If you break your leg running away from a bee, you make more mistakes than you can ever imagine. Because your desire to escape imminent danger is not proportional to the magnitude of this danger, if we can call it so in the first place; the damage you inflict upon yourself is much more serious than the damage this danger could have inflicted upon you. So, had you just waited till the bee approached then slapped it dead or sprayed it with insecticide, you would have gotten rid of the danger while getting out of the confrontation intact. Physical injury aside, by running, you have also committed a terrible misjudgment because you overestimated the power of an enemy you could have crushed in a split of a second had you given yourself the chance to think for one whole second. You have also underestimated your own abilities and automatically assumed the challenge is too great to face therefore running looked like a much safer way out. And you have given your adversary, if we assume it had brains, the pleasure of knowing how weak you are and how easily intimidated you can get and the much greater pleasure of scaring you away whenever it sees fit.
Bottom line, you become the ultimate loser in a battle that you created and in which you chose to surrender to an illusory enemy.
I don’t see how this is different from the way the majority of Egyptians chose to vote in the country’s first-ever “free” and “fair” presidential elections with all the reservations I have on using those two terms in describing the process which took place a few days ago. There are so many factors that strip elections of those two conditions that are necessary for any real democracy, yet for me there is one major obstacle to making elections free and fair: fear, an unjustified one to be specific, and one that amounts to phobia to be more specific.
In the first elections to follow a historic revolution that toppled such a deeply-entrenched regime and liberated a people that have been enslaved for decades, you would expect a revolutionary candidate to sweep the polls but when the exact opposite happens you realize something is very wrong.
The two candidates that reached the runoffs are, in fact, the most non-revolutionary and representatives of two typically tyrannical institutions: the first being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and the second a senior official of the former regime. The victory of the first was quite expected not owning to any skills he claims to possess or any political platform he offers, but rather because he is backed by a gigantic structure that excels in that one tactic that works best in the elections of developing countries, especially ones with high poverty and illiteracy rates and more so ones that are new to democracy: mobilization with all the meanings with which this word can be impregnated and which basically include different types of manipulation and bribery. The rise of the second one was the puzzle you seem totally unable to decipher.
The man was one of Mubarak’s ministers and closest allies for years and shortly before the fall of the regime was appointed prime minister and it is during his time that the massacre known as the Battle of the Camel ─ in which regime thugs mounting camels and horses attacked peaceful protestors with knives, whips, and Molotov cocktails ─ took place. He is also the man who is known to speak disparagingly of the revolutionaries and to have actually expressed how disappointed he was that the revolution managed to topple the regime, the man who was proud to say that Mubarak was his role model and that he would grant the former president amnesty when he comes to power, and the man who confidently declared he would use military force on protests that take place during his presidency. The man will be, and he is not denying it, a replica of the former regime and maybe more brutal for if Mubarak ruled over a bunch of submissive people, this one is up against a troublesome lot of angry nonconformists. And still those millions voted for him and are planning to do the same in the run-off and it is here where the bee analogy comes in.
The man is known for his mediocre abilities and he needed not do anything more than to portray the bee as a formidable enemy. A quick look at the surveys on which echelons of society chose to throw the revolution down the drain and vote for him is enough to make the puzzle seem like a nursery rhyme: Christians, businessmen, and the upper middle class, the three of which were willing to risk their freedoms as citizens and their dignity as humans to run from an illusory horror towards an equally illusory safe refuge. Fear of Islamists for the first and third group and keenness for the return of security for the second and third groups and the desire to retrieve a past era seen in many aspects as better than the present one drove these three groups to see the man as the best president material at the moment. This fear does not necessarily mean that all those who feel it are against the revolution or want the former regime, but they simply have their priorities and their safety comes first on the list. For them, revolutionaries might be the most honorable, yet they have not managed to leave the realm of dreamers and to prove they are capable of offering concrete reassurances on the ground. Maybe later, many of them say, in defense of their position and for which they were ruthlessly scolded and even accused of having on their hands the martyrs’ blood.
The man and his campaign managed to portray a frightful image of the Muslim Brotherhood and its candidate and what Egypt would look like under their presidency. I am not denying the dangers posed by the establishment of a religious state ─ it is one which I personally feel threatened by ─ yet giving the impression that the powers of political Islam are invincible is as ridiculous as believing that it’s better to break your leg than have the bee come anywhere near you. The result is that whoever placed the bee in your way and the bee itself would come out unscathed while you are the one who ends up with a broken leg and who knows if you will be able to walk again. You were also too short-sighted to see the other available options and which will not only save you from hurting yourself, but will also allow you to introduce to the scene other parties that are not as scared as you are and will, therefore, be able to see the bee for what it really is and not overestimate what it is capable of doing as well as deal with whatever damage it can cause.
This third part, thankfully, exists and in large numbers. This explains the millions who voted for the third candidate, the real representative of the revolution. He might not have technically made it to the run-offs, but the massive support he got which took all Egyptians, including those who voted for him, by utter surprise, proved that not all of us are willing to break their bones to eschew a potential sting.
A bee sting is rarely fatal and its pain subsides if you remove the stinger on the spot, but a broken leg will need weeks to heal and you could end up limping for the rest of your life. So, instead of giving in to apiphobia, it’s better try to face our fears and weigh our losses before getting ourselves killed while running for our lives from a situation that is not at all life-threatening!
(The writer teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: email@example.com)