Monday, February 28, 2011

New Thinking: “Open Sesame”

By Mohammad Salah
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 28/02/2011
To the rhythm of their revolution, Egyptians have launched a new art form. Yet some of them have remembered part of an old song in which they chant “who opposes us… in our own lands”, after they regained their own lands, which had for years been occupied by the National Democratic Party (NDP) and its men. In Arab culture, the band of “forty thieves” who were tricked by Ali Baba remains an example that is referred to when pointing to the proliferation of thefts, the spread of thieves and repeated instances of armed robbery. All of these of course are matters that can be found in Arab countries in general, and that have prevailed in Egypt especially for a long time. Yet the story holds indications that the band of thieves did not loot the people’s food or public funds, and that its members did not target the “downtrodden” and simple folk, but rather restricted their activity to the affluent from among the upper class, those who held influence, power and money, who gained wealth at the expense of the people, who took hold of the country’s resources, and who took shelter in rulers and their guards, in the law and its articles, and in corruption and its atmosphere. The forty thieves therefore had a conscience that held back their desire to steal at certain limits, preventing them from looting the money of orphans and from robbing simple folk and the poor. The story also raises questions about moral judgment with regard to Ali Baba, who exposed the thieves and tricked them, but only after he too robbed from their cave the items that were easiest to carry and most expensive, merely because he knew the secret of the “cave” and called out to its gate: “Open Sesame”. He too thus turned into a thief, robbing stolen goods as if he had entrusted the forty “thieves” with the task of stealing in his stead, gaining the spoils without taking any risks or exerting any efforts.

The corruption scandals now being discussed by Egyptians by far exceed the story of Ali Baba. It has transpired that Egypt, with all of its civilization, history and “good” people, was a giant cave in which more than “forty thieves” were hiding. They would rob its people and portray it as achieving prosperity and stability for their sake. Talk has not ceased about the corruption, theft and looting of public funds under Hosni Mubarak, which had greatly increased in the last ten years with the rise and prominence of his son Gamal and his “clique”, or those he surrounded himself with. During the first two decades under Mubarak, who was known to be stubborn, to refuse advice and to abstain from seeking counsel, the state of corruption remained “acceptable”, based on the common saying that “corruption exists everywhere in the world”. But ever since his son Gamal put forward “new thinking” and began promoting it and its businessmen, what he spoke of never exceeded mere fruitless “theorizing”. He thought that people would eat the numbers he spoke of when he talked about increases in growth rates. And while people were standing in long queues to obtain subsidized gas cylinders or fighting in front of bakeries over a subsidized loaf of bread, Mubarak Junior’s men had turned Egypt into a giant cave, dividing what it contained and distributing it among themselves, after they came to know the password in Egypt: “Open Sesame”. Egyptians discovered years later that the corruption they used to talk about was a mere drop in the sea, that they were drowning in an ocean of “new thinking” corruption, and that looting public funds, distributing lands, “cooling” them, trading in them, dividing up the revenue from projects, and distributing monopolies were taking place among “thieves” who ruled them, distributed wealth among them, and gauged them based on their increase in progeny and the hunger of their children, which never ended and put pressure of the state budget! At the time, most Egyptians were busy looking for jobs, housing, healthcare or food for their children, and were watching from afar the “cave” and its owners. Mubarak the stubborn man had yielded to his son and given him the key to the cave and its secret. And the son was only stubborn with the people, while he was easy prey for those who painted for him a picture of himself as the leader of the future, controlling the cave, taking hold of it and looting from it whatever they wished.

And if some of the “thieves” have fallen, the goals of the revolution cannot have been achieved without Egyptians seeing all of the “thieves” wearing white prison uniforms, regardless of their position within the band, as none of them have immunity. Otherwise, those who remain outside of prison walls and who now seek to assault the revolution, stifle its results or spread chaos in order to cover up traces of their crimes, will return once again to the cave and change the password, making the cave theirs alone so that they may sing yet again over the rubble of the revolution: “who opposes us… in our own lands”.

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