and legends that an insufficiently imagined community needed in order to become cohesive and coherent. The Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk complains that when he decided to become a writer “literature was allied to the future: its job was to work hand in hand with the state to build a happy and harmonious society, or even nation”.
Why did Saad Eddin Ibrahim sign the Gamal Mubarak for President petition? Why would a dissident who went to prison for his opposition to the regime endorse a campaign promoting the president’s son’s yet-undeclared bid for presidency?
I’ve been trying to figure out the answer to this question since the news came out last month. Ibrahim explained his motives by saying he only signed in support of the right of Gamal, as any other citizen, to run; and this doesn’t mean he has endorsed the president’s son.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of theories explaining this surprising move: He had struck a deal with the regime to avoid going back to prison upon return to Egypt. He’s old and senile and was duped into signing it. He did it as courtesy to the campaign coordinator. There’s even the possibility that his whole career, or the 10 years at least, was nothing but a meticulous Orwellian plan where an opposition figure introduces and denounces the inheritance scenario to the public, only to come back and endorse the concept.
A bit of a stretch? Probably yes.
And I’m resigning to the belief that I might not get a satisfying answer to this question. Ever.
There’s another question though that I’d like answered.
As an opposition figure, Ibrahim has an exquisite record. Whether or not you agree with all his ideas or approach to reform (I don’t), his impact on the local political scene is undeniable. But could this gaffe — or this explainable, unforgivable blunder to be exact (if you don’t know or not convinced, that’s why) — be the defining moment of his career? Twenty years from now, how would Saad Eddin Ibrahim be remembered? As the man who first noticed and condemned the plans for inheritance of power in Egypt or as the man who endorsed it?
For two years, my friend of 10+ years, Tarek Shahin, has been contributing a daily comic strip, Al Khan, to Daily News Egypt, the newspaper I work for. And over those two years, Al Khan has slowly become an addiction that I realized is shared by many. For me the addiction wasn’t just about finding out what happens next, but my regular chats with Tarek about the fictitious news room, its journalists and their friends and families have become part of my routine in the paper, more like a ritual I look forward to.
Whether its Omar, Nada, Yunan, Dr Anwar, or Brother Levy, many of the characters were loosely based on some people we know (Guess which one is Tarek?) and that made them a bit more real to me – even without this additional link, it was easy relating to many of Al Khan’s characters, their dilemmas and their choices.
Tarek’s wit and talent made the storyline — intertwined with commentary about current events on the political, economical and social scenes — more engaging. In few carefully chosen words, Tarek managed to convey a lot every day. (By the way, he’s a perfectionist, selecting the words and sentence structures with painful caution to make sure they communicate the exact meaning he wants).
Even in the few times I didn’t agree with his opinions expressed in Al Khan, I couldn’t but admire the way he put it all together. (DNE Editor Rania Al-Malky charts the story of Al Khan in the newspaper here).
As Tarek said in this last installment of Al Khan, it was a comic strip about individuality. True. In so many ways it was a testament to the diversity in this country, the antithesis of the superficial and uninformed generalizations, an animated proof to all who thought they’ve known Egypt that what they’ve done is barely scratch the surface. I’ve seen him strip his characters to the most common stereotype, only to build up their complexity, layer after layer.
It’s for these reasons and many more, reading the word “Fin” on Al Khan strip last week was heartbreaking. I’ve known that it was going to end in April, but still, last week was surprisingly an emotional one.
It’s not like I won’t work with Tarek again; I’m sure that is bound to happen in one form or another. It’s not that we won’t be friends anymore; we’ve known each other for 10 years, even before we worked together for the Caravan, the student paper of the American University in Cairo.
I guess I was just too attached to Al Khan.
Tarek my friend, best of luck in your next project and I hope we run more of your cartoons in Daily News later on.
You can also check Tarek’s cartoon blog Cairo Freeze, but it has been inactive for a while.
The first season of Al Khan has been published in a book in 2009 and is available in local book stores.
2011, alternative, campaign, change, conference, crackdown, elections, Gamal, Gamal Mubarak, Hosni, Jimmy, kefaya, movement, Mubarak, National Democratic Party, NDP, oppostion, option, Politics, president, presidential, public, regime, sarah el sirgany, scenario, sirgany, speech, threat, tone, united
Gamal Mubarak, or Jimmy, and his posse have exhibited a change in tone throughout the speeches they made during the NDP conference. Their criticism of opposition is not new. But the aggressiveness and bluntness of the criticism is. The anger and the not-so-subtle threats are new to such public speeches.
It’s early, however, to determine whether this change is worrying or healthy. Does it mean they are seriously acknowledging the opposition? Would this signal a crackdown? Or is it all a stunt so people like me would get too occupied with analyzing the change of tone rather than taking the NDP to task for its failures over the past 28 years?
But definitely it isn’t early to start considering the options. The Jimmy Option (JO) and the Unknown Opposition Option (UOO).
Before starting, let’s eliminate one of the annoying questions that has become a staple of such discussions.
The most annoying question/hypothesis is: ‘If it’s not Gamal, then who? There is no one, no other option.’
Aside from the fact that there are a lot of options, a lot of capable people who can lead this country, who ever said Gamal was qualified? Not because he can afford the luxury of exposure or the buzz surrounding his imminent rise to power, would this mean he can lead a country. He’s certainly not more qualified than others who can’t afford to get a camera to follow them around. Those ‘others’ would definitely shine and rise in a more welcoming system. But that’s another story.
So, if you rid yourself from the de facto proposition that it’s only the NDP that can rule — relying of course on the experience of the past 28 years where no other regime came close to power — then you can eliminate the one-and-only-Jimmy hypothesis from the argument. At least until the end of this article.
Plus, Jimmy won’t bring about any change. His existence in, like his rise to, power needs to be protected by a police state. Such a police state feeds on the current corruption, the venomous social structure, the ailing education and whatever else that plague this country. Thus for the younger (seemingly more progressive) Mubarak to remain in power, he has to keep many of the ills of this country intact.
But what can we do? Or to be more accurate, what can the politicians who publicly oppose Jimmy’s rise to power do?
To be realistic — because before answering such utopian question a dose of reality is needed — the NDP does control everything. Even though I would like to think that the presidential elections in 2011 would be a do-or-die battle for opposition and for many of us who hope for change, the fact is there isn’t much hope. At least not for 2011.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t anything to do. There is. A lot.
It’s never too late.
This will unfortunately bring me back to the annoying question, specifically the part about being no other option.
Opposition has been relatively successful — so far — in meeting in the same room. Politicians representing different ideologies have temporarily let go of these differences to agree on certain principles: The need for change and the rejection of the inheritance of power, i.e. JO.
That’s commendable for sure. But a change in course, in strategy, is indispensible.
The discourse of merely calling for change that worked with the Kefaya Movement years ago has to mature now. The opposition forces that are merely campaigning against the JO are slowly and unknowingly shooting themselves in the foot. It’s because they are united against one thing without providing an alternative, their own option, i.e. UOO.
With two years to go before the elections, the UOO needs to be groomed for power — starting today, if not yesterday. For the public to take the united opposition forces seriously (that if they stay united), they have to be presented with a UOO that would stand in strong comparison with JO. A UOO that the public and the opposition can rally behind.
Even if the UOO doesn’t win (which right now sounds like the plausible scenario), the opposition would have put the wheel of change into motion.