As much as it should be a very serious scene, Arab reality has become very much like a caricature. Perhaps Samuel Beckett, the Irish genius behind absurdist theater, had some Arab genes he didn’t tell anyone about. In fact, the black comedy being played out on the Arab stage—the farce and the disregarding of the minds of millions of ordinary people everywhere—would be enough to end Samuel Beckett’s silence, for he would surely bow his head in shame if he saw how his absurdity was becoming reality.
Following a period of enforced absence from the Egyptian theater of reality since July, ousted president Mohamed Mursi reappeared to begin his trial on Monday, November 4, 2013. He seemed far from collapse—in fact, he seemed to be in good health. He stood sure-footed after exiting his car, and began to fasten the buttons of his jacket before confidently moving on.
Meanwhile, the cameras moved to his co-defendants from the Muslim Brotherhood preparing to meet him in the cage in court. They formed two lines, but one defendant broke ranks to alert another to Mursi’s arrival. No sooner had Mursi begun to walk between the two rows than they all broke into applause.
The ‘legitimate president’
New characters have merely arisen in order to resume the show of what is now seen as reasonable in the Arab Theater of the Absurd.Bakir Oweida
Mursi stood out from the others, dressed in the clothes of a free man. His co-defendants were all dressed in a uniform similar to that worn at the notorious Guantanamo Bay, but in white, not orange. From behind the bars, Mursi faced judges and challenged their legitimacy, insisting that he was still the “legitimate president.” He did not forget to say that he was puzzled by the judge agreeing to hear his trial.
As for those present in the hall, the clamor from his supporters mixed with that of his opponents. While his supporters cheered for him, his opponents—some of whom were said to be journalists—jeered and demanded his execution. As for the judge, he tried to restore the lost respect for the court, but his attempts were fruitless and the session was postponed.
I know that these details are well known and have become old news. Nevertheless, it was necessary to repeat them as a prelude to the question: What is this? How does chaos break out inside a court of law belonging to the Egyptian judiciary, as though the trial were taking place in Ataba or in the middle of Cairo’s busy El Mosky market? How do journalists divide into “cheerleaders” and even insist on playing the attorney-general and demand the execution of the defendant standing in the cage? Isn’t the journalist’s job limited to covering the event? Or has it now become an opportunity for some to reveal their political ambitions? Where was the fine line that separates the mindful from the mindless in this session—regardless of the identity of the defendant or whether or not the claims against him are true? And regardless of whether or not the prosecutor’s logic is correct and sound?
Of course, now it is too late to say that the decision to prosecute Mursi is one that lacked wisdom. The clock cannot be turned back. Yet in many observers’ assessment, it is clear that the Brotherhood is the main beneficiary of the trial—indeed, it is the main beneficiary of any procedure that may push it to once again hide in the corridors and work secretly underground. The theater will be filled with crowds of ordinary people whose main objective is to watch the spectacle and see the result of the dispute between the two sides. Throughout the trial, Muslim Brotherhood members will portray themselves as victims and will exercise great patience, for they will have no court case to lose or role to miss. As for the Egyptian people, they will definitely be the losers so long as the state of instability in both the major cities and the countryside continues.
Yes, temples have collapsed on people’s heads, but no one seems to have learned any lessons. New characters have merely arisen in order to resume the show of what is now seen as reasonable in the Arab Theater of the Absurd. Perhaps we are waiting for our Godot, who will never come.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 9, 2013.
Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]
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