Hysteria during the festive period in Egypt
Egyptian politics are dividing families and friends alike
“Traitors, you’re all traitors.”
“Who are the traitors, you slaves?”
“Slaves? You’re the slaves. When will this country be cleansed?”
“When you die, you and those like you, sons of…”
He could not complete the sentence as his mouth was shut by a flying plate of black forest cake. There were two seconds of horrible silence, then shouting and crying and hands in the air seeking their targets. Then the scene freezes as in a movie scene, as if someone pushed the pause button. The camera makes a full circle to show the angry faces and wide eyes, and the face of the person who was hit by black forest cake.
As in the film “Matrix,” the camera keeps on turning and gradually reveals the whole scene, every person standing still until the camera zooms into the face of Sami and his wife Manal. The couple looks surprised at what happened.
They are not part of this hysteric fight, but they stand in the middle of the hall, and at that moment Sami asks himself: “What brought me into this mess?” Someone pushes the rewind button, and the movie goes back to what happened three hours previously.
An exterior night shot, Christmas eve, 9pm. Sami is in his car with Manal in front of their house, going to the party. “I already told you that I don’t like this type of party,” Sami said while parking his car in front of the luxurious villa. Sami has nothing to do with these parties. He wanted to spend the night the way he did every year, watching TV, especially since tonight they were broadcasting the new movie starring popular Egyptian actor Ahmad Helmi.
Manal was the one who insisted on celebrating Christmas “like normal people.” She noticed that in this particular year, people exaggerated while celebrating every possible occasion. Her circle of friends were insisting on celebrating and partying more than usual. It seems to be a way to unwind and ease the overwhelming frustration of politics. You do not have to be Muslim or Christian to celebrate a religious feast. What counts is to get out of this frustration.
Sami and Manal entered the villa, the usual party shots of decoration, lights, tree and gifts wrapped with sparkling paper. Sami noticed tension in the air. He looked around and discovered the reason. He whispered to his wife: “Is your friend’s husband stupid?”
Planning for disaster
The husband of Manal’s friend, the host of the party, did not seem to realize that he was planning for disaster when he invited his guests. He did not seem to have studied carefully his and his wife’s guest list. What counted was to show off to their Facebook friends when posting photos of their elite guests. But this volcano would explode soon.
“ElBaradei and those like him are the fifth column, there’s no doubt about that.”
“ElBaradei is the cleanest man in this country.”
This was part of a dialogue that Sami overheard while walking slowly to the bar. He did not feel the need to stop and listen to the rest. He already knew the outcome of such conversations.
“It’s good that they’re labeled a terrorist group.”
“Does it mean that you put a million people in jail?”
“Do you want us to remain silent while they’re hitting us?”
“But this isn’t the best solution.”
“So what’s the solution?”
“We shouldn’t have broken up the sit-in of Rabaa.”
“Don’t discuss the past, let’s talk about the present. Those guys aren’t accepting anything expect reinstating Mursi, and they don’t care about the victims.”
“You pushed them to do so. It won’t help you to remain in your bubble and think that everything is fine.”
“They were calling for army defections, and wanted to turn Egypt into another Syria or Libya. They could’ve done worse. My friend, I’m happy in my bubble. Enjoy your romance that will bring disaster to us. We need solutions, not idealistic talk.”
All roads lead to warfare
Sami knows where this discussion is heading. He holds his wife’s hand and whispers firmly:
“This will be the last time I listen to you… This is a grumpy party.” Sami and his wife moved to another part of the hall, hoping that it would be quieter and less tense so he could enjoy his food. At least the food is good. His favorite black forest cake is fabulous. In every spot there was a tense discussion, but none was spreading beyond the circle of those taking part in it.
The opposed camps did not consist of the elite. The adversaries were relatives and longtime friendsBassem Youssef
However, it seems this fake silence will not stay for long. There are businessmen related to the Mubarak regime, and there are artists and journalists who are openly against the “little people” who claim to be activists and human rights supporters.
And there is a group of “lemon-pressers,” the nickname for the journalists considered publicly by their peers as a fifth column. They were a few meters from each other in the same hall. It is all a matter of time. Voices start to rise beyond the small discussion groups.
“My friend, do I look like a Muslim Brotherhood supporter to you? Are you playing stupid, Khaled? Didn’t we drink together last year at the same Christmas party?”
“In fact, nobody can know exactly who you are. I had a colleague for 10 years and I just discovered this year that he is an MB.”
“You’re saying all this just because I’m against Sisi running for president?”
“This isn’t the right time for such a discussion. The country is at war and people are dying. The army is a red line. There’s no time for this.”
“My friend, did I say anything against the army? Did I tell you that I support what’s happening in Sinai? I’m only criticizing a political stance.”
“We’ll eliminate the traitors first and stabilize the country, then you’ll be free to criticize as you like.”
“And when are you planning to do that?”
A woman’s voice rises from across the hall: “Who’s the animal who talked about Sisi?”
“I’m talking about him. So what? Is he God?”
At this moment, the scattered circles got together, voices became higher, and words were launched like missiles.
“The truth is you only deserve Habib al-Adli.”
“The country didn’t reach this status except from you, the followers of Hosni Mubarak.”
“Please, stop it, we’ve been friends for years.”
“Forget this friendship nonsense. I’ll call tomorrow the counter-terrorism number and tell them about you. If you’re not from the Muslim Brotherhood you’re certainly collaborating with them.”
“Rot in hell, traitor.”
“Slaves like you don’t deserve to enjoy freedom.”
Black forest missiles
This was when the black forest cake was launched. During its journey, and before reaching its target, everything was in slow motion, which allowed Sami to look around the villa and examine the angry faces. The opposed camps did not consist of the elite. The adversaries were relatives and longtime friends. Although the elite were among those who initiated the discussion and argument, they were not part of the fight.
Sami noticed that they had all disappeared from the party, as if they had never been there. He discovered that only the relatives and friends remained in the fight. Family ties and longtime friendships collapsed in front of his eyes in seconds because of fruitless and aimless political discussions. How many households had collapsed because of similar discussions?
The fast forward button is pushed so the fight can be seen in an accelerated mode. Stop. An exterior night shot, in Sami’s car in front of the villa. “Hello, where did your thoughts take you? Come on, drive, we’ll be late for the party,” Manal told Sami. He wakes up from his dream to discover that he never left his house. He looks at his watch, which reads 9.05pm.
“The party started two hours ago. This is inacceptable. Suzi keeps on calling me and asking me why we’re late.”
Sami looks at Manal, his mind is still elsewhere. “Yes, there are many important and famous people there. Get your picture taken with them.” Was all this his imagination? He looked at his wife and told her: “I’m not going.”
“What? What are you saying?”
“I’m staying at home to watch the Helmi movie.”
“What’s this nonsense, how do you…”
“One more word and I’ll divorce you.”
Sami left the car calmly and walked toward the house, leaving Manal in the car. She was in shock.
“People have gone crazy. Down with politics. People have gone crazy.”
Merry Christmas and happy new year, guys.
(Inspired by real events that occurred on Christmas eve.)
This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Dec. 31, 2013.
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.
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