The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged in translation
In Translation: Western superiority and Arab denial (Part 1)

In a long two-part article, the prominent Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel has written an epic rant about how badly off the Arab world is and how incapable it is of facing its own shortcomings. I'm not sure what triggered the timing, but it is probably related to the collective hand-wringing about the state of the region, and the Syrian calamity in particular, that the picture of Aylan al-Kurdi and thousands of other refugees from Syria has triggered. Much like some segments of the Western press about the West's response, there has been much questioning as to whether enough is being done for Syria by Arabs. (Of course, there has also been much opportunistic blame-shifting by the various sides of the Syrian war.) 

Al-Dakheel's jeremiad, an increasingly common type of article by Arab intellectuals in these dark ages (although one could trace the style, at least, to Sadik al-Azm's Self-Criticism After the Defeat), is about something more general, though. It appears as an exasperated antidote to the widespread strain of fuzzy, conspiratorial, delusional and self-aggrandizing rhetoric that dominates so much of public discourse in the region. It has little interest in focusing on the colonial and neo-imperial roots of the Middle East's troubles, seeing them as a way to deflect responsibility for Arab countries' and societies' faults and choices. Yet in its flattering (and somewhat provocative) assessment of Western superiority, it still remains trapped in the us-versus-them logic that it decries as so poisonous. This is part I of his article published in al-Hayat, part II will be published on Wednesday.

Brought to you, as always, by the excellent professional translation team of Industry Arabic

Western Superiority and Arab Denial

Khaled al-Dakheel, Al-Hayat, 30 August 2015 

Most Arabs and Muslims will not grant that the West’s civilization is superior. They will admit that it is more technologically or materially advanced, but they deny that the West has achieved any cultural or ethical advance or superiority. There is a half-deliberate, half-incidental disregard for the West’s political and legal achievements, which are sometimes dismissed by referring to the contradictions that seem to undermine their foundation. This is abundantly clear when we hear acknowledgements of the West’s tremendous industrial capabilities alongside descriptions of its cultural decadence and lack of moral discipline. Most currents and schools of thought in the Arab world agree on this point, even if they differ in their explanations, descriptions and details. None of them have ever asked themselves: Could a decadent and morally undisciplined culture have provided the basis for tremendous industrial capabilities? Maybe for this reason time will show that the Arab-Islamic attitude toward the West is mistaken in its outlook, justifications and conclusions. This attitude reveals that the Arab-Islamic perspective (with the possible exceptions of Malaysia and Indonesia) continues to be in thrall to a past that could only ever be resurrected through destructive means. But its error is even more dangerous than that, because it expresses a civilizational impotence and exhaustion more than it expresses any coherent political stance, civilizational vision, or alternative civilizational project. The greatest evidence of the incoherence and injustice of this vision is that you find Baathists, Nasserists, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, nationalists and leftists all joining together to mock the West, deride its ethical incoherence and despise or disregard its political achievements. This comes at a high cost, because it does not reflect a real consensus as much as it represents an empty opportunism void of political substance and the least amount of moral probity.

This attitude brings together such disparate figures as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammed al-Julani, head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is incidentally also the Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Syria Region). Ranged alongside them are other figures who have since left this world, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Abdel Nasser, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif, and many more. They are also joined by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs and sheikhs from various other schools of thought. Lately Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi has joined the list as well. What is striking – and significant – is that whereas they concur in this coarse opportunism, they disagree on everything else. They are engaged in brutal, bloody clashes on the battlefields of religious wars in Iraq and Syria, fighting on the basis of a sectarianism that they have no shame in avowing.

Consider with me this landscape that has now prevailed for more than a century: political leaders, religious clerics, intellectuals, journalists, religious thinkers, artists, and different schools of thought relentlessly mock the West and downplay its civilizational superiority without offering an alternative. Instead, their own views always lead to infighting and wars between them, or to justifications for endless wars and battles. What is strange is this seeming consensus to disparage the West and its civilizational achievement has never bolstered what they call the “united [Arab-Islamic] front,” but rather has always led to fissures and disintegration. Ironically, it always increases the pretexts for war and strife between these factions, which still never tire of their superior attitude. The more they mock the West, the more their disputes and divisions escalate. How strange is it that the more they mock, the more the mockers have cause to fight one another! What does this mean? Before you answer, consider these three points: first, in most countries, the Arab Spring (which cannot be said to have ended) has turned into a gelid and deadly Arab Autumn or even Winter. This outcome has seemed to many an occasion to revisit conspiratorial thinking about plots to divide the region – as if the Middle East were a dish of chocolate or fruit just waiting to be divvied up from the outside. Was Muammar Gaddafi part of the conspiracy to divide Libya? Is Bashar al-Assad a part of the current conspiracy to divide Syria? Are Ali Abdullah Saleh and Abdullah al-Houthi part of a conspiracy to divide Yemen? You will not find an answer to this among conspiracy theorists. Not because there is not an answer, but because like those who mock, they are preoccupied with pinning the conspiracy on the West. The conspiracy is comforting and it relieves them from the difficulties of analysis, painful self-reflection and accepting responsibility.

The second point is that the people most committed to and loudest in their mockery, disparagement and resistance to the West are the most politically backwards, the most sectarian, and the most brutal against Arabs and Muslims – and in particular, toward the people that they themselves belong to and govern. Leave ISIS aside for the moment, since that is a self-evident example. There is an example older than ISIS that is similar to it and which paved the way for its emergence, an example that combined these qualities of mockery of the West, sectarianism and brutality: the Syrian regime itself. Since 1963, the feature that has most distinguished this regime has been combining brutality with mockery of the West, while claiming to resist the West. It is no surprise then that Syria’s current president led Syria to the most vicious civil war in its history. After the death of 300,000 people, and the displacement of more than half of the Syrian population, Bashar al-Assad has the gall to claim that he is fighting terrorism. In the same context, you find Hezbollah – which is the loudest proponent of “resistance” – to be the most drenched in the blood of Arabs and Muslims in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, while it is trying to do the same in Bahrain and Yemen as well. Who is trying to divide Syria in this case? Russia? The Americans? The EU? Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey? Or is it Iran and its Shiite militias? Or the leadership of the Syrian regime itself and its foreign and domestic allies?

The third point is that the vast majority of Arab migrants who are fleeing Arab civil wars do not go to other Arab countries or to Iran. Could you imagine Syrian refugees going to Iran, especially when most of them are Sunni, not Shiite? In the same way, could you imagine Shiite refugees from Iraq or Alawites from Syria going to Jordan or Saudi Arabia? When some refugees went to Jordan and Lebanon, it was a textbook example of a hostile reception, bad housing and lack of services, alongside a loss of dignity and rights. This is despite the fact that the Arabs talk most of “dignity,” rather than rights, and despite the fact that the “Party of Resistance” – whose supporters found a generous welcome in Syria in 2006 – dominates Lebanon. Do you see the irony (according to the logic of Arab-Islamic mockery of the West) in the fact that Syrian refugees in Turkey, Europe and the US are much better off?

These points clearly show that mockery of the West and disparagement of its superiority are a flight from reality and a shameful self-justification and excuse for an inability to succeed. It is an excuse for bigotry, religious obscurantism and sectarianism – and first and foremost, for authoritarianism. Over time, this mockery and disparagement has turned into a political and ideological mechanism for reproducing an outworn and obsolete culture that props up authoritarianism and incubates authoritarianism’s fellow henchman: sectarianism. What is unclear is how this mockery of the West and disparagement of its superiority turned into a civilizational complex that over time has become an insurmountable obstacle for the Arab themselves. In next week’s article, I will try to answer that question.

Links March 14-20 2015
In Translation: Standing on Saddam's Grave

Courtesy our friends at Industry Arabic -- a professional translation service that can fulfill your every Arabic need -- a column on the battle to liberate Tikrit from ISIS, Iran's prominent role there, and the way it may undermine the fragile equilibrium in Iraq. 

Suleimani, on Saddam's Grave

By Ghassan Charbel

El Hayat, 12 March

ISIS is a cancer that can only be treated by excision. Its removal is a patriotic, national and humanitarian duty. Successful treatment to ensure that a relapse will not occur requires involving the community that it has infiltrated in uprooting it, and insulating this community against ISIS' lies and claims. It is not out of place at this juncture to consider in advance what the patient’s condition will be after the malicious tumor is removed.

It is not insignificant for ISIS to control Tikrit, a city with much resonance in recent Iraqi history -- not because Saddam Hussein’s tomb is in the nearby village of Awja, but because it is symbolic of the Sunni Arab role in Iraq. The Iraqi government could not leave Tikrit in the hands of ISIS, but the conditions of the current surgery raise concerns that if Tikrit falls into the hands of its attackers – which is the necessary outcome – this could lead to the collapse of balance required for Iraq to remain united and part of the Arab world.

These concerns would not have been prompted if the Iraqi army was the one leading the charge to retake Tikrit and had adopted measures to quell the concerns of the inhabitants of Anbar, Saladin and Nineveh. But what is happening now is that “popular mobilization” is playing the main role in combating ISIS, and “mobilization” means an alliance of Shiite militias. The attack is also marked by an American refusal to provide air cover and an increasing tendency by Iran to openly admit that it is managing the campaign.

Iran has intervened in the countries of the region over the past two decades and has skillfully found many covers for this activity. What is remarkable in recent weeks is that Tehran has openly avowed these interventions through images of General Qassem Suleimani in the field in both Iraq and Syria and statements by Iranian officials about their solid influence in four Arab countries, not to mention talk about the Mandab Strait and an entrenched presence on the Mediterranean.

Why has Tehran abandoned its previous reserve? Does it wish to say that it has seized its regional role in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen before any potential nuclear agreement with the US has been signed? Does it wish to make decisive changes that cannot be reversed? Does it wish to signal that the above countries are a vital extension of Iran and that the inhabitants of the region ought to get used to seeing Iranian generals left and right? Does it wish to unequivocally declare what it used to whisper to its visitors, which is that it is not just an important country in the region, but the most important country? And that the most important country has the right to recalibrate the balances in the region in a manner that accords with its new role? It is not a trivial matter for Ali Shamkhani to be declaring that Iran has prevented the fall of Baghdad, Erbil and Damascus.

To return to Iraq, this past January in Baghdad and Erbil I heard people expressing concern that Sunni Arabs will be the biggest loser in the war to eliminate ISIS. The war is being fought in their areas, with all that entails in terms of death, destruction and displacement. However, there was a belief that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was interested in convincing Sunni Arabs of the legitimacy of the fight before going to battle in their strongholds. There were also those who believed that the American role would moderate the Iranian conduct of this war. Because of fears that the spirit of revenge would break out, Ayatollah al-Sistani repeated calls to avoid vengeance and even to arm the Sunni tribes that were willing to take part in the war.

There is no doubt that we are at juncture that will be decisive for Iraq, decisive for its internal equilibrium and decisive as well for its future position. Clearly, roles are being drawn in blood. The most dangerous thing that could happen is for the current battle to be seen as marking the final loss of the country’s internal balance and the increased marginalization of Sunni Arabs. If that happens, it would expose Iraq to future turmoil. The previous victory over al-Qaeda evaporated due to infighting, which gave ISIS the chance to infiltrate wide swathes of Iraq. Refusing to recognize the necessary conditions for a real national reconciliation threatens a repetition of the same deadly mistakes. It is the end of a turbulent era for Iraq. Recall, dear reader, that the Iraqi army invaded Iran in 1980, and it was a long, destructive war that ended with a ceasefire and the “poisoned cup.” That Iraq is gone and shall not return. Even the Iraq that was born out of the American invasion seems transitional. We are on the way to a new Iraq, and to a new region. And to conflicts that may be more dangerous than policies of invasion and encirclement.

I called an Iraqi friend to ask questions and verify things. He said that the current surgery poses great risk to Iraq and to relations between its Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish components. He also said that the fall of Tikrit was a major event by every measure, even if Qassem Suleimani had not come forward to stand on Saddam Hussein’s grave to announce the end of one era and the start of another.

In Translation: Belal Fadl on Egypt becoming "A Nation of Snitches"

Belal Fadl, an Egyptian screenwriter and columnist who has continued to speak his mind on the brutality and hypocrisy of the country's military regime, has published a five-part series with the news site Mada Masr on the history of domestic espionage in Egypt. Our good friends at the professional translation service Industry Arabic have translated the final installment in the series; the earlier ones are available in Arabic on the Mada site. 

Egypt: The Nation of Snitches Makes a Comeback. Is Sisi Fulfilling Nasser’s Dream of Turning All Citizens into Informers?

When a ruler depends solely on the power of oppression and completely impedes rational thinking, he no longer concerns himself with ensuring that there is an informant for every citizen.  Rather, he seeks to drive each and every citizen to become an informant of his or her own volition.

Some weeks ago, Abdel Rahman Zaidan, coordinator of the Revolutionaries Front in East Cairo, published a testimony on his Facebook page that soon became widely shared.  In this testimony, Abdel Rahman states that as he was riding a microbus [shared taxi-van] home, he was surprised to hear a middle-aged woman begin to fiercely criticize Sisi, the current government, and the Interior Ministry, much to the shock of those riding in the microbus with her.  One of the other passengers, encouraged by what the woman was saying, joined her in openly attacking Sisi, the government, and the Interior Ministry. Before Abdel Rahman could join the discussion, the woman suddenly asked the driver to pull over next to a church along the way.  As soon as the microbus stopped, the woman stuck her head out the window and called to the church guards, shouting, “Save me! There’s a Muslim Brotherhood terrorist in the microbus!” The guards rushed over, began beating the young man who had criticized Sisi, and pulled him from the microbus. The woman also got out of the microbus in order to accompany them and to testify to the heinous act that the young man had committed. She shot a sharp glance back at the other passengers, as if defying them to intervene, and stated proudly, “We’re cleaning up this country!” The remaining passengers, shocked at what had happened, sat frozen in their seats as the microbus drove away. Abdel Rahman concludes his testimony by advising his colleagues – who are busy defending their comrades who are among the students who have been detained, providing for their needs, and publicizing their cases – to refrain from talking about politics on public transportation in order to focus their efforts on what is most important. He urges them to avoid falling into this new security trap, set to ensnare anyone who expresses opposition to what is happening in Egypt.

Unfortunately, the woman from the microbus probably didn’t become an informer and begin to trick microbus passengers in order to hand them over to the police because she was recruited by one of the security bodies. Rather, I believe that she did this because she felt a sense of responsibility to protect her country, which drove her to participate in “purging” Egypt of the traitors who are ostensibly obstructing the country’s progress and undermining its stability. It should not be forgotten that this phenomenon emerged nearly a year and a half ago, when the state announced the establishment of telephone hotlines and urged “honorable citizens” to use them to report neighbors and acquaintances belonging to or supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. Following the Rabaa massacre, the regime’s wanton incitement of “honorable citizens” expanded to target those who have been labeled in the media as “the fifth column,” including all who object to the foolish and violent manner in which the country has been managed, even if they are opposed the Muslim Brotherhood. In order to understand what would drive an ordinary person to act as the woman from the microbus did, we must take into account the vast number of radio and television programs that host supposed strategic and security experts and indomitable presenters who constantly advise millions of citizens – just like the woman from the microbus – not to hesitate to inform the police of anyone seeking to undermine the Egyptian state, and claiming that any citizen who fails to do so will be an accomplice in such crimes. Since this incitement began, we have heard of appalling incidents in which family members, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues have reported each other to the police, including an incident in which a mother turned in her son and insisted that he be detained because of his affiliation with the April 6 movement. Most recently, some “court” sheikhs issued fatwas claiming that it is the duty of believers to report even their family members if they are found to be plotting against the Egyptian state. The language used in these fatwas is vague enough that it may be stretched to include anything from creating bombs to speaking ill of the mothers of state officials.

In considering all of this, we must ask ourselves an important question: Would any Egyptian citizen feel shame at turning in a loved one to the police for being an Israeli spy?  Of course not -- in such a case, any Egyptian citizen would feel proud to have carried out his or her duty to protect the country.  As such, why should Egyptian citizens not feel the same pride at turning in an individual – whether a relative or a stranger – for criticizing Abdel Fattah el-Sisi while using public transportation, sitting in a café, or even attending a private gathering?  Has the media – with all its announcers, experts, writers, and intellectuals, including many who fiercely opposed Mubarak and who were major figures of the revolution – not convinced the average Egyptian citizen that (as Sisi himself put it) there is a vast international conspiracy seeking to overthrow the Egyptian state and to divide the Egyptian people from the army and the police? Why, then, do citizens wait to catch their relatives, neighbors, or friends red-handed, holding explicit proof of their direct involvement in espionage? Are Egyptian citizens still not convinced that there is something called fourth generation warfare, and that all those who engage in criticism, sarcasm or opposition are participants in this war? Do our citizens still not see that this war is no less serious than the wars that use tanks and planes? Why, then, should not each citizen become a soldier in the defense of his country, to the best of his ability? Why don’t we consider that every microbus, every café and every home has become a battlefront, in which we should strike down the traitors who plot against Egypt?  Why don’t we see that these plots begin with mere insults, even if it has been scientifically proven that “insults don’t stick”?

In the four previous parts of this article, we surveyed the documents of the vanguard organization presented by Dr. Hamada Hosni in his book Abdel Nasser and the Clandestine Vanguard Organization. Perhaps through this survey it has become clear that this disturbing approach is not a recent product of the difficult days we are currently living. Rather, it began early on, when Gamal Abdel Nasser decided that his hold on power in Egypt would not be consolidated unless he completely co-opted the political sphere. As a result, he abolished the multiparty system and established a shadowy political entity known as the Arab Socialist Union to monopolize all political activity in Egypt. Nasser went on to nationalize the press, thus ensuring that the only narrative heard in Egypt would be his own. All who dared to oppose, criticize, or accuse Nasser of injustice faced direct harassment and abuse. Viewing the state’s formidable security and intelligence bodies as insufficient, Nasser added to their ranks his clandestine vanguard organization. This organization incorporated the elite writers, intellectuals, artists, and politicians of the time, who of their own volition went from being leading shapers of public opinion to filing intelligence reports. Of course, Nasser was unable to achieve all of this until after he had convinced the Egyptian citizenry – via intensive media and instructional campaigns – that democracy, parliamentary life, multiparty politics, transfer of power, and freedom of the press are all dangerous concepts that would impede Egypt’s progress and play into the hands of imperialist states seeking to control the country.

In light of such a toxic environment, it is not surprising that the members of Nasser’s vanguard organization resorted to filing reports on their relatives, friends, and colleagues without experiencing the least bit of guilt. On the contrary, they felt pride at having played a role in protecting their country from its enemies and traitors. Let us consider, for instance, the testimony provided by Samy Sharaf, one of the leaders of this vanguard organization, after he was arrested in the context of the events of 15 May 1971, when Anwar al-Sadat purged Nasser’s supporters who were impeding his control of the country. These events, known as the Corrective Revolution, were referred to in the media at the time as “honorable.” Over the years this turned into something of a joke, particularly after the 15 May Bridge – named after this revolution – became more well-known among Egyptians than the revolution itself.

In the interrogation report published in Dr. Hamada Hosni’s book, Samy Sharaf breaks down and provides information about the head of the vanguard organization, Ali Sabry, claiming that he had insulted President Sadat using profane language. Sharaf denies accusations that he himself had opposed Sadat, saying that he considers Sadat’s leadership to be the natural continuation of Nasser’s legacy, as he knows that Sadat had been chosen by Nasser to succeed him. In order to absolve himself of the accusation that he had been closely linked to Shaarawy Gomaa, the Minister of Interior and one of the most prominent leaders of the vanguard organization, Sharaf emphatically states in the interrogation report that “personally and in my work, I never did anything except follow the orders of the president and uphold moral principles, even if this raised personal conflicts. For example, despite my presence in this workplace, I myself reported two of my brothers. One of them was a police officer and belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, so I reported that he was a dangerous member of the Brotherhood, and he was transferred to the provinces. The other one was an officer in the armed forces, and I reported him to the president himself, saying that he had undertaken communications with other officers, and that these communications were considered to be damaging to the safety and security of the country. This second brother was arrested and remained in detention until President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered his release without my knowledge. This happened because President Nasser assigned Mr. Mohammed Ahmed to release him, in agreement with Shams Badran at the time, and to find work for him. When I learned of this, I objected, so Mr. Mohammed Ahmed told me, ‘You don’t have the right to object, because these are the orders of the president.’”

If you were to ask Samy Sharaf today about what he said in this interrogation, do you think that he would show any remorse for this surprising stance of out-Nassering Nasser himself and objecting to the president’s having obtained employment for his brother after releasing him? We should note that Nasser would not have done so unless he was sure that Sharaf’s brother did not represent a threat to his regime. If this had been the case, Sharaf’s brother would have faced real punishment, as occurred to others who were detained, killed, or prevented from working. Indeed, even Nasser’s comrades who had risked their lives to overthrow King Farouk were not spared from such punishment. Instead of feeling remorse at what he did, Samy Sharaf would likely display pride – the same pride shown by the woman from the microbus who turned in the man riding next to her. Both of these individuals would accuse you, albeit each in their own way, of lacking patriotism because you fail to understand the satisfaction of rising above all worldly and human ties in order to become a soldier in the fight against the enemies of the nation, even if these enemies turn out to be the closest people to you – whether members of your family, colleagues at work, or passengers next to you on the microbus.

Surely, Samy Sharaf’s two brothers were more fortunate than many who did not enjoy Nasser’s favor and thus receive lesser punishments. Others who experienced injustice under the Nasser regime found that some among the leadership of the vanguard organization volunteered to report these injustices and to demand redress for them. Yet this was always done in a manner that placed the goals of the vanguard organization above all other considerations, even if the result was further injustice. Here, we should consider the report sent directly to Nasser by Ibrahim Eltahawy, a member of the vanguard organization, in which he speaks of “a self-sacrificing man whose devotion knows no limits, who rejects the world and delves into knowledge, who burns with devotion to his country and love for Your Excellency.”  The man described in this report is none other than Dr. Yousef Wali, Professor of Agriculture at Ain Shams University. Wali later became Mubarak’s longstanding Minister of Agriculture, pioneered agricultural normalization with Israel, and was responsible – according to the testimony of respected experts – for the systematic destruction of Egyptian agriculture, although this case has not been seriously investigated to this day. After describing Wali in such glowing terms, Eltahawy begins to review a number of reports written by Wali for the vanguard organization regarding the details of a two-week trip to the United States that he had taken at the invitation of an American university.  Among these reports was a report about Egyptians living in the United States who had previously been detained on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and who, after their release, had fled to the United States to escape further security persecution. When these Egyptians met Yousef Wali, they expressed that they would be willing to provide Egypt with all of the knowledge they had obtained and to return to Egypt to offer all that they could from their expertise, if not for their fear of arrest.

Rather than objecting to the injustice that these Egyptian citizens had faced and that prevented them from returning to their own country – and that also prevented their country from benefiting from their knowledge and experience – Eltahawy’s report (also published in Dr. Hamada Hosni’s book) merely asks Nasser, “Why lose them?” In addition, instead of proposing guarantees to allow these individuals to return safely to Egypt, the report suggests that they should remain abroad. It proposes that a top secret office be established within the presidency “to communicate with them, to obtain their information and experiences, and to assign them specific research of interest to Egypt in America’s laboratories, without requiring that we take on the difficulties and costs of such studies. The mission of these individuals should be to obtain whatever scientific secrets they can, whether industrial, agricultural, or chemical, and to study the work methods that lead to success, and then to return to translate and transfer all the knowledge that they have obtained into the service of their country. The countries that should be focused on are the United States, Russia, West Germany, Japan, China, and France.”  The report further suggests that a committee be formed between Dr. Yousef Wali and the Minister of Scientific Research, Dr. Ahmed Mostafa, to personally study the matter in secret.  Eltahawy’s report does not mention what measures should be taken to engage officials in the countries to which Egypt would send delegates in order to convince them to provide these delegates with their countries’ most highly prized scientific secrets. Nor does Eltahawy note that the “delegates” who were leaving Egypt were not returning in the first place, as they found in developed countries the freedom, dignity, independence, and other necessary conditions for a humane existence that the Nasser regime viewed as luxuries. Indeed, the Nasser regime considered that Egypt could do without such “luxuries” if the leader so wished, as the leader’s will supposedly embodied the will of the people. As is reflected in the sad state of scientific research in Egypt today, however, Nasser was not interested in establishing such a scientific intelligence body made up of Egyptian delegates living abroad. Instead, Nasser was interested in catching those conducting espionage within the country, in order to consolidate his rule and establish his legacy as the leader who would drive Israel into the sea and unite the Arab nation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Sea.

Let us now move beyond all the distressing details that we have surveyed in the previous installments of this series, in order to return to contemplate the authoritarian way of thinking that remains entrenched in the political and intellectual life of Egyptians to this day. Despite our acknowledgment of this authoritarian mentality, we still wonder why we have not as advanced  as other peoples who started out on the road toward progress later than Egypt. As we conclude our discussion, we should note the significance of the founding of the vanguard organization, as its guiding philosophy continues to dominate Egypt to this day. Moreover, many of the individuals belonging to this organization continue to corrupt political life in Egypt.  Let us read a momentous text from the minutes of the second preparatory meeting for the vanguard organization, convened on 10 March 1957. Both the text of the minutes and a copy of a photograph of this meeting have been published by Dr. Hamada Hosni in the appendix of his book. In these documents, we are able to see that the leader never ceases to sing the praises of the people, even as he secretly explains the dangerous philosophy that he follows in ruling the country: “It is a well-known fact that Egyptian society is corrupt, and that it has a tendency towards corruption. When the constitution was established, the situation in Portugal was taken into consideration. What was required was not the organization of the party, nor did we ask how to organize the party. Rather, what was required was to discover how to recruit the country, how to recruit the people, and how to communicate with the popular authorities in order for us to move the country forward. It had been noted that we would have to build strong individuals, for any structure not based on individuals will be considered a failure. Thus, what is required is that we build up individuals, that we build contacts, that we link the people with popular leadership, and that we move the people to adopt the philosophy of this leadership. Every individual among the people must consider himself to be a recruit of this call.”

Admittedly, Gamal Abdel Nasser was able to push Egypt to take some steps in the direction of progress, and it cannot be denied that Egypt continues to benefit from the economic and social advances that were achieved during his rule. However, even if Nasser did understand the real meaning of the statement that “any political entity not based on individuals will be considered a failure,” he regrettably dealt with individuals as mere numbers making up “totals” – as anonymous numbers which do not have the right to choose or to refuse, to object or to think.  Nasser dealt with the citizen as a brick which does not have the right to object to the place where it is laid by the master architect within the building of the nation.  This same mentality was similarly followed by all regimes that crushed the freedoms of the individual for the sake of “higher” and “greater” purposes. Indeed, these regimes built a “popular structure” which appeared great and mighty from the outside, but whose fragile hollowness was not made evident until the country faced serious challenges, whereupon it precipitously collapsed, leaving everyone to pay the price – including those who willingly relinquished their freedoms, believing that by doing so they were protecting their country from enemies and traitors who may be as close as friends, relatives, neighbors, and even fellow passengers on the microbus.


Albert Einstein – God bless him – defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  And I think if you asked him to define filth, he would say that it is repression: a repression that labels as traitors all those who warn the people of the danger of repeating the same actions that have led to their defeat in the past, expecting that these actions will somehow lead them to victory now. It’s like expecting milk from an ant’s…well, let’s just say from an ant. [The expression “getting milk from an ant’s c#nt” means attempting the impossible]. 

In Translation: Think it over, judges!

There have been several examples in the Egyptian press lately of extremely belated hand-wringing. Now Lamis Elhadidy -- a former media advisor to Hosni Mubarak, fierce supporter of President El Sisi and talk show who host who has featured many times in our Egypt in TV columns -- comes out and says it: Some of the recent judicial rulings are not very beneficial to the country. She asks judges, with all due respect, to "reflect" a little more. Given how much Elhadidy has acted as a mouthpiece for the post-June 30 regime, it's fair to assume that this is a message. We bring you this latest entry in our In Translation series as always courtesy of Industry Arabic, a great professional translation service. 

The Judges

Lamis Elhadidy, El Masry El Youm, June 30

I choose my words carefully before talking about the judiciary. It is an emotional topic, and any unconsidered approach may be understood incorrectly or expose one to accusations of insulting the judiciary, wanting to politicize the institution, or “lacking patriotism," alongside other prefabricated charges.

But honesty requires that we do not shy away from speaking the truth, nor fear blame. I hold great respect for the judiciary and its officials; I am certain of the lofty position that it has occupied throughout Egypt’s political history, and that it is one of the few institutions that stood steadfastly against attempts at encroachment from various political regimes. However, those within the judiciary themselves may need to pause in order to frankly and honestly analyze the results of recent rulings and their influence on the path of the nation as a whole.

An independent judiciary, whose independence we all defend, does not imply that the institution is separate from the nation, or that it operates on an island with no connection to what is going on around it, in terms of international repercussions, challenges, or ambushes. An independent judiciary means that the institution does not experience any form of pressure from other branches of the government, especially the executive branch, and that the judge rules from his stand justly and according to the law -- the law that was promulgated in order to administer justice, set the scales, and reform society, not handicap it.

With this in mind, the judiciary's wise and senior figures must pause and evaluate some of the most recent rulings and their influence on the nation’s path. Egypt is facing ambushes both domestically and internationally, and they must consider how—unfortunately—some of these rulings have obstructed our path, to the extent that these rulings have even been employed by enemies to fuel denunciation and intensify international hostility toward the June 30th Revolution and the new Egyptian regime. All of this comes in addition to the heavy financial losses that we have suffered.

The rulings to renationalize companies that were privatized decades ago and the resulting legal cases cost billions of dollars in international arbitration. The death sentence rulings [of hundreds of alleged Muslim Brotherhood members, tried en masse] were immediately appealed by the public prosecutor, but their impact remains ineradicable as they formed the largest concurrent batch of death sentence rulings in human history. And -- despite my absolute disapproval of Al-Jazeera’s approach and the poisonous lies that it broadcasted -- the case of the Al-Jazeera journalists is also one of the rulings that have created disastrous international consequences for Egypt. Every bit of progress that we make on the diplomatic and popular front takes place through great pains; every constitutional and electoral mandate proves that the path of June 30 is our goal. And then these rulings come along and drag us two steps backward. Then we begin the series of justifications and explanations, affirming that the judiciary is not politicized, that there are other stages of litigation, and that there is no intention to suppress opponents, silence them, or otherwise.

We have failed – and I mean that we have all failed -- to explain the grounds of these rulings or the reasons behind them sufficiently to convince the world of their logic. It appeared to the world as though we have a unique judicial system with no relation to the global system, which is no longer acceptable internationally. Egypt cannot live divorced from international law.

The results are not only catastrophic on a political level, in that they result in the judiciary being charged with politicization, silencing or oppressing the Muslim Brotherhood; on a material level as well this is not sustainable, as we have no means to pay back the billions incurred by arbitration. In any case, it is difficult, or rather impossible, to implement the rulings to renationalize companies that have been sold a number of times. If the official does not carry out the ruling — a ruling that cannot be executed — then he ends up in jail!! As a result, the government was forced to introduce a law to circumvent those rulings instead of litigating them, by prohibiting appeals of state contracts by third parties.

Now, we have to speak the truth. These rulings, despite their enormous impact, are few in number within the long history of Egypt’s judiciary. Its leaders were known across the Arab world as pillars of the law. They wrote the constitutions of Arab countries, neighboring nations such as Turkey, and others. The men of the Egyptian judiciary stood firmly in the way of attempts at tyranny and domination that spanned decades, most recently during the era of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus it is not shameful or wrong for them to pause to reflect if they sense the danger that threatens the state as a result of these rulings. They are part of a community that wants to move forward and evolve, not decline.

On the other hand, we have to find solutions to the horde of issues and poor conditions under which judges operate. We must amend the laws and toughen punishments for anyone who submits a malicious complaint and wastes the time of the prosecution and judicial bodies. The guaranteed right to litigation must be paralleled by proper exercise of this right so as not to squander time that we do not have.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi pledged not to interfere in judicial affairs and he acknowledges this as an important principle at the beginning of his rule. However, this does not mean that those within the judiciary should not do some reflection. We want the judiciary to remain lofty and not be taken advantage of by the enemies lying in ambush for us on all sides.