The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Driving about with the Islamists

 Sixth of October Bridge is missing parts of its railing. Although only one armored vehicle was fell off it. 

With one eye on the railing rather than the road and another on his phone, my cousin searched for a scandalous picture on his phone. “I found it! Look at actress Elham Shaheen sleeping naked next to Mahmoud Abdel Aziz!” he said, showing us a blurry picture of a clothed Menna Shalabi and Kareem Abdul Aziz cuddling under a blanket that’s only a few inches short of their neck.  

“And then she gets mad when Abdullah Badr calls her a whore,” my father said, shaking his head, and passed the phone to my uncle to see. 

“Oh, it’s art! It has a message within the dramatic context; it’s purposeful!” my uncle quoted the common intellectual defense of nudity in films in a singsong manner. 

“The message is: I am a whore,” my cousin replied. They guffawed.

The laughter died once the Ministry of Finance finally came into view, it was reportedly attacked by MB supporters on Wednesday night with Molotov cocktails. 24 hours later, parts of the building were on fire again. On the seventh floor, bright yellow and orange flames were dancing unfettered by the three fire trucks parked in front of the building. The firefighters, distracted by their sandwiches, had pointed their hoses a tad too low, accidentally watering the shrubbery in front of the ministry instead of putting out the fire.

Next stop on our field trip around Cairo, inspecting the damage of the sit-ins dispersal and the violence that followed them, was Raba’a al-Adaweya. It was mostly smoky and empty, just charred buildings, broken glass and burned cars. The streets were littered with remains of the sit-in: blankets, torn clothes and indistinguishable items, or parts of them, some of which choosy robabekya men (junk traders) scrutinized before collecting. 

Every now and then, my company would stop lamenting the events of August 14 and existence of Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and express their bewilderment at the virtually pristine condition Cook Door, a fast food restaurant in Raba’a, managed to stay in.  

Much like Raba’a, El Alf Maskan looked battered. During an attempt to launch a third sit-in the area, MB supporters clashed with security forces. The result was the combustion of innocent cars and the dismantling of sidewalks. Now piled up pieces of the sidewalk lie abandoned by the side of the road waiting for closure. 

Meanwhile, the Giza Governorate Complex caught fire, news which pleased my father for he thought that meant that the believed-to-be-responsible MB supporters have now “seized” the governorate. Already, my uncle was half-seriously entertaining thoughts of moving to the fledgling emirate. 

“For every action, there is a reaction,” my father explained time and time again. If el-Sisi thinks he can toppled the president, kill his supporters and get away with it, then he’s got another thing coming for him. Namely, the burning of churches and/or anything believed to have contributed to the coup, such as the house and farm of military-friendly and former Gamal Abdel Nasser’s good friend, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, in Belqas, Dakahlia. 

Like many Islamists, my company fluctuated from denying responsibility for the attacks to taking pride in them. One minute they blamed the conspiring Christians, “who caused this mess with the army,” for growing beards and burning their own churches to make it look as if Islamists were burning their churches and the next they reveled in the belief that the Islamists are and will continue to rightly burn churches to punish the people who tried to end Islam. 

Similarly, some in the anti-Morsi camp maintain that the Morsi supporters shot themselves to make it look as if the military killed protesters, when they are actually being shot at by protester-killing protesters. Such claims, no doubt, will be supported by a shaky video with an arrow or a red circle around some indiscernible yet revealing detail in the footage meant to give the attentive viewer a headache and allow the prejudiced viewer to sleep easy knowing that the video title is proven by that thing they didn’t actually see in the video, but must have been there, because otherwise the title would be wrong.