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Egypt: Purification and circumcision! - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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I am filled with great wonder and amazement, as well as sadness and irony, just like many others, when I observe the violent demonstrations, protests and threats launched by Hazem Abu Ismail and his supporters in various parts of Egypt. They have carried out assaults and threatened media representatives, slandering and defaming them, labelling them as infidels and besieging their premises. They have also acted likewise against several political parties, setting fire to their headquarters. We have seen the emergence of wondrous slogans such as “purify the media” and “purify the judiciary”, chanted repeatedly by Abu Ismail and his adherents. Yet Hazem himself had to withdraw from the Egyptian presidential race because his mother’s US citizenship violated the conditions of his nomination (an issue Abu Ismail continues to deny, despite all the evidence and official documents provided).

What is happening in Egypt at the hands of Hazem Abu Ismail’s supporters, under their different guises, has nothing to do with the concept of peaceful demonstration as recognized by civilized countries. This is because their acts involve threats, slander and impede the work of a large number of people. This all is happening amidst the astonishment of the public and the dubious silence of the state, which considers this man and his group as “allies”.

Purification is an admirable concept with which people can perform good deeds. It stems from the word ‘pure”; a state desired by all religions and customs. Yet this noble “slogan” is currently being applied by force in Egypt, and by people who lack any official capacity.

The current call for “purification” in Egypt has an aggressive and violent undertone and is completely distant from the climate of dialogue, consensus and moderation. It does not promote the common ground on which the post-revolution state can be built, with modern institutions to stabilize the country.

Such behaviour, with all its recklessness, violence and authoritarian tendencies, is a practical translation of a certain trend that interprets the Islamic religion in a strange way, detached from the consensus of the majority of Muslims. This trend even casts doubts over the legitimacy of al-Azhar, the most prominent Islamic frame of reference in the modern world. It relies on the opinions of certain characters who adopt controversial views and yet are considered virtuous amongst themselves. This kind of radicalism ultimately gives birth to abhorrent extremism and a climate of mistrust.

Egypt is a large and complex country. Its people will continue to listen to Abdul Basit Abdul Samad reciting the Holy Koran and at other times listen to the songs of Umm Kulthum. They will continue to attend Al Ahly and Zamalek football matches. They will watch Adel Imam’s latest movie, crack jokes and laugh at it. They will receive visitors without a sense of suspicion or worry.

Therefore, it is only natural that Abu Ismail’s calls for “purification” to be met by a state of growing counter-mobility within Egyptian society. Hence we have seen demands for the purification of mosques, to eradicate the preachers and sheikhs who adopt strange discourse that serves to divide the people rather than unify them.

Radicalism, extremism and intolerance have all invaded Egyptian society, even in the political domain. After the revolution erupted, several radical forces decided to jump on the bandwagon and participate in overthrowing the regime, even though their doctrines once rejected such political involvement. Now these hard-line trends can be seen defending the current president, criminalizing and thwarting any moves against him. Egypt is now at a contradictory impasse, and no leader has yet to provided a convincing answer.

Purification is a misleading slogan. Some people exploit it to falsely convey their righteousness. Here it is sufficient to quote what I heard from an Egyptian taxi driver whilst watching Abu Ismail’s demonstrators demanding the purification of the media. The driver said: “What a shame, purification [synonymous in this instance with circumcision] is something that babies undergo as soon as they are born. So what is the point of all of these protests?”

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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