Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Egypt: Persecuting the stars! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A diplomat was stopped recently by Cairo Airport authorities, who wanted to x-ray his luggage. The diplomat refused, but his objections were unsuccessful, and the Egyptian authorities insisted that all luggage must undergo mandatory x-ray scans, regardless of the passenger’s diplomatic immunity, due to the exceptional circumstances in the country.

The inspectors discovered an ancient statue hidden in one of the suitcases, at a time when news was being circulated about valuable antiquities being stolen [from the Cairo Museum]. The customs officers requested the help of experts in the field of Pharaonic antiquities, who examined the statue in question. Afterwards, the experts assured the foreign diplomat that he could take back the statue, as it was not a genuine artifact. Upon hearing this, the diplomat almost fainted, and it became clear that he had purchased this statue for a huge amount of money, believing that it was a genuine artifact stolen in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution. As the realization that the statue he had purchased was a fake dawned on him, the diplomat refused to take back the statue and offered it to the custom officers, claiming that it was a donation to the Egyptian people, in appreciation of their recent revolution!

How many people these days are trying to peddle fake statues as genuine articles?

We have heard a lot of people falsely proclaiming their innocence; meanwhile the Egyptian arena is full of those competing to claim responsibility for the 25 January revolution. We also hear accusations being leveled against media representatives, artists, athletes, businessmen, and of course politicians, claiming that they are symbols of the former regime. We must remember here that thousands of such people were indeed part of the official state apparatus, or at least interacted with it – such as singers, writers, donators and public speakers – however when we see such people today accusing each other of betrayal, they are doing so either to settle old scores, or to make opportunistic gains.

I do not understand how a footballer can be branded a traitor, just because he was a star during the reign of Mubarak. I do not understand how singers, who once competed to be given the honor of singing at a state performance, can discard their own history and today attempt to discredit one another for involvement with the former regime. I am aware that attempts to retaliate and exclude [from power] are natural revolutionary by-products, but the revolution we are currently witnessing is a far less radical change than the 1952 revolution. This transformed Egypt from a monarchy into a republic, severing all ties with the previous system, and branding it as an “enemy”, culturally, intellectually and politically. Even during that period of total change – after the monarchy had been overthrown and the Free Officers came to power – the stars of the monarchist era became the stars of the revolutionary era, in all fields except perhaps politics. Actors, authors, musicians, composers, and other key cultural figures remained prominent following the revolution. Egyptian singer Um Kalthoum, who was known as a symbol of the Egyptian monarchy and famously sang for King Farouk, later sang revolutionary sons. She remained extremely popular, and her songs continued to command air-time, even the songs that referenced the monarchy, such as “Ya Laylat al-Eid” [the night of Eid] – although after the revolution King Farouk’s name was omitted from this song. Her performances were attended by the late President Gamal Abdul Nasser who awarded her a number of civilian honors. In fact Egypt’s Nasser-era national anthem, “Walla Zaman Ya Selahi” was most famously sung by her. In addition to Um Kalthoum, Egyptian singer Mohamed Abdel Wahab, reportedly one of King Farouk’s favorite singers, continued to be popular after the revolution.

This was a country that used to say “the king is dead, long live the king” however now, when there is no king, it is completely abhorrent to punish stars for their affiliated to a former regime, particularly as the majority of stars in Egyptian society merely submitted to the conditions of the era that they lived in, they did not become singers, actors, and athletes by presidential decree. A footballer, for instance, becomes famous because he scores goal, not because the president chooses him to play in the team. Similarly, a singer becomes popular because millions of fans choose to listen to their music, not because the president has appointed them to sing. These celebrities gained their popularity from the general public, and so it was natural for them to be invited to dine with the heads of state. Regarding the stars who did not appear at such dinners, either they were not invited, or they had adopted an opposing political stance, this latter category being something of a rarity.