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Egyptian par excellence

Bassem Youssef

Published: Updated:

When a nation is self-confident and finds no shame in admitting past mistakes, it does not conceal things, and nothing is considered too sacred. These countries encourage their students to express their opinions and critique historical ‘principles.’

However, history in Arab and Muslim states is wrapped in a shroud, locked in a coffin, and buried under a ton of soil. Anyone who tries to reconsider these ‘principles’ is damned.

Historian Youssef Ziedan, director of Alexandria Library’s Manuscripts Center, was fiercely criticized because he tried to adopt a scientific approach when reanalyzing Egyptian history. In his book “The Mazes of Illusion,” Ziedan points out many historical fallacies. One of them is that great story about how Egypt protected the world from the Mongol invasion, and stopped the armies that invaded Asia Minor, Baghdad and Damascus.

Some people point to the historical achievements of Muslim scientists and scholars to try to convince us that we must revive the caliphate in order to compete with the immoral West.

Bassem Youssef

We were taught this story at school, but what we do not know is that the invading army, estimated at 120,000 soldiers, returned to Mongol lands due to fighting with opposing tribes. This meant that the number of Mongols left behind to confront the Egyptian army was no more than 18,000.

One of the principles we have been raised on is the beauty, strength and greatness of the Islamic caliphate. The truth is, no one can deny its influence, or how it contributed to the heritage of humanity. However, some people point to the historical achievements of Muslim scientists and scholars to try to convince us that we must revive the caliphate in order to compete with the immoral West.

Shiny outer layer

In fact, the shiny outer layer of the caliphate as a sponsor of science and arts is fragile and false, as many Muslim scientists were accused of infidelity, imprisoned or killed, and religious edicts were issued against them. Even religious scholars were not spared the caliphate’s ‘leniency.’ They did not even spare one another. These details are glossed over by those who call for restoring the caliphate. Such calls are pure acts of deceit.

The selective memory of Islamists has always confused me. They mix religion and politics, but ignore all the resulting miseries. There are many stories from our Islamic heritage that we can brag about. However, there are many we cannot ignore, and which indicate how many caliphates deviated from the essence of religion, and how those who harmed religious principles the most were those who claimed to be the most righteous.

History is not sacred. We are in a national coma because we are unable to analyze and criticize history, and thus learn from it. We therefore repeat mistakes, then wonder why we are so far behind. I know I will be criticized by those who will consider my words an attack against ‘principles.’ But I will excuse them, because I understand that they consider thinking sinful. They only want a simple story with a happy ending.

This article was originally published in al-Shorouk on Nov. 19, 2013.


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Bassem Youssef 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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.