Thursday, 6 January 2011


Some Ramblings : Post-Alexandria Reflections

  • Thursday, 6 January 2011
  • Fouad GM
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  • I didn't realise this was going to be so long when I first started to reflect -- so, grab a coffee, light a cigarette or pour yourself a pint and come chill to some of my ramblings and reflections on the terrorist attach on the Alexandrian Coptic Church and the debates that followed.


    Understandably, the Alexandria terrorist attack has triggered immense debate amongst the more vocal and technologically-savvy in Egypt and within the diaspora. Like their compatriots, Egyptian Facebookers, bloggers, youtubers and tweeters have struggled to come to terms with the event and its reprecussions.

    Many descended into an aggressive wave of sectarian conflict: accusations, excommunication and even exchanging threats -- as 'alien' as this sounds to Egyptian idealists and denialists, this is not unlike Egyptians. Egyptian schoolchildren, a friend reported on his FB status yesterday, marched around their neighbourhood chanting anti-Coptic slogans, supposedly, 'in response' to Copts' protests in which they vowed to 'avenge' the dead, threatened to 'slay' Muslims and 'redeem the Cross.'

    Copts and Muslims in Egypt reacted rather similarly when Al-Qaida attacked Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad and considered it a threat to the Coptic Church in Egypt -- Copts even declared the establishment of a "Coptic Al-Qaeda" to retaliate against any possible attack against theit church!

    Let's not go too far: days before the terrorist attack, I was invited to a family friend's Christmas dinner party in Sheffield -- the hosts were Egyptian Muslim and so were most of the guests. Nevertheless, socialisation and political debates after dinner turned into a row between Christians and Muslims who disagreed on the role of religion in society and argued as to whether or not Egypt was an 'Islamic country'. They were all -holders, mostly MDs, all over 50 years of age, not young, not radical and certainly not poor or ill-educated! The others' reaction? Calm them down, separate them and close the topic . Typical : دع الفتنة نائمة and pretend all is good. Instead of dealing with the situation and allowing the debate to continue, a policy of Sad El-Hanak was applied and Om Ali and tea were served for dessert!

    In another Egyptians-in-England Christmas dinner, I overheard a few whispering -- they were discussing whether or not it's Islamically-permissable to wish Christians a Merry Christmas. The conclusion: yes, it's permissable in Christmas as it marks the birth of a prophet acknowledged by Islam; but come Easter and season's greetings become haram!

    Egyptians on Facebook are no different: many got bogged down in an aimless debate on whether or not it is Islamically-permisable to use the Cross on your Facebook status, in slogans condemning the attack or in visual representations of national unity .

    You can call all of that 'alien to Egyptian society' all you want, but these are educated, literate, well-off and Facebook-savvy Egyptians -- they are the créme de la créme of Egyptian society, graduates of top universities, drive the fanciest cars in town, shop in Europe and send their kids to universities in America!.

    Idealists and denialists (who are most certainly the more visible majority) on the other hand have overtaken Facebook employing hundreds of creative ways to externalise responsibility and throw the blame on some non-Egyptian evil. Their techniques were rather colourful: thousands of "Crescent and Cross" profile pictures; Egyptian flags; and millions of statuses and FB groups, pages and causes condemning the 'foreign' attack on 'all of Egypt', expressing outrage at the 'alien' mentality behind it, and pointing fingers towards Israel, the USA and Al-Qaida. Some even posted 'documents' that 'reveal' a secret 'Zionist' plan to divide Egypt.

    Good-hearted as their intentions may be , Egyptians' idealism and denialism has been my target in recent posts and has led me to see prospects of reform and democracy with pecimism and scinicism. -- this inspired my post two days ago . An article by Wael Abdel Fattah in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar inspired a little bit of optimism in my post today.


    Nonetheless, not all is negative: some constructive debate has taken place in the wake of the heinous terrorist attack. In fact, the aforementioned post was inspired by a debate which evolved around a friend's note on Facebook.

    Another interesting debate has taken place between me and a dear relative of mine. Although we come from different generational backgrounds and live thousands of miles apart, our disagreements in the past week have been expressed in utmost respect and with constructive intentions.

    I have decided, after consulting with her, to respond to two of the issues which we debated publically. I shall refer to her in his blog as A.N.

    Firstly, in response to my criticism of the opinion that the terrorist attack and sectarianism is ever-so 'foreign' and 'alien' -- A.N attributed my opinion to my 'young age' and that I did not live the struggle for independence in the early twentieth century, the 1952 Revolution , the Israeli invasions in 1956 and 1967 or the violent 1970s. This, according to A.N explains why I am unable to appreciate the possibility of external forces as the perpetrators of the terrorist attack

    Secondly, I 'disliked' a Facebook Cause claiming that "REAL Egyptians (Christians & Muslims) love one another" which A.N was promoting -- my argument was, real Egyptian society, even real Islam and the real Coptic Church are not innocent and are not unrelated to the terrorist attack that targeted Al-Qidissain on New Year's Eve. In response, A.N asked me to define what a real, good, patriotic Egyptian is.


    Here's my response to the two points:

    Firstly, as flaterring as being called 'young' may be -- I disagree that young age makes one essentially and intrinsically unable to comprehend and analyse events which he/she has not lived in person. If that was the case, we would not have medievalists and scholars of antiquity amongst us! I therefore do not hold the belief that my young age disqualifies my judgements of events or makes my opinions and views any less informed.

    In a previous post a few weeks ago, I expressed some of my positions towards the classical argument that 'because you live abroad' then you essentially 'don't know enough' and cannot make an 'informed judgement'. I believe the same stands for age and time. So, if A.N's opinions count although she hasn't lived in Egypt for decades, then I don't see why mine don't even though I wasn't physically around when Israel invaded the Sinai.

    No arrogance intended, but, as a social scientist and almost-PhD-holder with a particular focus on early modern sociology, al philosophy and political-economy, I believe I am qualified enough to study and understand the events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, perhaps even more than some of those who 'lived' these events: one might have lived an event but been kept ill-informed thanks to the limited access to information for which the Middle East is notorious! One might have lived a certain era so deep that they are genuinly unable to separate fact from the myths and conspiracy theories of the time. One might even live a certain era but be unformed of the opinions of other social classes and communities -- especially if you come from an aristocratic-turned-bourgeois family like ours, in a society as classist as Egypt!

    This brings me to A.N's second point: how do I define a real, good and patriotic Egyptian.

    My answer is rather simple: you cannot define a person, let alone a nation!

    Egyptians are workers, professionals, thieves, beggers, poverty, gated communities, peasants, city-swellers, ba7raweya, sa3ayda, sayadeen, badw, beber/amazigh, 3arab, qebt, nubians, African blood, Arab heritage, Turkish roots, Levantine, Greek and Italian origins!

    What counts is that a certain social order, social contract, social conduct and a state coordinated their living together. A social order guaranteed a degree of coherence, respect, civility, commitment, rights, duties and sanctity of life, property and honour (perhaps Ibn Khaldoun's Muqaddima might offer a good explanation).

    The social contract has collapsed and the civility long-gone: it all started over a century ago -- has come to an absolute end decades ago. That's why A.N's father left Egypt; that's why she's where she is now and I'm where I am; and that's why millions of Egyptians want to follow our path -- Egypt only became an emigration country two decades ago. but, according to studies, the increase in the rate of Egyptians emigrating is higher than other sending-developing countries (excluding Iraq and Afghanistan). Egypt is currently 'exporting' more emigrants (as a percentage of population) than traditional-sending countries, India and Pakistan!

    We can deny it all we want. We can pretend that the Crescent and the Cross as 'naturally' in harmony in Egypt all we want. And we can certainly point fingers to Iran, Al Qaida or Israeli-directed GPS sharks and other conspiracy theories all we want. And, actually, we might even be right -- Israel, or Al Qaida or whoever else might be beneficiaries. Hell, they might have even funded or planned the attack. But Egypt is not an innocent victim, it's a fertile ground which breeds frustrations, hatred and terrorism thanks to a precarious social order and a failed state.

    Unfortunately, our theories on how 'alien' and 'foreign' sectarianism is conceals a sad reality: Egyptian society has failed to nurture a commitment to development, an aspiration for a decent living, a promise for a better future. Failed to protect human life, provide social justice and has certainly failed in creating a citizen with a stake in this land, nation and country.

    If you ask me, the problem is NOT one of poverty or ignorance. The lower classes might be poor, and they certainly harbour rather conservative views on sectarian, religious and social issues, and they are quite xenophobic when it comes to 'the non-white other' in general. But the 'real' issue is the Egyptian middle class. Despite their 'education', 'culture', 'travels', 'exposure' and endless richesse, the middle class harbours endless contradictions -- from genuine, well-articulated and disguised backwardness, sectarianism and xenophobia to an admirable ability to pretend 'everything is alright'. And when everything is not alright, then it must be 'something foreign.'

    6 Responses to “Some Ramblings : Post-Alexandria Reflections”

    Donya said...
    6 January 2011 at 01:39

    3andy mofag2a leek..
    I love this..& I agree on every single word!!!

    ThinkingMachine said...
    12 January 2011 at 01:37

    I like your area of study. Concerning the point that you didn't live the time when so and so and thus you can't comprehend well, I totally agree with you, actually I believe that if you lived that time then certainly your view is totally distorted either by emotional influence or by exposure to guided media. But concerning living abroad, I'm not sure, you get all your information from media, and from what I see here in everyday life, media is immensely deceptive, either local media or international media, either on purpose or inadvertently, so I'm not saying you are wrong, you are almost right but you can't get the genuine image of a certain society until you pay a visit to different layers of it, see the people yourself, try to find them excuses for their mistakes till they run out of them.
    Concerning the destroyed society, yes it is destroyed, but not by sectarianism, it is by ignorance, not because someone is a facebooker that he is not ignorant, ignorance is not illiteracy, I tell you most of those on facebook in Egypt are ignorant irresponsible people, the reason behind this is the retarded educational system, the on halt Egyptian culture, the terrible media, the lack of ethics, all these make sectarianism a single problem and not The problem, yes there is sectarianism in the Egyptian society but it is an aspect of what we are in.

    Fouad GM said...
    12 January 2011 at 04:06

    ThinkingMaching ~~ true. In fact, I believe sectarianism is merely a product of social and cultural and political failure, not the cause! The failure of society to uphold social contract, and the polity to uphold justice and equity lead people to resort to religion, the church, radicalism, differentiation and hate speech to feel strength and unity.

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