The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: Hamlet Abu Ismail

I am myself indifferent honest;
but yet I could accuse me of such things that it
were better my mother had not borne me: I am very
proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at
my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them
in. What should such fellows as I do crawling
between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves,
all; believe none of us.

Hamlet, act III

Yesterday’s ruling by the Cairo administrative court that it has insufficient evidence has been prematurely heralded as victory for the campaign of nutty-but-scary Islamist-populist Hazem Abu Ismail. It’s not hard to understand that the judge presiding the case, surrounded by a hyper-excited crowd of Hazemoon (as Abu Ismail supporters are called) chanting about jihad, may have decided on a cop-out judgement to protect his own life and that of other court staff. The victory lap the Hazemoon carried out in Cairo and subsequent respite in their activism may then provide the time for the judge to obtain more conclusive evidence from the Ministry of Interior, as he has requested, even though he had pretty conclusive proof from the Ministry of Interior. (Funny how so much of Egypt’s bonkers transition is in the details of obscures laws, regulations and their implementation — a perfect environment for lawfare-as-politics.) And if on some technicality, Abu Ismail’s clearly American mother does not prevent him from being a candidate, it will be just one more incongruity of a legal landscape that has been nonsensical since last March, when a constitutional declaration that no one got to vote on was promulgated by SCAF.

There are many ironies to what’s called in Egypt the “Mama Amreeka” scandal — a term usually used to highlight Egypt’s clientelistic relationship with the US — and these have made good fodder for columnists. This week, we chose a piece by Amr Ezzat in which he focuses on the Abu Ismail mindset — jingoistic, conspirational, xenophobic and insular — being precisely the underpinning of the provisions that bar candidates with dual-national parents from being eligible to be president of Egypt. For once there’s an article in the Egyptian press that praises America…

Translation is, as always, provided by the good folks at Industry Arabic, who rock. One hears they know Hans Wehr personally.

Hamlet Abu Ismail: When is an American Mother not American?

By Amr Ezzat, al-Masri al-Youm, 4 April 2011

I wondered: Who had the imagination to start a rumor that Hazem Salah Abu Ismail’s mother was an American citizen?

That was a few days ago before it became apparent that the rumor may have true. As inquiries into the matter near completion, the outcome is likely to determine whether or not the most controversial candidate will participate in the presidential race. If his mother did obtain American citizenship, his candidacy will be barred.

In the first article I wrote here for Al-Masry Al-Youm, I said that what is happening in the revolution – in all simplicity, and complication – is that imagination is overthrowing reality and dragging it through Cairo’s streets. And here in the citizenship dispute, we see fantasy continuing its course.

What I said sometimes seems to me like romantic praise for the revolution, but now I think maybe it was a key to seriously understand what is going on, if we allow that in revolutions and decisive moments, the diseased imagination breaks free of reason and sets out for its own destination.

The Abu Ismail campaign and those in it are the most devoted to “the popular Islamic imagination” in its many ambitions and ailments. I don’t deny that I greatly esteem their rhetoric as it appear in the best slogan for a presidential campaign: “We will live with dignity!” in addition to “realize the decisive moment.” They are slogans that are not devoid of revolutionary imagination, and it’s unfortunate that behind them lay different fantasies that almost threaten to turn dignity and the decisive moment into a disaster and misfortune for many. Abu Ismail‘s project threatens to make them educational captives to Abu Ismail’s “respectable” state and its mazes, which are torn between the revolutionary imagination and the sordid authoritarian imagination steeped in conspiracy theories.

Their conspiratorial imagination is the most fertile. Hazem Abu Ismail’s family took refuge, like many families of Islamists, in the United States, due to its degree of respect for human rights, even though he may have insulted them concerning other matters. The US and certain European countries served as refuges for Islamists, who were escaping the oppressive governments of their home countries. Nevertheless, this fact did not lead many of them to appreciate the human achievement to be found in this respect for the human rights of a group that includes — at least from the perspective of the Western conspirators — “mujahideen” fighting to establish a system of government that does not respect human rights!

In place of the conspiratorial imagination, a different sort of imagination is required in order to see that these countries, like our own, have different groups, some of which truly seek domination, while others aspire to freedom and think that the road to freedom is difficult, and might involve solidarity with its enemies when they are under attack or oppressed.

For Abu Ismail and his supporters, the conspiratorial imagination wins the day. They use these countries‘ lands and freedom against them, and consider the human rights granted to them in these countries as meaningless license given by a foolish Western enemy, in whom they see nothing but an conspirator obsessively hostile to Islam.

The Western enemy obsessively hostile to Islam was toying with this diseased imagination, which figured that the constitutional amendments, which include restrictions on presidential candidates, aim to protect Egypt from the foreign hands that were undoubtedly behind those “secularists” and youth groups who occupied squares and were in the vanguard of marches during the revolution. It does not make sense that all those people hit the streets to protest because they imagined they were participating in a revolution. It is necessary, then, to have restrictions protecting Egypt from those candidates who are agents of the West.

Neither the diseased imagination of those who lend credence to conspiracy theories nor the wisdom of Sheikh Hazem Shoman could believe that ElBaradei’s mother wears hijab, for example. This is despite the fact that “Liberalism means that your mom doesn’t wear hijab,” as Shoman put it to ElBaradei.

“Secularists” opposed the arbitrary stipulations that make it possible for the mother or father of a candidate to torpedo their child‘s candidacy merely by seeking foreign citizenship. The Islamists, however, caught up in their vision of a battle against secularism and the West, agreed to these conditions, and brought their constituency along with them, rather than join in imagining that the revolution is a battle against the authoritarianism and restrictions that shackle people’s freedom and their right to political participation.

“The ballot boxes said ‘yes’ to religion,” as Sheikh Yacoub put it. But this ‘yes’ now threatens the Islamist candidate who is without equivocation or apology the most revolutionary and devoted to the Islamist project – to an extent which scares the Muslim Brotherhood, which is fond of gradual reform. It appears that this was part of the reason Khairat al-Shater decided to run: we should not leave the project of moderate Islamism vulnerable to the ambitions of candidates associated with the military or the former regime, or to Abu Ismail’s revolutionary bravado and braggadocio.

When news first broke that Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother may have obtained American citizenship, the ironic thing was that the diseased populist imagination that imagined itself engaged in a battle with the West, secularism, and liberalism when it voted for these constitutional amendments ended up standing in its own way in the presidential contest.

Rather than recognizing this, the diseased imagination has set off to its furthest limits. Some of Abu Ismail’s supporters imagine that mere discussion of his mother is bad manners, as if her name, nationality or an official procedure regarding her were a sort of awrah we are exposing in the media or on the internet. Then Abu Ismail’s campaign officials declare that if official documents show up proving her naturalization as an American citizen, this would be an American conspiracy against Islam!

In addition to this, Abu Ismail remarked that the “Imam from a Brooklyn mosque” who confirmed to the press that his mother obtained US citizenship is a young Shi’ite man working for Iran.

Such is the American-Iranian conspiracy against Sunni Islam, which has returned to the fore once again after having supported the Tahrir sit-in leading up to Mubarak’s ouster. And this conspiracy in particular is the diseased imagination‘s finest product.

The conspiracies do not stop there. Many of Abu Ismail’s supporters believe that Khairat al-Shater’s candidacy also constitutes a conspiracy against the Islamist project – this time by the Muslim Brotherhood – by trying to split the Islamist vote.

Nothing stops the imagination of Abu Ismail’s supporters from believing in conspiracies hidden behind words and polticial positions. And the idea of decisive revolutionary moments drives them to imagine that even the Muslim Brotherhood is conspiring against Islam! So what could others possibly say?

How could one of Abu Ismail’s supporters believe me now if I said that I still oppose the text of the amendment that bars Abu Ismail from running, and how could he believe me when I say that I’m very upset that the fantasies of his popular campaign – which I explicitly insulted and cursed in my first article – will not be tested in the democratic arena. Instead, they will retreat to quench their thirst for vengeance in the realm of conspiracy, rather than recognize that their diseased conspiratorial imaginings are what made their date with destiny, and placed them in a Hamlet-like Shakespearean tragedy. The mother of that Shakespearian hero, one may recall, caused her son to reevaluate his existential situation: “To be or not to be.” And now, in the end, we find a popular candidate sitting with his supporters in a tense moment of anticipation – one that almost threatens the fate of the entire Islamist project –as he waits to find out the truth of his mother’s nationality!