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Why Mursi lost the battle with Bassem Youssef

Hazem al-Amin

Published: Updated:

Why do Islamists suffer from a lack of imagination, lightness and wit? I do not aim to insult them by asking this question. My question actually aims to note how they stumble when getting involved in the waves of modernization which their societies dictate upon them to head.

They have failed in the confrontation. There is a defect in Bassem Youssef’s victory in the battle of image over an authority formed of a mixture of elections and capabilities and derived from religion and history. In the end, Bassem Youssef is an image. He is a man who has an image and nothing more. But Mursi, in addition to his image, has authority, influence and great capability. Despite this, the image of the former won over the image of the latter. This is not the case with regards to war, elections, commerce, rebuilding operations and aid. Aid will not benefit the Brotherhood in forming a future for themselves. Elections will be followed by another round after four years. The commerce they succeeded in, whether in Egypt or Turkey, is dry, cautious and not adventurous, and it is only profitable for now. It increases the share of capital without pushing it towards the next phase of possibilities.

Islamists are willing to debate until dawn how their authority is just but they are not concerned in proving the fertility of their imagination

Hazem al-Amin



There is a sterility evident, the reasons behind this must be looked for. Why has Mursi lost the battle of the image, in light of the fact he is an Egyptian and the son of an Egyptian? Why have the Islamists failed to produce one poet or one historian? Why have they failed in imposing their model of decorum and protocols of rhetoric knowing they possess “rights” granted by a heavenly text? Don’t you feel that their bodies are restrained by something? And that they are incapable of moving their hips and joints although they are athletes and they practice judo and karate, as their resumes say, and as texts urge them to?

There is certainly generalization in this talk. We must admit that one has the tendency to slip towards it. But it is a generalization that reminds us that we allow ourselves to slip before falling down. There is a mental decorum in that, provided to us by our emancipation from texts and judgment. Capacity allows a small mistake. The task at hand here is pushing one’s imagination towards what is beyond texts and their authority.

How can one be witty if he is incapable of carrying out this practice? And how can he be a poet or an artist and how can he win over Bassem Youssef?


Islamist authority


But Islamists are an authority now. They are the authority in Egypt and Tunisia. In Lebanon, Hezbollah is the real authority. And Islamists fight in Syria now to hijack the image of the revolution there. So we are confronting an authority that does not have an imagination! An authority that says it is just but that does not deny that it is unimaginative. Islamists are willing to debate until dawn how their authority is just but they are not concerned in proving the fertility of their imagination. And we have to give in to what they claim and scrutinize the meaning of being in the shadow of an authority without an imagination. This is the authority, these are its ambitions and this is its style. Something that aspires to revive the past. But not a past in its desired image, which is impossible to achieve, but the regressive past. Thus, you must not draw a painting because in such an act there is an excess that may subject faces to be erased. The joke must be conservative and within the acceptable, otherwise it is considered infidelity.

This is the authority we gave in to as “just.” Thus we must enjoy this dry justice and die of boredom and surrender to it. We must thus live as per a “just” manner that has been decided upon tens of decades ago. The father has to respect his son and the woman must live with her husband's second wife as long as he is fair towards both. The merchant has to be cautious of modern banks and just settle with a debit card because debts exhaust the nation. We must be a nation that has no debts, and we must settle with what we have and with what our bank accounts contain. Isn’t this what Erdogan did in Anatolian cities that won over Istanbul’s capitalism through their commercial families that replaced “bank credit” with the common trust among merchants’ families and halal debts? This resulted in producing rich and reposeful cities which accepted what was destined for them.


A call to faithful citizens


Faithful citizens, what is your need for your bodies? And why are your tastes different than one another? Accept what has been destined for you in the shadow of this “just” authority. Do not observe the president as there is someone else doing this for you. He looks like you in his submissiveness to “just” authority. He will not fall to the temptations that presidents before him fell to. There is nothing that tempts him in this mortal life.

It is for these reasons that Bassem Youssef won over President Mursi in the war of the personality cult. An authority that claims it has not been corrupted needs a lot more than this claim to stand its ground in a world that no longer has a place for reposefulness, acceptance and submissiveness.
The Egyptian president has never smiled for photographers. Let us imagine for example that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt decided to use Bassem Youssef’s agility in their war against him! They are not at all prepared for such a task. To succeed in this, they must be adventurous on the level of their texts, values and rituals. They have to do so if they want to win the battle of images. In the battle of imagination, they must trespass the wall of certainty. And in the battle of creativity, they must allow their sentiment to be flexible.

This all comes after we have given up to “their authority’s justice” and after we have, transcendentally, accepted that they are not more corrupt than their predecessors.

This article first appeared in al-Hayat on April 7, 2013.


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Hazem al-Amin is a Lebanese writer and journalist at al-Hayat. He was a field reporter for the newspaper, and covered wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Gaza. He specialized in reporting on Islamists in Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Kurdistan and Pakistan, and on Muslim affairs in Europe. He has been described by regional media outlets as one of Lebanon's most intelligent observers of Arab and Lebanese politics.

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