The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

In Translation: At Muqattam

We are still playing catchup with a backlog of translations I have been late in putting up. To test the mettle of Industry Arabic, which makes our In Translation feature possible, I sent them a widely-read piece that appeared shortly after the “Battle of Muqattam” — the clashes that took place as an anti-Brotherhood protest outside their headquarters in Muqattam, a hilltop suburb overlooking Cairo. Penned by revolutionary journalist/blogger/poet Newara Negm, it’s full of aameya expressions and popular culture references. And as always they did a very good job of it.

It’s a partisan account of what took place, to be sure, although Negm is not among the most rabid critics of the Brothers. But many of the incidents she mentioned check out and have been detailed in reporting and investigations since then. It’s written in her trademark convoluted, meandering style but it’s worth getting through — and the translation does capture some of what makes her writings so popular among many Egyptians.

The notes and extra parenthetical clarifications were added by the translator and myself.

Magic is the key to happiness[1]

Nawara Negm, al-Tahrir, 25 March 2013

To recap: a very small group of activists went along with a few journalists, and some activists started spraying graffiti on the asphalt of the street and the valiant men of the Brotherhood – who fled on the Friday following the incident – dragged Ahmed Douma on the ground until they scraped his face, and hit the activist Mirfat Moussa so hard her feet were lifted up off the ground and she fell on the pavement, and they struck a number of journalists as well. The valiant men of the Brotherhood did not stop there: their e-committees proudly flaunted the video, saying: may the same thing happen every day. Moreover, the Brotherhood leadership celebrated the achievements of its young members. [Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud] Ghozlan said that the activists had “provoked” the MB youth, and that the journalists had taken part in the provocation.

It was only natural for people at home to be outraged, as people had decided to exercise their legal right to protest in front of the MB headquarters in Muqattam, and instead of containing the situation, calming people down and apologizing for what happened, they opposed us like Riad al-Bantalooni in the film Illi Bali Balak, and kept shouting at us: it’s a new era…what was before is over! “We’ve been very patient,” “We’re not going to exercise restraint yet again,” “We’re going to spark a civil war,” This is our home, our dignity and our honour“…and similar nonsense said by MB leader Saber Aboul Fotouh and Sabry Amer, a leader in the Freedom and Justice Party, about civil war, ”We’ll show you good," and the like.

Naturally, people got more fired up. People who hadn’t intended to go to the protest decided to go see what exactly they would show us. Likewise, those who had intended to go began to prepare their minds for battle and confrontation. We were all in a good mood and started saying to one another: “We’ll meet at the civil war ‘event’ next Friday.” Even I was joking with [January 25 organizer] Sally Touma, whom I met at the opening of the film Winter of Discontent: “Are you going to the civil war event, Sally?” She responded seriously: Yes, of course…we’re all going. We’ll be in a good mood and bringing placards and banners with us, good food… it’ll be a nice day."

I’m not lying to you, I took Saber Aboul Fotouh and Sabry Amer’s words very seriously. I was glad and I felt that the chance had finally come to realize my lifelong dream to be a martyr (of course, I won’t tell you that after the Moqattam incident, I despaired of the whole martyrdom thing) to the point that I started to dance at home by myself and sing: “I’ll finally be a martyr and I’ll no longer want for anything”… I got ready on Friday, said all the necessary prayers, drank water from Zamzam so that it would be the last thing to enter my stomach before meeting God, and that’s it… I’ll be martyred, I’ll be a hero, I’ll no longer walk in funeral processions, I’ll go to heaven and I’ll stop getting injuries.

Then we went to Moqattam and stood with people in Nafoura Square. I saw many faces I knew well that day, ones I had always seen in the front ranks at any confrontation, but I noticed a bitterness and rage I hadn’t seen before in those eyes that had boldly confronted armored vehicles. Expectant faces were sputtering with rage, asking some of the organizers: “Why are we standing here? Why are we not at the headquarters?” And to tell the truth, I joined my voice to their chorus. Some of the organizers and veterans responded that our numbers didn’t allow us to go to the headquarters at the moment, especially since MB elements had occupied the mosques and side streets. This meant that they were determined to attack, and our numbers did not suffice for a confrontation. We were not small in number, but we were much fewer than the MB elements deployed in the streets and mosques. We had a large number of women with us of various ages, which angered the young men who like to engage in confrontation. They addressed themselves to the women, saying: “What brought you here today? The Brotherhood has bad intentions and we don’t want to be preoccupied with you.” Sometimes I would smile at some of the faces I recognized from the confrontations, but they did not return the smile, because they were preoccupied monitoring the situation, inspecting the street entrances and exits. We heard the call for the afternoon prayer and someone called out: "Nobody pray in the mosques… the mosques are all Brotherhood members.” So some of us prayed in the park and no sooner had we finished the prayer than we were overtaken by our brothers in faith from the Muslim Brotherhood, who came out of the Nafoura mosque firing shotgun pellets and hurling rocks in no time…they didn’t even wait to finish the prayer.

But then, you see…the youths saw the Brotherhood members firing pellets at them – would you say that they were throwing presents at them? The MB then attacked, and the youths shouted “hurrah!” and fell upon them like Tatars. Meanwhile, some of them are shouting: “Women and girls get back!”…It seems that our brothers in faith who replaced their prayer beads with shotgun pellets were not expecting that the youths would run toward the source of the pellets like a horse runs after a lump of sugar, and so they were greatly confused. Because of the youths’ extreme swiftness in running towards the Brotherhood members – who in turn ran away in flight – some of them had not managed to emerge from the mosque, and the youths were forced to cordon off the mosque to prevent MB elements from getting out. Now these elements trapped in the mosque, although they did not lack for weapons and shotgun pellets… they were trembling in fear. Anyway, the kids kept running after them all the way to the mountain.

In fact, the MB leaders committed an “abominabllllle” act – as the Interior Minister put it — when they placed their poor and deprived members from the countryside in the front lines of the clashes, as they were more numerous and better equipped with lots of ammo. One of them told me that some of the youth protestors had shotgun pellets with them as well, but I swear that I didn’t see any of our ranks armed with shotguns. Although I can neither confirm nor deny this, what’s certain is that even if some youth protestors were armed with shotgun pellets, the MB had much more. In any case, I don’t know how the frightened MB elements fled with such fantastic speed… Why are you running, you crazy guys, when I’m all ready to be martyred! The youths managed to catch some of the MB elements, and no sooner did they catch one than they proceeded to give him a beating that bloodied him from head to toe. Meanwhile, I’m making my way among the youths screaming: “No…no…No one hit him!… Let him go, shame on you!… We’re not like them.” Lawyer [and former presidential candidate] Khalid Ali tried to defend one of the MB elements that had been captured, and his shoulder was dislocated and he was transferred to the hospital. [Prominent activists] Rasha Azeb and Nazli Hussein also tried to defend the captured Brotherhood members, as did I, and the youths angrily replied: “It’s none of your business.” I saw one of the MB youth that I’ve known for a long time slip in among the protestors to monitor the situation, but when I stepped forward to speak with him, he quickly ran away from me. If he’s reading this article, I say to him: “Shame on you… I’m not so ill-bred that I would turn you in to the youths, even if I didn’t know you before. Did you think that I am a Muslim Brother? Along with others, I tried to defend the Brotherhood members who were caught – to the point that one of the youths screamed in my face: ”It’s none of your business… When I was at the Presidential Palace the Brotherhood electrocuted me so bad I can no longer get married or have children…leave me alone!" So I left him alone.

While fleeing, some of the MB elements attacked some of the youths with switchblades. When the MB disappeared into the mountain, the youths returned feeling suspicious: why did they flee so fast? Surely they’re laying an ambush for us…Could they come at us from the side streets? Come on, let’s go to the headquarters.

While we were walking toward the headquarters, Nazli Hussein caught up with me and told me that the youths were confining some of the Brotherhood members in Nafoura mosque. Some of them wanted to storm the mosque, but then a Christian youth stepped up and said: “You’ll enter the mosque over my dead body.” He showed them the cross on his hand and said, “Nobody storm God’s house… I’m a Christian and I’ll stand up to protect the mosque.” The youths were greatly affected by the stance he took, and they stood protecting the mosque with Brotherhood members inside.

In all these clashes, I never saw the sons of [Brotherhood leader] Khairat al-Shater who had been stirring up the MB elements against the protestors, I never saw [prominent Brotherhood MP Mohammed] El-Beltagi’s son, I never saw El-Beltagi himself, the “Lion of the Square”! I never saw the president’s son, who “spits on the people” on his webpage. I never saw Abdel Rahman Ezz, who wrote this morning: “Slaughter before flaying, and the way to honor the dead is burying them”! But honest to God, “Al-Mogheer” was there…hiding in the headquarters taking pictures from the window… Come here, chubby wubby. In these clashes, I only saw poor, deprived people coming from the governorates confronting youths with conviction who wanted to exact retribution for themselves and their friends… How could poor outsiders who came for no other reason than because the Supreme Guide told them to stand up in a battle against people with conviction whose motto is: “Anything but the revolution — over my dead body”? How could the MB leaders – who lack conscience, character and religion – throw in poor outsiders as fodder for a battle they don’t know the meaning of? Why didn’t they make the MB leaders who instigated the whole thing take up the front lines along with their sons? Or is their job just to foam at the mouth?

We reached the corner that leads to the street where the headquarters is located. We found Central Security Forces protecting the headquarters as they never protected the Interior Ministry before, firing gas canisters in rapid succession on the protestors. Their intervention was like a life preserver for the MB. We stood there a while, then I called my father’s wife who lives in Moqattam and found out that she was stuck in Nafoura Square and couldn’t get back home. So my husband and I went to her to take her home. To be honest, we were starving, so I suggested we go eat something, but we couldn’t find a way to reach my father’s house except by going all the way around the Moqattam corniche. We then found ourselves right behind the MB Headquarters, while the street was occupied by thousands of MB members carrying knives and sticks, but they were “posh” youths – by whom I mean MB elements from Cairo. You could tell by their clothes that they were upper middle class and not from the rural poor like those who had been in the front lines of the clashes in Nafoura Square. These “chic” elements were standing by the Central Security Forces and did not join the clashes the whole day. It seems they were just holding sticks and knives for personal protection and they had not received orders to engage in confrontation. My husband asked me to get down on the car mat, since he was afraid that if the MB members saw me, they would wreck the car – when we still have monthly payments on it until 2016. They can kill me if they like, but no one better come near the car, which is all I own of the flotsam and jetsam of the world – and it’s still owned by Nasser Bank. Like any authentic Egyptian state employee, I fear for the car more than I fear for my own life… may I die before it does.

No sooner had we arrived at my dad’s house than we found out that the Interior Ministry had gone to free the MB members from Nafoura mosque. Not only that, the MB members were given the chance to detain those who had stood protecting them inside the mosque… decent people all their lives, then the situation reversed. After the activists had been exhorting the youths to make sure the MB elements inside the mosque were protected, the youths were seeking people’s help to rescue them from inside the mosque – all thanks to the Interior Ministry.

This is not the first time that MB elements got beat worse than a thief at a moulid. The MB were previously defeated in the battle at the Presidential Palace, although they greatly outnumbered protestors. Then they were defeated in the Alexandria battle, after they threatened that they were going to El Qaed Ibrahim mosque to talk about politics, and “just wait and see what happens if so much as a dog tries to stop us.” Finally, they were defeated in the Moqattam knife battle, which took place after threats of civil war, that the situation in Egypt would become like that in Syria… and finally, the legend of the Brotherhood militias collapsed.

So why these bad manners? Hmm? Why would you attack a woman, isolate someone to beat him up and attack journalists? What would happen if the MB leadership apologized for the acts of its members and said: “Who was the one who hit Mirfat? That one? That kid there? We’ll give him hell… our deepest apologies… this kid is being treated and his family is poor…but no…no of course we don’t approve of it? What need is there for threats and menacing words and ”civil war,“ and ”You’ll see another side of us,“ and ”We were holding back the youths from you, but forget about it, we’re no longer going to hold them back so that you know your place“ – and other inappropriate discourse? Will they not be quiet?…No the MB comes out against us with a statement: ”We could have put an end to the scene in Moqattam in half an hour, but we exercised restraint"! You guys again? You’re really addicted to conflict.

Then Dr. Ahmed Aref of the Muslim Brotherhood stated that the protestors have sorcerers and snakes on their side! It seems that the unfortunate MB leaders believed what Aref said, and concluded their statement with the verse:

When they had cast, Moses said, “What you have produced is magic, and God will make it fail. God does not allows the work of transgressors to prosper.”

That’s right, old man…We’re casting a spell under the lintel of Morsi’s door. Keep him at home, don’t let him go out, because every time he crosses the threshold to go to work, he brings bad luck wherever he goes. Just so you know, I wasn’t holding back the MB elements that gave the youths a thrashing… I was casting a spell on them… nice spell, right?

An MB youth wrote: “I’m saying to President Mohamed Morsi, we’re a nation of 92 million. It’s not a problem if 10 million die so that the other 80 million live well!”

Fact is, the previous statement is one of the Brotherhood’s clichés that they are constantly repeating. Even Todary affirmed it in his latest speech, saying “It’s no big deal if we sacrifice a few people for the good of the nation”![2]

Hmmm… why don’t we sacrifice you, Mr. President, for the good of the entire world, instead of you bringing bad luck wherever you go?

Why is the Muslim Brotherhood an expert at creating enemies? Or, as my father says citing a proverb of my grandmother’s: “Like the lizard when he sprays in the salt, he doesn’t poison you but he stirs up animosity.”

The sit-in at the Presidential Palace could have gone peacefully, or even have broken up quickly, if the Brotherhood had not made a poor assessment of its own strength and the strength of the opposition and decided to launch an attack that roused those who had been staying at home to go out to confront the Brotherhood. The incident in Alexandria could have been avoided if the MB had employed a less condescending discourse. For example, if the MB and its “Hazemoun” allies said that they were just going to restore the honor of Sheikh El-Mahallawy, the incident would not have happened. What need is there to say, “Just wait and see what happens if so much as a dog tries to stop us”? Huh? The “Friday of Restoring Dignity” would not have happened if that oaf didn’t hit Mirfat, and the incident could have passed peacefully if the MB had apologized and expelled that young man. The MB could even have not apologized and not expelled the young man, but also not bandied threats of civil war and warnings to the protestors that “We’ll fuck you up”! Then you unexpectedly get beat badly? After all these clashes in which MB elements have been defeated, the MB is still not aware that it’s better to be agreeable? And that if they have shotgun pellets, then others are able to buy them as well, and that if they boast of their ability to mobilize supporters from the governorates, they should also boast of their ability to mobilize their enemies through their provocative behaviors, their haughty tone and their continuous threats? As a kindness to yourselves, if the Egyptian people “think your walls are low,” you would be unable to walk in the street and become the butt of every joke – and here you are doing everything to provoke people and make them think your walls are low.[3]

The MB never wants to take it easy, so the president delegated by the Guidance Bureau comes out to threaten us that he will sacrifice a portion of the population, since we’re “on a downward slope.”

One day a historian will write a book entitled: The Organization that Screwed Itself.

Note: this article contains a secret spell that will make every Brotherhood member read it and try to comment on it…is your body tingling yet? You’ll be metamorphosed to a couch leg in half an hour.

  1. Plays off of an Egyptian proverb that “Patience is the key to happiness.”  ↩

  2. A reference to Morsi. Todary is a character in the play Hawwa’ El-Sa’aa 12, who is known for giving ignorant answers to questions that are outside his depth.  ↩

  3. This expression evokes the Egyptian proverb, “Everybody jumps over a low wall,” meaning that no one will respect you if you degrade yourself.  ↩

Note: updated so that footnotes display properly on 2013-Apr-30 at 3pm.