On April 16, 2013 I wrote an article and entitled “The missing piece of [a] puzzle.” The article was about how the followers of political Islam in Egypt have a narrow perception of the world and how they market incomplete ideas about the West to justify their false logic and imperfect understanding of freedom and democracy.
Many examples have been made by resorting to tendentious information stating that some countries mention the religion of the state in the constitution and therefore it’s okay if the Egyptian constitution has a religious flavor. But they ignore the fact that these countries don’t use these articles to impose legislations with religious sanctities and don’t violate the rights of the minorities under the excuse of Sharia. They also ignore the fact that governance in these countries is first and foremost secular.
I remember how those who call themselves liberal celebrated that article in the constitution. Some of them even called me to congratulate me. Today, those claiming to be liberal are putting themselves in the Islamists’ place and are enjoying the view from the very same narrow lens.
Nowadays, there are those marketing the very same incomplete logic about democracy and devolution of power. One example is a female intellectual writer who appeared on a TV show to attack those objecting to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s nomination for presidency. To support her opinion, she used a model which she thinks is the best to follow - and it was the model of Israel!
One example is a female intellectual writer who appeared on a TV show to attack those objecting to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s nomination for presidencyBassem Youssef
This educated writer then said: “I don’t understand those who are against Sisi’s nomination for presidency. Look at Israel! All Israel’s presidents and ministers were military men who served in the army of defense and assumed high posts there and then entered the race for the premiership.” She added: “We want a democracy like Israel.”
But so what? Let’s try implementing this amazing democratic model which this intellectual writer is calling for. But on one condition! We must implement the model as a whole. We must not add or remove anything so our intellectual writer here can achieve her dream of Israeli democracy.
Take a look at Israel
In principle, the Israeli community is completely militarized. There’s no excuse that pardons anyone from performing military duty. At the age of 18, both males and females (I repeat - and females) are obligated to perform their military duty for three years even if they reside outside Israel - or else they would be subject to legal measures. Therefore, it’s not actually possible for any citizen to attain positions of power or even live a normal life unless he performs his military duty. After performing this duty, the entire society remains part of the army reserve or lives under the mercy of military mobilization at anytime.
Arabs in general don’t go to the army. Some religious groups like the Neturei Karta and Haredi sects don’t serve in the army for religious reasons.
So let’s look for a minority to pardon it from serving in the military and let’s agree against allowing pious men to the Egyptian army. What do you think so far, dear writer? Happy?
The Israeli army also grants several privileges to those who finish their military duty. For example, they give them $4,000 every year for four years to help them pay their college fees. It also grants them financial support for housing, food coupons, loans - either personal loans or business loans. A mobile company grants those who finished their military service a discount on calls and text messages. So let’s do this. dear enlightened writer.
Of course, I will not engage in the Israeli army violations and practices which our dear reader wants us to comply with. This subject alone would occupy the space of volumes of books. But I want to highlight the Israeli army’s so we follow the fate of Israel’s leaders who finished their military service then became leaders and prime ministers. This is the core of the subject our intellectual friend has explained.
Dear writer, no Israeli defense minister went ahead and nominated himself for the premiership all of a sudden. For example, Benjamin Netanyahu who finished his military service by the 1973 war, traveled to America to study architecture. Then he studied administration in Harvard. It took him quite a while to return to Israel and get involved in partisan life and compete over the party’s presidency and lose once and win once to gain this post in the mid 90s. Then he lost the post and won it again until he became the current prime minister.
In Israel, the minister’s post is a political post. So we see a foreign affairs minister turning into a defense minister then he becomes an infrastructure minister. All this happens amid fierce competition within the minister’s party or among other rival parties. But for you to come today and take a small piece of the puzzle and say those who governed Israel are military men, then you are either ignorant or you are supplying the public with false information.
There’s another example linked to my statement rejecting Sisi’s giving up his military post to become a candidate for the presidency. Back then, I told those who are referring to Eisenhower as an example that the he and others did not leave their military posts to immediately run for presidency and that they went through a long and complicated process to nominate themselves for that post.
Now take a look at America
The Egyptian TV host who became famous for inciting against Syrian refugees in Egypt has said that that my argument is “shallow” because I am basing it on one point which is the time duration that separates between giving up the post and running for presidency.
Therefore, in an attempt to understand this deep intellect of this educated host, I can tell him the issue is not only linked to timing. Eisenhower, other presidents like George W. Bush and other presidential candidates like John McCain (who lost against Obama) did not include in their credentials that they had served in the military. Their time in the military is considered a characteristic that indicates performing the dignified service of defending the country.
When Eisenhower, McCain or Bush got involved in the political partisan struggle, they did not engage in this struggle as military men but as civilians who got promoted within their party or who got promoted in other posts like becoming governor of Texas for example. None of them was assigned minister of defense and competed with his civilian peers. Therefore, there are dozens of differences between our situation and theirs. If you don’t see things from this open lens, then this is shallowness par excellence.
There’s one last point I would like to make for the intellectual writer and the deep-in-thought host. If you really want to implement the examples linked to the armies in Israel and America, then do it right and go all the way and demand that the army’s budget and unmilitary economic activity be subject to review via the people. Or you just want to make careless comparisons and not act on it?
Taking a small part
Another example of taking a small piece of the puzzle and marketing it as the complete image is that prominent revolutionary host who often criticized Mubarak’s generals and the military council and who often defended activists and human rights organizations before he lost his memory and changed his opinion “upon several convictions” of course.
This host appeared on TV and voiced his surprise of those mocking the act of placing Sisi’s photos on everything - from t-shirts to necklaces to everything else in our lives. As usual, he made an example of Obama and America and spoke of how Americans put Obama’s photo on cups and t-shirts and no one complains there or says such acts lionize the U.S. president.
How smart! You’re right. But this prominent host forgot to tell us that presenters of TV shows mock and fiercely criticize this very same Obama on a daily basis and that no one dares accuse them of being against the American army or of being traitors and agents.
Of course, you will tell me Obama is a president while Sisi isn’t president yet. Then in this case, the prominent host should’ve not made that example in the first place.
No alternative to Sisi?
There’s another point stating that there’s no alternative to Sisi. Truth is I support this point. Yes, there’s no replacement to Sisi if we view him as a unifying representative of the army. There’s no replacement to Sissi if we put the army in one hand and the political process in another. In any country in the world, there’s no replacement for the ministry of defense or the army and the country cannot do without them and it’s not possible to compete with them.
It’s as if when we elect someone other than Sisi, the army will pack up and migrate to another country leaving us without a defense ministry. It’s as if the army’s capabilities will only serve the country if the defense minister makes it to governance while if another man is appointed president, then it has no interest in serving the country.
You want a military man as president? Do you really want to figure out if there’s a replacement or not? Then implement the rules of governance which you only quote bits and pieces of to deceive the people with and let this man or that nominate for the presidential post without the sponsorship of the military institution - which does not interfere in political affairs in any respectable country in the world. Even within the camps of the Egyptian army, politics and religion are from among the taboos which talking about is forbidden. So you better respect the rules which the army has put for itself.
What’s unfortunate is that those who adopted hypocrisy - as part of their daily rituals - under slogans of patriotism, loving the army and respecting principles and military symbols, are the same people launching a fierce attack on Sami Anan - the former chief of staff - who no longer enjoys the protection of the top military post.
The issue is not related to Sisi as a person but it’s linked to a systematic method aiming to involve the army in politics and to place the military institution as a competitor in the electoral process. This is what Sisi himself warned of last year.
Therefore, if you want a military state, just go ahead and say it. If you want a military governance disguised in a civilian outfit, then be frank with us and say it. But be frank! This is neither democracy nor civilian governance. And progressive countries don’t do that for sure. So stop selling illusions to the people and stop lying by intentionally providing incomplete information. Youths are currently open to the world and there’s the internet that can easily expose your lies and shallowness.
You can continue to present shows that market propaganda from the past and you can continue to broadcast shows that only those within your narrow circle watch. But you forgot that 65% of the people are youths below the age of 30. They are youths whose nature is rebellious and angry and who longer buy nonsense.
You are the product of the same media trumpets which were dedicated for the dictator’s governance over the course of 60 years. You may be deceiving people today like your mentors did during the 60s. But this will not go on. Ignorance may win at the beginning as a result of fear and hysteria but it cannot lead a nation or win over its youths.
This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Feb. 25, 2014.
Bassem Youssef is is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg (“The Program”), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef’s YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.