Will satire save Egypt?

Since Pharaoh’s times sarcasm has been used to criticize both society and government. Egyptians are known for their sense of humour despite decades of dictatorships, censorships, terror acts and lately even bombs. If satire is enough to create real changes is written in the stars though.

Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi

Marshal el-Sissi 

Sissimania or a need for peace?

Egypt’s revolution’s third anniversary was “celebrated” despite bombs, tens of dead and many more injured. It was not like the previous cheerful, singing crowds we had become adjusted to. It had more the allure of an organized cheering of the newly placed government. Tahrir was filled with people chanting in favour of its army chief: Abdel Fatah el-Sissi. Maybe that’s not so strange after the past months of numerous terror acts though?

Ansar Beit el Maqdes is the name of a fundamentalist movement that operates from Northern Sinai in a vein similar to el-Qaida and terrorizes Egyptians. The Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) militia have also been condemned for heinous acts committed against Copts, policemen and women amongst others. General el-Sissi – lately promoted to the title “Marshal” and a candidate for the presidency (with the likelihood of winning the next elections) has declared the MB a terrorist organization. His greatest opponents have thus been forced into hiding.

The Muslim Brotherhood – whose party started in 1928 by el-Banna – was already from its start known for its fundamentalist ideas. Their ideology spread all over the world like octopus’ arms. The MB – as similar manipulative cults – consider themselves to stand above any human laws and don’t worry about how long it will take them to conquer the world nor the means used to achieve their goals. The ones who die doing “Jihad” die the martyr death and are “guaranteed” all the favours of heavens. During their decades in the shade of politics – their leaders jailed and tortured – their adherents spread their messages through charities and social work in a country in desperate need of social assistance. When they finally reached power however, they proved incapable of leading a country and were ousted after having plunged the Egyptian economy in an abyss never seen before.

What about the liberals?

Three years after the ouster of Mubarak, Egypt seems to be back to square one with censorships, military courts who condemn civilians, tortures, deportations of liberals and journalists…

But is it really that simple? Let’s recapitulate somewhat:

Firstly the entire region has changed with an arsenal of weapons never seen before circulating more of less freely and it will take time to reassemble all those to restore security and peace again.

Then people have got used to protesting, using graffiti, rap, demonstrations… and maybe most importantly, they aren’t afraid to get their voices heard. The army is surely aware that they aren’t invulnerable anymore.

However Egyptians are also weary after years of lost incomes and a more or less economical standstill. The tourist industry has totally halted since three years. They therefore know that they need the army to restore law and order – Istikrar , stability – seems to be on everybody’s lips at the moment.

The army had promised to hold parliamentary elections before the presidential but on 26 January 2014 Adly Mansour – the interim president – declared that the presidential would be held first which is another backlash for the strive towards democracy. But that comes hardly as a surprise when most liberal- and secular party politicians seem either to have given up or have been jailed. Ahmed Maher (nominated for the Nobel prize), Ahmed Douma and Mohamed Adel: the three leading secular politicians against Mubarak were jailed last November 2013. They led protests against the military’s new laws forbidding gatherings of more that ten persons – laws that are more severe than the ones under Mubarak. A military court sentenced them to three years hard labor and to pay 7000 E. Pounds each in fees. Another esteemed secular politician and Nobel Prize laureate, El-Baradei, has gone into exile.

Therefore is seems pretty obvious that the military isn’t out only to “secure the country against extremists” but is using that argument to hinder all criticism against them. The French professor and expert on the Middle East, Stéphane Lacroix, pretends that on top of wanting to topple the MB, the SCAFF (or military security organization) felt humiliated by the revolution of 25 January 2011 and want to take revenge on the liberals and leftists who instigated it. Not to forget either that the army de facto owns about 40% of the country’s assets and isn’t likely to let anybody take that from them. According to him, el-Sissi might just be a puppet in an otherwise uncontrollable security apparatus.

Or to cite the Egyptian philosopher Mourad Wahba: ”There has never been a real revolution, the mentalities have first to be changed… you can’t mix religion and state – they have to be differentiated before democracy can be achieved…” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUclU5Z0Vek&feature=share)

For the moment however the majority of the Egyptians seem to suffer from the Stockholm syndrome – namely that it’s safer with the usual tyrant than with an insecure path towards democracy and a multi-party system. Even the Egyptian renowned satirist Bassem Youssef wasn’t liked for his satire about el-Sissi. He’s coming back though and will resume his show after having been ousted from his last channel. We’ll see how well his show will be accepted this time. Because when even satire doesn’t work anymore amongst the joke-loving Egyptians then the situation must be really bad!

Westerners are being reminded though that it took us more than 400 years to get our democratic system to function… I also think that it depends very much on the level of education and well-fare in the country because as long as people are mostly occupied with finding food for the day and can’t read or write – democracy and human rights don’t have priority on their agenda. That is a fact that Westerners seem to have difficulty imagining – blinded as we are by our own comfortable lives. Maybe it’s time for us instead to re-evaluate how we look upon others?

Anne Edelstam, Paris.








About Anne

Swedish journalist, photographer, editor and writer. Based in Paris, France.