From Shibin Al Kom to shuubiya

As I've been entertaining visitors and traveling for the past two weeks, I haven't had much time to blog properly. I've been meaning to discuss some ongoing issues and cover some of the domestic political developments that have taken place in Egypt since the parliamentary elections. I hope to be able to do that over the next few days.

The first thing I should get over and done with done with is Hosni Mubarak's now notorious comments about the loyalty of Shias, which have managed to offend the Iraqis enough for them to boycott a meeting of Iraq's bordering countries (which for some reason includes Egypt) and prompted Kuwaiti Shias to demand an apology. For different takes on the comments themselves, check out Elijah's post over at the Skeptic, or this post at American Footprints (there are countless others.) Meanwhile, of course the official press here completely ignored the issue, although one editorial did defend al rayess, which was rather strange since there had been no controversy on the matter at all. But since readers also might take a look at Al Masri Al Youm, Nahdet Misr, Al Wafd and other newspapers (some of which said Mubarak was right when it came to Iraqi Shias, at least), I guess everyone knew about it after all. Which makes us come back to the question: why didn't Al Ahram, at least, report on the controversy caused by the statement?

What Mubarak said on Shias is not surprising. Egypt is a country where Shias (a small number of which live here) face occasional persecution from police forces, with at least one case of a police officer torturing a Shia to make him confess that he was a heretic. That officer and Mubarak are, essentially, the same person -- unsophisticated louts whose beliefs reflect the prejudices typical of someone of their background. And that's the problem with Hosni ruling Egypt: he's essentially no better than your average bigoted Egyptian, who despite his claims of statesmanship immediately commits a gaffe if given the opportunity to do something else than ad-lib on well-rehearsed lines. Even the Egyptian foreign ministry, where the sophisticates try to do damage control (Egypt has perhaps the best-trained diplomatic corps in the Arab world), has distanced itself from that remark.

Another Mubarak soundbite, when asked why he wasn't making his annual trip to Washington DC this year: "Must I make a pilgrimage to the United States every year?" He was asked because the independent press is speculating that he's not going either because Bush doesn't want to see him or because he doesn't want to have a certain conversation with Bush -- say about human rights, political reform, his son's political ambitions, etc.

But perhaps the most important thing to come out of the speech for Egyptians is that Mubarak said that the new anti-terror law currently being prepared should be adopted "within two years." A lot of people expected it this year and were keen to make sure it didn't enshrine the emergency law as a normal law. But now it seems the emergency law is here to stay for at least two years.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.