Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Taking Revenge on Comedy and St Valentine’s Day | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Have the Islamists in Egypt embraced the concepts of revenge and reprisals? Are they seeking compensation for the torrid conditions they experienced under the Mubarak regime, which denied them the right to assert themselves and influence others?

It was expected that Egypt would witness heated debates at this moment in time, but they are not focusing on the best practices to offset the economic collapse that followed the January 25th Revolution, nor on ways to speed up the recovery process, nor on the peace agreement signed between Egypt and Israel more than three decades ago. Rather, current debates are focusing on a number of social and religious issues. Unfortunately, these controversies will cause the Egyptian fabric to disintegrate, transforming it into thin, frail threads, unless the Egyptians take heed.

Egyptian society is currently preoccupied with debates regarding the legitimacy of marking St. Valentine’s Day, and wearing red for the occasion. It is preoccupied with determining whether wearing a veil should be a religious obligation or an option, and whether or not women should shake hands with men. Maybe we will hear about record shops being set on fire in the near future. Some might even come out and label ancient Egyptian antiquities as idols, and suggest that they be destroyed, just like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

Does Egypt need these kinds of debates now? Will the Islamists – who have risen to power and control of the country at “no cost”, at the expense of the noble young revolutionaries – fall into the trap of dealing with doctrinal issues and attempting to impose their own beliefs on other people? There is no problem in addressing these issues through dialogue, because dialogue is the most successful method of interacting with and understanding others. The problem lies in forcefully imposing specific tendencies upon an assorted group of people. Democracy is like the moon, there is a bright side to it, which we all know, and a dark side to it as well. A striking illustration of the latter is currently occurring in Egypt, where the merits of democracy are being exploited to gain access to autocratic rule.

If the Islamists really want to go down that road, then they must do so honestly and explicitly, with all dimensions on show. They will have to take decisions by the majority of votes in parliament, a majority which they possess. These decisions will include prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol, closing down belly-dancing theatres, banning women from swimming in open areas, and imposing the veil as part of the official dress code. The Islamists must not select parts of their doctrine that they believe in, and leave out other parts. Otherwise, they would be imitating the Jews who believe in certain parts of the Torah and leave out other aspects.

As Egypt experiences these “hormonal” changes, the latest victim is Adel Imam, the well-known Egyptian comedian. It seems that a Salafi lawyer has been biding his time for 40 years to ultimately accuse Imam of contempt of Islam in his plays and films. It is as if Imam were an imposter who broke into the Arab Republic of Egypt on a tank, holding a gun to the head of the Egyptians and even the Arabs forcing them to watch his plays and movies throughout his entire career! But why wait so long? It would have been more befitting of this Salafi lawyer to carry out his Jihad during the era of the “unjust ruler”, as the Islamists perceived former President Mubarak, and declare war back then on Adel Imam and his comedy.

The fears of artists, writers and intellectuals were well founded when they recently announced that they would not accept any constraints on their freedom of expression, which they practice within the context of the law and the constitution. Indeed they expected certain foolish Islamists to clash with the people and their culture, after the Islamist bloc comfortably dominated the parliament. However, the Islamists only came to power in the People’s Assembly due to the cunningness of their leaders, and the quick salvaging of interests after ascertaining the validity and sincerity of the revolution. If it weren’t for those leaders, the results wouldn’t be as we see today, but choosing to clash with the people and their culture would be a foolish thing to do by any standard. It is the last thing Egypt needs amid the outrageous security breaches, poor economic situation and the challenges of a new reality.

The Islamic leadership in Egypt has only two options: Either it can decide to prove that its parties possess all the prerequisites of political governance, and that they are the right people for the job. This would make everyone wish that the revolution had erupted years ago and that the Islamists had secured a majority in parliament earlier, in order to sincerely serve the general welfare. On the other hand, the Islamists can continue to allow some of those who represent them to engage in minor battles over doctrinal matters, in order to create peripheral issues that divert people’s attention from the big challenges facing them, such as rising living costs and security. Such marginal issues would cause a lot of controversy and sever the ties unifying society. If the Islamists choose to do so, this would merely be a policy of divide-and-rule.