And throughout they lie: “We have not a single member on the square,” “70 of our members were injured in Tahrir”, “two of our buses were torched, a heinous crime”. Flimsy lies that wouldn’t fool a child, yet, like their erstwhile military allies, they repeat them over and over and over again, in the well-established tradition of the late and un-mourned Goebbels who suggested that if you repeat a lie enough times, people will come to believe it.
The thing is, though, in these post-revolutionary times, they don’t, they just laugh at you.
The same pedantry, the same lack of imagination and astounding dearth of vision, short that is of grabbing as much of the institutions of state as they possibly can, as fast as they can, and a deferred dream of reinstituting the Islamic Caliphate over Muslims lands, from Morocco to Indonesia – and tomorrow, Europe, as a possibly overheated Mr. El-Eryan proclaimed in a speech during the presidential electoral campaign.
On Accountability Friday’s evening, and as I was getting tired of my virtual “close encounter” with the more fervent and besotted among the Brotherhood members, I jotted one last tweet, and then posted a longer version of the same thought on Facebook.
If you haven’t come across last week’s column, let me first try to put you in the picture. I’d been under a fevered (virtual) attack by these self-same fervent and besotted MBs, apparently for having “dared” to address, critically if politely, then FJP leader Essam El-Eryan. By stepping onto the leader’s very own virtual (twitter) space, I had apparently profaned sacred ground. An outpouring of hysterical attacks and threats by, surprisingly, half-illiterate members ensued. Untypically, I replied, and got the most hilarious replies in return.
Having playfully played my virtual assailants for a few hours I concluded my own enactment of the “Battle of the Sheep”, as the revolutionaries in Tahrir named their violent encounter with bussed Brotherhood thugs, by recounting an incident from the not too distant past.
I’d been in my office at Al-Ahram Weekly, chatting with a visiting friend when suddenly I remembered that at that very moment I was supposed to be elsewhere. I lightly slapped my brow, explaining to my friend that I had totally forgotten an invitation to a luncheon with the president’s younger son and heir apparent, Gamal Mubarak. I’d been invited in my official capacity as then editor of the Weekly, since – I’m happy to say – I had no other connection with the President, his son, or the rest of his flunkies in the ruling party or security bodies.
My friend was flabbergasted. How could I forget such an important appointment – at least career-wise? I laughed and said a rude word.
I managed to sum up the story in an Arabic tweet in less than the proscribed 140 characters, concluding with a statement directed at my Brotherhood attackers: “That,” I told them, “is how much respect I have for authority of any kind.”
Meanwhile, I seem to have been put in the sights of what much younger and more experienced Egyptian tweeps (I remain a novice) call the Brotherhood’s e-militia. Have a look at some of the comments on my last article: “The Brotherhood and I”, many of which seem to be penned by the same, at a guess, AUCian hand. One of them accused me of “ranting and raving” against the Brotherhood, so I made a point of obliging him/her with the little “rant” above.
Many years ago, more years than I’d care to count, I came across the phrase quoted in the title of this piece, also in the title – as well as the substance – of an article by the young Karl Marx. Marx had been collaborating in the setting up of a new newspaper, and wrote to define that newspaper’s basic mission.
There are times - when reading - you come across the formulation of an idea, which strikes you as something of a revelation. A light bulb lights up in your head, as they do in children’s cartoons; sometimes it’s the answer to a big question that you couldn’t quite put together; at others you feel it’s been there hovering at the edge of your mind, but it took that particular author to put it into just the right words, to realize it.
“Ruthless criticism of everything existing” was to become, consciously at times, just naturally at most, the overriding steering force of my writing, my concept of the higher purpose of journalism, and indeed, the way my mind seems to work, not willfully but on its own, with no attempt at compulsion from my conscious self.
There is nothing very exceptional in this. The human mind was designed to enquire, and there can be no enquiry without criticism, and criticism by its very nature is bound to be ruthless. Lame criticism is criticism chained – by deference to authority, public opinion or for that matter, by our own equally human need to fit in, to belong, let alone to achieve professional “success”.
I’ve mentioned in an earlier article that my brother (and soul-mate’s) recurrent question upon reading my latest article was: “When are they going to fire you?” My wife’s was: “Are you going to keep any friends at all?”
Over the years, I doubt that any of the powers that be, or for that matter, those that won’t or can’t be, locally, regionally and internationally, have been immune to some sort of lashing in my writing.
Israel, which I’ve called, and continue to think of as, Disneyland with guns, has been a particular favourite – naturally perhaps. But so have the PLO and the Palestinian Authority no less than Hamas. I’ve criticized the Oslo Accords, but was unhesitating in my criticism of the suicide operations that came to be associated with Oslo’s collapse – and this at a time when criticism of “martyrdom operations” was considered by a great many to be something in the order of national treason.
I did so, it needs to be noted, not just in English (in Al-Ahram Weekly), but also in Arabic (in the column I used to write for the Arabic language, Al-Hayat).
I’ve criticized Bush’s criminal “War Against Terror”, no less than Qaeda’s criminal 9/11 atrocity. And I criticized those among us who found in that atrocity an occasion to gloat that “what goes round comes around”.
I’ve criticized the two sides of the “Clash of Civilizations”, “ours” no less than “theirs”.
In Egypt, I’ve criticized the Mubarak regime, and its opposition. Again, the left no less than the right, the Islamist camp no less than the non-Islamists. I criticized the Jihadist militants who launched a campaign of terror in the country throughout the 90s of the last century, no less than criminal brutality of our police force in attempting to bring that campaign to heel.
And I’ve criticized my readers. In two consecutive articles I wrote while at the Arabic daily Al-Shorouk, I lambasted my readers for falling victim to the then hysterical anti-Algerian frenzy that had the nation in its grip – all because of a bout of mutual hooliganism at two football matches between national teams from the two countries.
In the first, I warned my readers at the very outset that many of them may find what comes offensive to their sensibilities, advising them to look elsewhere in the paper. In the second article, a week later, I told my readers that most of them will find what comes offensive to their sensibilities, but that I do so deliberately in the hope that offended sensibilities might help awaken the dulled minds of at least some of them.
One of the articles I’m most proud of is neither here nor there. Rather bland, in fact. At the time I’d been writing with what for me had been a bout of unusual regularity – my weekly op-ed as weekly as clockwork. Then, Mubarak goes to Addis Ababa and gets himself targeted by potential Jihadist assassins. There was no way my op-ed that week could ignore that particular event, which – as might be expected – overwhelmed the Egyptian media, government and opposition, with thanks to God for having saved our president’s life.
I could not find it in myself either to express gratitude for the tyrant’s life having been spared, nor could I take the “way out” that the bulk of opposition writers seemed to find appropriate to the occasion: support him or oppose him, President Mubarak, they argued, was a symbol of Egypt; a violent attack against him was an attack on Egypt as a whole. Praise the Lord then, he was saved.
(Hani Shukrallah is a writer for Egypt-based Ahram Online where this article was published on Oct. 24, 2012)