Monday, December 19, 2005


The once greatest most liberal, educated and tolerant Arab state is on a 1 way train heading into the abyss. When you realize that I think anyone who says we shouldn't have liberated Iraq is stuck behind a tree hiding a cinder filled forest.


  • CAIRO – Egyptian blogger Big Pharaoh gave me an insider’s tour of Cairo and the ghastly political situation facing his country today.
    “In Egypt you can walk wherever you want,” he said. “There are no rules or laws here.”
    Egypt may be a police state, but at any given moment it doesn’t feel like one.
    “Can we talk about politics out in the open?” I said.
    “Yes,” he said. “We can say whatever we want.”
    “Is it because we’re speaking in English?”
    “No,” he said. “We could do it in Arabic, too.”
    “You’re not worried about the secret police?”
    “Not any more,” he said. “It is a real change from last year. Last year there was no way. But it’s better now, more open. Do you know why?”
    “No,” I said. “Tell me.”
    “Because of pressure from George W. Bush.”
    That is the only piece of good news I have to report from Egypt.


  • Big Pharaoh pointed out a set of campaign posters on a wall. I felt good seeing campaign posters in Egypt. It was a long way from Libya where menacing portraits of Colonel Ghaddafi are plastered up literally everywhere.
    “Do you know what that says?” he said as he pointed at the Arabic script above the portrait of a man’s face.
    “No,” I said.
    “It says Islam is the Solution.”
  • I wanted to know what he thought of the Muslim Brotherhood. Was it even possible that they are as moderate as they want everyone to believe?
    “They are moderate because they don’t have guns,” he said. “They don’t kill people. It’s true. But most of the armed terrorist groups we see now were born out of the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
    “At some point,” I said, “if you want to live in a democracy you’re going to have to accept the fact that conservative religious political parties exist. You may never like them, but they won’t always be a terrorist threat. Democracy has mellowed out the Islamists in Turkey, for example.”
    “Yes,” he said. “But Turkey has a secular constitution. They want to enter the EU, so the Islamists are forced to play by the rules of the game. They cannot step on the freedoms that the Turkish people take for granted. The Egyptian people, though, since the time of the Pharaohs, have been a flock. They follow the shepherd.”
  • “My biggest fear,” he continued, “is that if the Muslim Brotherhood rules Egypt we will get Islamism-lite, that they won’t be quite bad enough that people will revolt against them. Take bars, for example. Most Egyptians don’t drink, so they won’t mind if alcohol is illegal. The same goes for banning books. Most Egyptians don’t read. So why should they care if books are banned? Most women wear a veil or a headscarf already, so if it becomes the law hardly anyone will resist.”
  • “How many people here think like you do?” I asked him.
    “Few,” he said. “Very few. Less than ten percent probably.”

  • I asked Big Pharaoh what he thought would happen if Egypt held a legitimate free and fair election instead of this bullshit staged by Mubarak.
    “The Muslim Brotherhood would win,” he said. “They would beat Mubarak and the liberals.”

    I was afraid he was going to say that.
    “I’ve had this theory for a while now,” I said. “It looks like some, if not most, Middle East countries are going to have to live under an Islamic state for a while and get it out of their system.”

    Big Pharaoh laughed grimly.
    “Sorry,” I said. “That’s just how it looks.”
    He buried his head on his arms.

    “Take Iranians,” I said. “They used to think Islamism was a fantastic idea. Now they hate it. Same goes in Afghanistan. Algerians don’t think too much of Islamism either after 150,000 people were killed in the civil war. I hate to say this, but it looks like Egypt will have to learn this the hard way.”

    “You are right,” he said. “You are right. I went to an Egyptian chat room on the Internet and asked 15 people if they fasted during Ramadan. All of them said they fasted during at least most of it. I went to an Iranian chat room and asked the same question. 14 out of 15 said they did not fast for even one single day.”

  • “Egypt didn’t used to be like this,” I said.
    “Nasser’s biggest crime was not establishing democracy when he took over," he said. "Back then, Egyptian people were liberal. It would have worked then. But not now.”
    “When Nasser took over,” Big Pharaoh said, “people were angry at Britain and Israel. He nationalized all the industry. He banned political parties. He stifled everything. Banned the Muslim Brotherhood. Banned the Communists. Banned all. When Sadat took over in 1970, he had two enemies: the Communists and the Nasser remnants. So to counter these threats, he did what the United States did in Afghanistan during the Cold War – he made an alliance with the Islamists. He brought back the Muslim Brotherhood which had fled to Saudi Arabia when Nasser was around. He used them to destroy the left.”
    “That was part of it,” he continued. “During the oil boom of 1973 a lot of Egyptians went to Saudi Arabia to work. Then in the 1990s, two important things happened. After the first Gulf War, Saudi Arabia began to Saudize its economy and said they no longer needed Egyptian workers. When the Egyptians came home they were contaminated with Wahhabism. Egypt’s economy kept getting worse. Unemployed members of the middle class either sat around and smoked shisha or got more religious. That was when Islamism moved from the lower class to the middle class. Now it is moving even to the upper class.”
  • “Egypt will get over it after a while,” I said, “just like Iran is getting over it now.”
  • “That will take 25 years! I don’t have 25 years!”
  • The Iranian theocracy has been in power for 26 years.
    I felt bad for Big Pharaoh. Even in the capital Egyptian society hardly had any place for a person like him. Thank the gods I didn’t have to stay there for the rest of my life.
  • “A friend of mine recently went to Algeria,” he said. “When he came back he told me that there are far fewer veiled women there than there are here. It is much more liberal in Algeria because there they have tasted Islamism. Egypt does need to experience what happened in Iran and Algeria…as long as I am in the U.S. or Canada when it happens.”

    [....]“America is the party,” he said. “And I will be living right above it. So I’ll be in the apartment above the party. And I’ll go downstairs a lot.”

    “I sincerely hope you can make it out of here,” I said – although I partly felt bad because that would only contribute to Egypt’s brain drain.

  • “Mubarak is a horrible horrible man," he said. He is the reason we are in this thing. He has oppressed all the liberals.”

    Optimism in Beirut comes naturally to a foreign observer like me now that Syrian occupation troops are out of the country, the Lebanese parliament has been freely elected, and the most popular Sunni Muslim leaders are secular liberal democrats in Saad Hariri’s Future Movement. That feeling is much harder to come by in Egypt right now. I told Big Pharaoh I found his country’s prospects grim and depressing, and how Islamism feels that it is coming like Christmas.
    “You want to feel good?” he said. “You want to be optimistic? Go back to Beirut.”


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