The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Baheyya on Qandil


While discussing what she dubs the "Gamal Mubarak Project" (Omar Suleiman Experience anyone?), Baheyya draws a quick portrait of Abdel Halim Qandil, a leader of the Kifaya movement and the editor-in-chief of Al Arabi, the mouthpiece of the Nasserist party and by far the most outspoken and virulently anti-Mubarak publication in Egypt (yes, more so than any Islamist publication).

Resistance against tawrith (inheritance of power) fed and bled into resistance against tamdid (extending Mubarak’s tenure). An intense, bespectacled man deserves much of the credit for this linkage; on one occasion he nearly paid for it with his life. I confess that before 2002, I didn’t think much of Abdel Halim Qandil, classifying him as a rather defensive and shrill Nasserist. But exigent circumstances spawn unexpected metamorphoses. Between 2002 and 2005, Abdel Halim Qandil came into his own as Egypt’s most articulate, most clear-headed, and certainly most effective critic of the Gamal scheme. I don’t remember precisely when his Sunday columns became much-anticipated events, when friends asked, “Did you read Qandil today?!” and marvelled, “This man is committing suicide!” I do remember erupting in little temper tantrums when al-Araby was sold out by noon on Sunday. I can’t imagine what the week would be like now without Qandil’s electrifying intervention. By what strange turn of events does a slight, lapsed physician with a gifted, intrepid pen morph into one of the most formidable threats to la famiglia Mubarak?

Baheyya's post is in part a review of Qandil's book Dhid Al Rayess (Against The President), an anthology of his vitriolic, often shrill but passionate articles about politics in Egypt and the presidency in particular. Its publication (and the articles it is composed of) not only represent a courageous move on the part of Qandil, but also the remarkable breakdown of the traditional "red lines" that not so long ago were impossible to cross. Today, the president and his family are legitimate targets. Corruption is increasingly a legitimate target. The military, from time to time, even gets mentioned--even if only to lament the fact that the amount spent on it in the national budget remains unclear.


Qandil's book came out a while back, but there have been others like it. More recent is Al Gomhourikiya Al Mubarak (As Amr pointed in the comments, I misread the title - I missed the 'kaf', which turns gomhoureya--republic--into a made-up word akin to 'republicarchy.' It's essentially the same idea as the 2000 Al Hayat article that got Saad Eddin Ibrahim in trouble, which spoke of gomloukiya--an amalgam of gomhoureya and malakiya, or republic and monarchy), which has raised a fuss with its provocative cover and contents. The book's publisher was jailed (on charges of threatening national security or something similar) and the author has been threatened. It is quite hard to find, although the Sphinx of Egyptian booksellers, Hagg Madbouli, stocks it. (Hagg Madbouli runs one of Cairo's best known bookshops on Midan Talaat Hard and has a tradition of publishing and selling controversial books since Nasser's era.) I don't have much to add about the book at this point--there will be a review in next week's Cairo--but the cover seems promising.