Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Love, hate, and freedom in Cairo - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
Select Page

“I used to adore Basem Yousef because I disliked Mohamed Mursi’s policy. Today, however, I hate Youssef because I adore the army and General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.”

This was a comment passed by a young Egyptian man, Saeed Sabab, on the reason for the sit-in which he, alongside hundreds of Egyptians, staged before the Radio Theater in downtown Cairo, in protest against Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, according to a recent article by colleague Abdelsitar Hetieta in this newspaper. The justification he provided is extremely direct and hit the nail exactly on the head.

However, the justification he offered also leads to a more serious and profound question about freedom as a concept, and whether it necessarily includes freedom of expression.

Was Saeed contradicting himself when advocating Bassem Youssef’s mockery of the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi, and then raging at Bassem Housef when mocking the army and General El-Sisi now?

At first sight, this conduct seems a glaring contradiction. Yet, contemplation of the situation must reveal another hidden image represented in this question: Did Saeed—alongside others who rejoiced at Bassem Youssef’s mockery of the Brotherhood and then raged at his mockery of the army—do this out of love of freedom as an absolute value, or did they do so out of a love of freedom before championing another value in their life, a value other than freedom?

If this was the case with Saeed and his peers, then what is the other value that is more profound and sincere than freedom for them?

There isn’t any degree of certainty here, yet the other value in question could be “justice,” given that the value of justice is the central value in Islamic outlooks vis-a-vis the value of freedom in the Western conception. However, this does not mean that freedom has no value in Islamic civilization, but it mean that freedom has manifestations and aspects different from that in European and Western contexts. In addition, freedom comes second to the value of justice in the Islamic civilization.

This talk is somewhat tangled and the reason that we touched upon this particular topic is that we need to pause and think about the rage against Bassem Youssef.

Let me repeat writer Hazem Saghya’s question: “Would it be an exaggeration to say that the Arab’s share of liberation does not exceed that of Bassem Youssef?” The question is a revealing one, and embodies the tension the Arabs have experienced all of a sudden because of the passing of the dream of the Arab Spring.

Moroccan thinker Abdullah Al-Arawi has given numerous luminous explanations on the concept of freedom in our culture in a manner that could help us reach a fuller understanding, something we may need to stop and do later on.

In summary, have the Egyptians adored the army and El-Sisi because of their love of liberalism, or because of their longing for security and justice?

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

More Posts