The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged chat with general
In Translation: Belal Fadl chats with a general

This translation of a column by Belal Fadl in El Shorouk newspaper is courtesy the professional translation service Industry Arabic

Chat with a Modern Major General

Belal Fadl

Sir Major General -- rather, sir Lieutenant General -- that is, sir General of the Army sir! [1] You majestic pillar of strength, you Colonel of distinction, Our Father, who art in all sorts of investigations and secret services… you really don’t realize what you’ve done to the country, do you?

To make a long story short -- and just in case you forgot, in your ecstasy over what you imagine to be a landslide victory --  there once was a failing gang who came into power [2]. They betrayed their promises, allied themselves with you, and I thought they would buy your satisfaction by leaving your special privileges just the way they are. This gang bit off more than they could chew, and acted like a man who hasn’t seen meat in a year - they took one look at power, and made a fool of themselves. So of course, they failed spectacularly. They went down in flames and the people rose up against them, demanding that the gang leave and early presidential elections be held, so they could choose someone more respectable and appoint him as president instead. But of course, you’ve conveniently forgotten the part about those early elections, and instead imposed a roadmap that guarantees your immediate control of the country. And you’ve brilliantly taken advantage of the Brotherhood’s appalling foolishness - all of it. First they offered you their necks - and they didn’t wake up until it was too late; meanwhile, you’re reaping the benefits of their crimes: their loathsome sectarian discourse; allowing armed men in their sit-ins; shouting words that they can't back up; and depending on people like Safwat Hegazi and Essam Abdel Maged, men who would cause civilization to sink entirely.

So after you won people over and they came out in the millions to remove this gang from power, instead of finishing up right and keeping your eye on the prize for the first time in your life… you decided to give this group CPR, so they could play the role of the oppressed, and gather their scattered members underground, just like in 1954 and 1965. And thanks to your politics, you’ll find that people will sympathize with them once again -- not out of love, but out of hatred, after their behinds are handed over to your men in the security headquarters, to be electrocuted once again.

Just as greed was the Brotherhood’s downfall, believe me - your policies will be your undoing. Your desire to take everything will lead you to lose everything. We will discover that an iron fist rules over this generation of revolutionaries, and they have turned a blind eye to it because they want to see where it will lead. Trust me, believe me, it’s not a misunderstanding; they are testing what you do. See how you decided to ruin that man with pure intentions, a stutter, and a clear stance [3] -- the one who agreed to work with you in hopes that you might have learned a lesson from those who came before you? And when he refused to do what you wanted, you mistreated him, forcing him to follow you. Even al-Azhar, which has consistently spoken about respect for you -- why did you circumvent it, cast it aside, and force it to issue a statement saying you didn’t consult their opinion on the massacre you committed… and as for the respectable people who agreed to work with you in government, you overpowered them, bullying them until they had second thoughts before taking a respectable position, and those thoughts multiplied a thousand times over. And of course, in the midst of all this, you are quite pleased with the media, working in your service, without thinking of the price society might pay for embracing hatred, violence, and anger, for vilifying others and accusing them of treason, for its lust for revenge.

Of course, you must feel quite safe sitting in the middle of your security, your servants, and your entourage, protecting yourselves and your children’s futures. Each of your men is protecting himself and his children’s futures; he does it in his own way, and with whatever it takes. In the end, it will be the average people who pay the price, the honorable citizens. Or to be more accurate: it will be the people you boast about when they join your ranks, and who you call fools as soon as they are against you. Because to you, they’re just numbers - just like to its leaders, the members of the Muslim Brotherhood are just numbers of martyrs and victims. Unfortunately, in the end it will be the little man -- the original inhabitant of Egypt  -- who pays the price, led by the officers and the army recruits. And on the day he is killed, they’ll come to have their photos taken at his funeral. They’ll use his blood to quash and suppress others, and to cover up your political failure. And in the end, unfortunately, no one will care about him other than his family and loved ones.

I can’t blame you if you don’t understand what you’ve done to this country - the consequences get more and more dire as you march on with the same policies. There are many people who have read countless books, and who have taken respectable positions their whole lives. We figured they were savvy intellectuals… but the most important men and women keep on applauding you. And making excuses for you, just as the generations of intellectuals before them applauded and justified the actions of those before you, and those before them. It must be said that the generations who have applauded before were much more cultured and talented… but applause hasn’t prevented us from stupidity, nor protected us from defeat, nor stopped the wheel of regression from spinning onward. If you’re pleased that the people whose phones you used to tap in the past have now opened up a hotline between you and them, you won’t be able to enjoy it for long, because this land is teeming with people, and even if they swallow bullshit when forced or tricked, you eventually discover that no people can live off bullshit. Because of this, you’ll be faced with it all again, until you or those after you have tamed them - or until those who come after them defeat you, and get this country its rights. It will all continue, again and again, until a majority of the people discover that we can be more pure and more beautiful without those who squander our freedoms and dignity, our principles and our humanity.

Of course, you don’t realize that while you’ve solved one problem, you’ve created more problems in its place. These problems are just beginning to take shape, problems that nourish injustice, bitterness, and vile hatred, problems that will blow up in all of our faces one of these days, and without warning. I hope it disturbs you and you alone - I’ve had it in for you. You’ve opened the gates of hell, thinking you wouldn’t burn -- because after all, hell’s flames don’t sear the devils who live there. But you don’t understand that once hell’s gates are opened on earth, the destiny of hell’s guardians is to burn -- no matter how much they think they are protected, or secure, or seated on an eternal air conditioner.

Finally, as our good friend Ibn Arous [4] said: “It is inevitable that on a given day, grievances will be redressed.” Many people thought that this day had arrived, but it turns out that it's still on its way. We will work for it, and we just might see it -- us, or those who come after us, or those who come after them. In the end, this day will come, because Egypt isn't going anywhere -- and Egypt is the only one among us that is everlasting.


1. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

2. The Muslim Brotherhood.

3. Mohamed ElBaradei.

4. Ibn ‘Arous is an Egyptian poet, though whether he was a real person or a fictional character is debated. The verse continues: “White on all the oppressed / Black on all the oppressors.”