Boredom and Loathing in Ismailia

The Arabist's secret asset, Nour The Intern, visited Ismailiya last week and wrote this dispatch about an anti-Morsi rally (specifically focused on a proposed Suez Canal development law). Enjoy.  

 “They are as bored as they are politically divided,” I thought as I watched a group of young bearded men walk right past the wooden stage of the anti-MB “Da’ Canaly” (which translates to “Leave my canal”) public conference in Ismailia. They just shook their heads and waved their hands dismissively, apparently not provoked enough to mention Allah's take on infidels.

As I sat silently considering the consequences of whispering “The army and the people are one hand” to a cranky Tamarod campaigner, who was collecting signatures in front of me, to spark a riot (just to make sure that one can be sparked), my target began arguing with a fellow Tamarod campaigner. Something about him being a man of a few warnings.

Cowed, I redirected my attention to the conference, which was meant to raise awareness of the dangers of the Suez Canal Development Project’s draft law, as suggested by the poorly-photoshopped poster of the canal, which looked more like an underdeveloped construction site than an underdeveloped sea-level waterway, captioned with “The canal is for the people...not a governmen’...or a group...or a party."

The speakers, who ranged from experts to journalists to lawyers and politicians, took turns screaming into the microphone at the crowd of about 400 Ismailia residents, the lonely al-Nahar TV camera and the woman hanging wet laundry in her balcony, half-listening to how Zionist Qataris are going to buy her town, while keeping a close eye on her half-naked children throwing firecrackers at each other in the street.

The main purpose of the conference was served in the first 15 minutes, which can be summed up in one paragraph:

Morsi plagiarized Mubarak’s Law 83 of 2002 and slapped the word ‘development’ on it. If you want to see the effects of the law, visit the 19 industrial cities that were formed thanks to it, where working conditions make Bangladesh garment factory workers look privileged. For instance, the law states that 80% of the workforce needs to be Egyptian but doesn't mention their wages, or even imply the existence of any. Also, the fact that Morsi is the only one who can appoint, dismiss or hold the 14-person committee in charge of the canal accountable is a disaster. So let’s topple Morsi. See you on the 30th.

Everything from that point forth, however, was a repetition of unverified “facts” and name-calling. In addition to a crash course in Western parenting.  

“Did you know that Hamas issues orders on papers saying ‘Sinai and Gaza’? Like Sinai is theirs,” bellowed a speaker, whose name card read “Magda Rashwan,” despite him being an old bald man. I approached the man, who turned out to be Mohamed Bayoumi, the general-secretary of al-Karama party, later to find out where he learned that particular piece of information, which he was confidently disseminating as if he had these “Hamas papers” in his back pocket. 

"Some guy told me that...ahh, a major general told me that in a some conference...I don't really remember his name," he answered with a shrug.

Meanwhile, another overly enthusiastic speaker wondered how much money Morsi got off Ethiopia in exchange for the Nile. “One billion dollars,” a woman in the audience yelled back at her. “Nonsense,” a man shot back at the woman. “No less than two billion!”

“(Morsi) lost (his) legitimacy when his people, the sheep, the lowly, the ignorant...attacked our sons in Etihadia,” another speaker added, provoking a woman in the audience to stand up and chant against Morsi, “the agent of Pakistan.”

Shortly after, another speaker began miming the act of slapping one’s own face, urging the audience to follow suit to warn everyone they know of the Chinese businessmen, who are going to come enslave the workers of Suez.

“Don’t get bored...you must stay aware,” the speaker begged. “You know, Morsi and his people met Obama in 2008 before his speech at the Cairo University and they told him ‘We are your men!’” she continued, swearing that Morsi promised to give the Palestinians a part of Sinai to settle in to put an end to "this whole Arab-Israeli conflict," as the audience yawned agreement and disappointment.

“This (conference) sucks,” a Tamarod campaigner mouthed to her friend. “We should have done this in Cairo instead,” her friend replied.

“Cairo doesn’t care much. They are depending on the canal cities to reignite the revolution,” interjected a retired major general, who was abruptly shushed when the microphone was passed to Dr. Manal Omar, a child-psychologist-turned-political-analyst and frequent guest on Mahmoud Saad’s show, who enjoys near-rockstar-status.

“I read western books,” Dr. Omar informed the audience. “Do you know how they raise their children in the west?” She asked, rhetorically. “They teach them that it’s not all-or-nothing…they tell them that they are moderate...they teach them to question authority,” she said before employing an analogy where Morsi was a teacher and Egypt was his classroom, during which she advised the teacher to quit blaming the students for his educational failure. 

"But what if the students are stupid?" a heckler interrupted her.

"So what, everyone is stupid except the teacher? If so, where did we get the teacher from? Didn't he graduate from the same stupid class?" she asked sarcastically, to the great pleasure of the audience, which had finally begun showing signs of wakefulness.

Prior to Dr. Omar’s talk was that of Islam el-Katatni, the nephew of the FJP Chairman, Saad el-Katatni, and former member of the MB, who made everyone's day when he said that "the great city of Ismailia, the place where Hassan al-Banna’s call began, is where it’s all going to end - not the call, but the--”

Once the euphoric cheering died down, he made it clear that the end he was referring to was that of the MB's political life, and not the lives of its members.

“They are welcome to continue their da’wah...but no more politics!” said el-Katatni, who assumed the air of a coma patient who recently regained consciousness and is now recommending others give it a try. “The MB youth must question (the leadership), let your conscience be the judge,” he said. “Stand up to the leadership,” which lies so often, it's shocking and just un-islamic," according to him.

Near the end, the cranky Tamarod campaigner grabbed the small black sign that was on stage and posed for the cameras. The sign read: “O rebels, despair is betrayal.”

And what about boredom?