An Egyptian writer and researcher
“How can the President’s wife wear a khimar (a veil covering the head, neck and upper body)?” The disapproving question, asked by a professor of political science at Cairo University at the end of October 2012, startled me. The language was patronizing, and the question was tinged with a sense of class superiority toward Mrs. Naglaa Mahmoud, the wife of the late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. A few months later, in July, 2013, the military led a coup against Morsi. He was kidnapped and placed in solitary confinement for six years until he died in the Tora Prison as a result of medical negligence, on June 17, 2019.
The brazen and crude question posed by the professor — a well-known figure amongst the Egyptian elite — revealed the nature of a national crisis in Egypt. That crisis, simply put, is the incurable disease of class division and discrimination that has cast a long shadow over politics. And it is no exaggeration to state that Egypt’s real crisis is, at its core, a social crisis at the core of political, economic ills and that has had a profound impact on our personal and national psychology.
The professor was referring to a specific Egypt and, in her question, asserted the view that a first lady should not veil, much less wear a khimar — a form of dress that clearly placed her as being from the countryside, or the “regions,” in local parlance. The professor also spoke in the same manner about President Morsi, whom she considered a “peasant”, a term that, like in many places, carries unpalatable class connotations in Egypt. To her, the former president lacked the arts of public relations and political “etiquette”, especially in his meetings with foreign heads of state. She reminded me of one of President Morsi’s postures during a presidential meeting. Her misunderstanding of the situation was so offensive that I think it would be inappropriate for me to repeat it here. She had no shame in talking about it.
This brazen rejection of the social ‘other’ was not an isolated remark by a random member of the academic establishment, but indicative of myriad and widespread ways in which the Egyptian elite. A few days ago, an Egyptian journalist related a similar comment, made during a conversation with one of Egypt’s female ambassadors, who also had mocked the way Morsi’s wife dressed while he was President.
The words of the professor and the ambassador are not an exception — rather, they are a kind of unspoken rule in Egypt where those of one background, or economic bracket, evaluate people according to their appearance and social status. It is commonplace for those living in the privileged echelons to monopolise political and diplomatic positions whilst using their status to block people of lower classes from holding these positions.
My university friend and colleague committed suicide two decades ago, only a few days after his application for a job at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was rejected — even though he had passed the written and oral exams. The words of the rejection letter were clear: he had been turned down because he was “socially unfit”. The young man could not bear the weight of this decision. He threw his slender body into the Nile River and died hours later. His story stands as evidence of the oppression that the Egypt of the professor, and the ambassador, inflicts upon underprivileged young Egyptians.
The professor and the ambassador and their ilk live in an Egypt that has been designed for them, to serve their interests and those of their children and families. It is an Egypt where the dirt does not touch their feet, the poverty does not scathe and where diseases and pandemics do not afflict. It is an Egypt that has invested billions of dollars in a new capital surrounded by high walls that no one can enter unless they belong to the privileged social elite, those who appear and speak as the professor, and the ambassador.
It is the same Egypt that mocked the simple and the poor who, months earlier, and dressed in traditional galabiyyas and slippers, had risen up to improve their social and economic conditions. It is the same Egypt where as soon as three of those who resemble the professor and the ambassador are arrested, the world rises in their defense until they are released, but when thousands of the likes of Morsi and his wife are arrested, we do not hear a single whisper. It is the Egypt whose rich and powerful are being treated for COVID-19 in the most prestigious hospitals in the capital, while ventilation oxygen tubes are removed from the mouths of poor patients to die, as recently happened in the Governorates of Sharqiyya and Gharbiyya.
The astonishing thing is not only the classist discourse of the professor and the ambassador towards the social other, but also their political double standards and moral decadence. The same professor was writing almost weekly articles in an Egyptian newspaper criticising President Morsi and his group when they were in power, which is legitimate, understandable and logical. However, like many others, she swallowed her tongue out of cowardice when General Sisi came to power. She is now busy writing about novels about people living in urban centres and social circles such as hers.. novels about cities and weddings.
A political science professor at the American University in Cairo, who belongs to a well-known political family in Egypt, played a pivotal role in inciting Sisi’s coup and promoting it in America, while calling herself a ‘liberal’. She admitted as much publicly a few months after the coup in a meeting in Washington DC. She had previously stolen one of my articles and published it under her name in the London newspaper Al-Hayat, in 2007. What is worse is that when she was confronted with her crime, she didn’t deny it, but blamed it on an underprivileged young man she had hired to write her weekly articles for a small fee. She has not only stolen articles and ideas, but also minds, credit and effort. This is the epitome of decadence.
It is the Egypt that despises the majority of its people and defends those who arrest them, torture them, steal their power, impoverish them, and abandon them. It is the Egypt where if the president steals, they let him, and if the poor complain about it, they despise them and accuse them of treason. In short, it is the Egypt that the military wants, not out of love for it, but so that it may stay in power against the will of the people of the other Egypt who they hate and despise. This is the root of the conflict.
The source: Aljazeera.net (Original Content-Arabic)