On Fiction and the Caliphate
Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to thepostcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.
A “Yes to the Constitution” poster caught in an empty fruit basket. The 2013 constitution as the first major step in the roadmap following the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi was very widely promoted. Many equated passing it with nominating the current commander of the army, now Field Marshal Abdelfattah al Sisi, for the presidency.
Since the passing of the constitution posters of Sisi, often accompanied by the national flag, have cropped up everywhere in Cairo. The extremely religious general is seen as a national hero and the future saviour president. The problem that presents itself for the next step on the roadmap, the presidential elections, is that he can have no competition. Yet Sisi has yet to resign from his military post to be an eligible candidate.
One of many, possibly autistic beggars in downtown Cairo. Beggars, along with peddlers/hustlers and valets, makes up a huge part of the informal economy. The phenomena have risen rapidly since 2011, when Hosny Mubarak was ousted following huge protests centred in Tahrir Square. It reflects a weaker security apparatus and economic recess.
Semit, a baked snack, stacked on the traffic island on the October Bridge, one of the main traffic arteries connecting many points in the city. Other goods include Chinese-made toys, air fresheners and soft drinks. More recently peddlers have also been selling ID-card trinkets with pictures of Sisi and “A patriotic Egyptian” where the name of the bearer should be. They are often heard calling out, “Sisi for a pound!”
A street cleaner employed by one the state-affiliated companies sits on the traffic island. Street cleaners are very badly paid and many of them do far less cleaning than begginig. They are less aggressive than professional beggars but it is now widely accepted that this is how they earn their livelihood. Dressed in green or orange uniforms, they mope around the cars during traffic jams and sit by the side of the road.
This man lives in and around the October Bridge, surviving on the more or less silent charity of drivers. He spends most of his time engaged in serious conversations with no one in particular, often shouting the names of politicians like Mubarak, Morsi or Sisis. Very probably schizophrenic, the chances are he used to be confined to the Abbassiya state asylum and was illegally released or left to wander. There are many such mentally disturbed characters, some stark naked, who live on the streets of Cairo.
A newcomer to the begging arena on Ramses Road is making use of a traffic jam to solicit charity. Beggars and hustlers are often seen fighting among themselves over turf.
Traffic congestion and urban chaos have increased exponentially since 2011, with people spending up to five hours driving a distance of a few kilometres.
A huge poster of Sisi promoting him as the leader of the Egyptian people is painfully reminiscent of similar gestures in the time of Mubarak. Such displays of sycophancy and “leader”-worship are both official and unofficial, and they form a significant obstacle in the way of developing a politically realistic, let alone democratic mentality.
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Al-Ahram Weekly: Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Youssef Rakha and Egypt’s new culture of violence
As of 28 January, 2011, the protests in and around Tahrir Square were never quite as peaceful as people would in later months reflexively claim they were. But no one thought that what had started on 25 January as a call for rights and freedoms, and on 11 February forced Hosny Mubarak (Egypt’s president for 31 years) to step down, would turn into a kind of hopeless vendetta against the police and, later, albeit to a mitigated extent, also against the army—to a point where people could no longer credibly make that claim.
A chapter from the novel “Paulo”, Part II of The Crocodiles Trilogy-فصل من رواية “باولو”، الجزء الثاني من حاوية التماسيح
الأحد ٦ أبريل ٢٠٠٨
عيّل علّموا عليه في قسم قصر النيل جاء يشتكي لي. (هو ذا الذي كان يحصل أيام حركة شباب ٦ أبريل وحركة كفاية وكل هذا الكلام. كان يحصل من قبلها طبعاً لكن بدأت أنتبه له في هذا الوقت. والإخوان أيضاً كانوا شادين حيلهم من تحت لتحت مع أنهم يأخذون على دماغهم أول بأول: القحاب.) عيّل حلو ومخنث لدرجة أن الواحد ممكن ينتصب وهو قاعد جنبه، شغال معي من مدة واسمه أشرف بيومي. علّموا عليه فجاء لي البيت. أنا أول ما شفته بصقت وأعطيته ظهري. يوم ٤ أبريل كنت بعثتُه مظاهرة صغيرة لا يَعرف الغرض منها في ميدان طلعت حرب، كان المفروض يرجع لي في نفس اليوم. وطّى يمسح بصقتي عن العتبة بكم قميصه وحدف نفسه علي يحك فمه في قورتي، قال: اسمعني لو سمحت. ثم دخل ورائي وطلب كباية مياه. قال إنه لما كان في المظاهرة جاء واحد يتكلم معه بطريقة لم تعجبه ففتح عليه المطواة. الواحد هذا كان ضابط مباحث وأشرف لا يعرف. في البوكس قال لهم إنه مخبر أمن دولة لكن زوّدوا الضرب. وصف لي بالتفصيل. كانت الكلبشات في يديه وراء ظهره وكان في البوكس مقبوض عليهم آخرون أكثرهم من غير كلبشات، لا يعرف ما جرى لهم بعد ذلك.