If my house is on fire and my family inside is screaming for help and I worry about my favorite dress because I have a wedding next weekend and will have nothing to wear if it is consumed by the flames, then I have a serious problem. My problem will not only be confined to my astounding inability to organize my priorities, but will also extend to an absolute loss of commonsense as I become totally oblivious to the lethal danger that will in a couple of minutes devour everyone in the neighborhood including myself as well as a shocking assumption that the world revolves around me and that even blinds me to the fact that I am not immune to that imminent destruction.
Egypt is like a ship that is being slapped right, left, and center by lethally ferocious waves during the most devastating of hurricanes. Those on board are torn between protecting themselves and fellow passengers from being swallowed by the ruthless currents, rescuing and resuscitating those who fell, and throwing out the water coming in from the holes that keep opening up in different parts of the hull. In the middle of all this, a couple of passengers run to you screaming and complaining that they got wet. What will your reaction be?
Throw them into the sea and show them what “wet” really means? Talk some sense into them by explaining how grave the situation is and how stupid and childish their behavior is? Pretend they don’t exist until they themselves do it on your behalf and willingly opt for the sea?
While you think of an answer, let me tell you a little story that you might be familiar with already but that might be helpful in offering a quick overview of what is happening now in a country struggling to protect its revolution from all crouching tigers and hidden dragons. Liberals and Islamists are fighting over what comes first, drafting a new constitution or holding parliamentary elections, anger is mounting as policemen charged with shooting and killing unarmed protestors are still at large, cries of foul play are echoing all over the country with unjustified delay in prosecuting the president and his family, patience is running thin as far as purging the Interior Ministry and other government bodies from “remnants” of the former regime are concerned… and so on and so forth… I will need whole volumes to explain how turbulent the situation is right now.
But lo and behold! A much more pressing problem has just emerged and turns out we suck at identifying our real enemies and were busying ourselves with trivial matters. The catastrophe started when a famous Coptic businessman posted on Twitter a cartoon depicting Mickey Mouse with a beard and Minnie Mouse with a face veil. With a caption that read “Mickey and Minnie after,” the cartoon was obviously a tongue-in-cheek attempt at envisioning what Egypt would be like in case fundamentalist Islamists reach power. He might have done that while drinking his morning coffee or on his way to work or while he was dozing off in bed after a long day of meetings, so may be he did not concentrate enough to realize that he was, in fact, waging a war against Islam.
Had reactions to rampant corruption, police brutality, and abuse of power in pre-revolution Egypt been half as forceful and quarter as fast as the response to this cartoon, we would have become the most democratic, advanced, and civilized country in the whole world. In what seemed like no time, fierce online campaigns calling for boycotting the mobile phone company owned by the telecommunications mogul and rendering every penny entering the man’s pocket blood money attracted thousands of supporters—around 60,000 on Facebook alone. Yet, what happens in the virtual world does not stay there more than a couple of hours, for stock market shares of companies owned by the same businessman were actually reported to have fallen following the campaign and more than 15 Islamist lawyers filed lawsuits against him for “deriding religion” and “mocking Islam” and all those charges leveled against any “heretic” who steps on the toes of Salafi ideologues.
He apologized by the way. Well, not sure if it was an apology or rather a lamentation over the way things are heading. “That was a joke and I am sorry if some people did not take it as such. No disrespect intended,” he tweeted, and the picture was then removed.
Did this solve the problem? In other words, what exactly does this “apology” mean? That he is now convinced he is the criminal they claim him to be and that he is now repenting and asking for forgiveness? That they now understand that this was a joke and will therefore not make the same fuss over similar incidents? The answer to both is NO. The alleged culprit confessed under duress and the self-appointed judge will pass the harshest verdict anyway and none of them will get over the other’s “offence,” so what’s the point? Plus, this is not about a picture posted or a tweet regretting it nor is it just about the rising tide of intolerance that has been sweeping the country since a group of extremists decided it is by their norms that all Egyptians should go. It is mainly about abusing a revolution that gave them on a silver platter the freedom they did not work to get—the slightest fraction of which they would have never dreamt of enjoying under the former regime—only to deprive others of it. It is also about the emotional blackmail of a public that is easily deceived into believing its religion is under constant attack by some dark forces that aim at taking Egypt back to the times when gods were made of date paste. All this aside, it is first and foremost and regrettably about shocking indifference to the insurmountable ordeals through which the country is going and unexplainable insistence on diverting the attention to superficial matters that would have not ordinarily taken more than a few minutes and a couple of laughs had they not been raised to threat level Red.
It is not of much relevance now to investigate whether Islamists were really offended by the cartoon—I find it very hard to figure out why anyone on earth would be—or if they are just making up for decades of in-the-dark existence through seeking as much limelight as they can get. In both cases, the ruckus stirred over the cartoon—which, I believe, should be studied as a work of social criticism and a testimonial of a time of blurred vision and conflicting ideologies—does nothing more than betraying an absolute apathy as far as national wellbeing is concerned and a corresponding ego-centric keenness to pull off some theatrical feat that grants the once behind the scene troupe a leading role in what they mistakenly assume can eventually be a one man show.
Back to the sinking boat and the whining wet. Throwing the trouble makers into the sea is in flagrant violation of all ethical codes that stipulate safeguarding the lives of all passengers regardless of how annoying they might be and is also bound to earn them a great deal of sympathy even from passengers who had themselves wished to opt for the sea exit. Reasoning with them when every split of a second could mean one more life lost or ten more liters of water into the boat will be setting the stage for the perfect homicide/suicide scenario so you will either die yourself or live forever with the guilt of abandoning your fellow passengers to the treacherous waves.
Leave them be or, to be more accurate, engage in this type of passive resistance that combines between not wasting the effort much needed for saving the boat and those on board and not allowing them to drag the rest of the group to that state of self-pity that robs them of their will to float.
Seeing that everyone around them knows their own priorities and are determined to move on, they will either feel left out and make up their mind to join the life/boat guards or feel left out and make up their minds to find refuge in the bottom of the deep blue. Their choice!
In all cases, Mickey will be able to shave and Minnie will once again reveal her smile and Sir Walt Disney, who must have been turning in his grave since the cartoon was released, can hope to rest in peace.
(Sonia Farid, Ph.D., of Al Arabiya also teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: email@example.com)