With a congested nose, a sore throat, a short breath, a pulsating head, and an excruciating pain in every single muscle in my body, I listen to the Field Marshal explain why he made me go back home semi-paralyzed. You owe me an explanation, I think, and you better come up with a good one even though nothing I can think of might justify what you did to me. Even if I am naïve enough to believe whatever excuses you are about to fool me with, let me remind you that I am not alone. In fact, how I feel towards you might only be a fraction of the grudge —that is the most euphemistic term I can think of at the moment — that is building up inside everyone you hurt in one way or another. After all, I am still alive and have not so far been permanently deformed by one of your bullets.
But wait a minute, people say, you might be a little bit too hard on the man for how do you know he is directly involved in what is happening in Tahrir Square? Is there any proof he gave direct orders to security forces to shoot at protestors and spray them with toxic gases? I have been hearing this kind of gibberish — another very polite euphemism — since January when many were wondering if Mubarak knew the Interior Ministry was firing live ammunition at peaceful demonstrators. I am fed up with these questions and even more fed up with repeating the same answer again and again, but let me do so one last time for the record. In a totalitarian regime, all the threads gather in the hands of the sole leader and there is no way any institution in the country, no matter how influential, or any official, no matter how senior, can make any decisions or take any measures, especially ones as serious as the killing of unarmed civilians, without his approval if not his outright instructions. It is not much different in democracies where by virtue of your position you are held accountable for any violation in the state bodies that fall under your jurisdiction regardless of whether you are directly involved or not and even if you only get to hear about it in the news. This is based on the logical assumption that the moment you take office, you become in charge of everything your job description dictates and like you take credit for achievements, you also accept blame for failures. This is called “political responsibility,” a term almost never heard of in our part of the world where boats sink and trains crash and the minister of transportation stays and where citizens are tortured to death in police stations and the minister of interior is not even reprimanded.
In case the concept is too difficult for my fellow-oppressed to understand, perhaps it might help them to read about former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan who resigned after only 15 months in office for not being able to handle the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami and the nuclear crisis that followed. Of course I don’t need to point out that with disasters of that kind it is always easy to point fingers at Mother Nature and emerge absolutely guilt-free.
But seems like bowing is a strictly Japanese custom that requires a degree of elasticity our stiff-backed leaders do not posses and the subsequent pain is too much for joints that have for years been maintaining the same posture. Osteoarthritis maybe!
Un-budging and standing tall, the statuesque Field Marshal starts off with how “sorry” he is for the people who were killed. Sorry? I thought this is the word you use for stepping on someone’s foot or interrupting a conversation and similar violations of social etiquette, but for dead people? Well, maybe in the case of Japan when you are not in any way responsible for their death, but when you are the cold-blooded murderer? I bet it was in a situation similar to this that the word “cheeky” was coined and maybe in the same situation the Egyptian proverb about mourning your victims saw the light.
You don’t only refuse to confess to your crime, but you go on forever about how infallible you are and how keen you have always been to protect the people and see the goals of the revolution they sacrificed their lives for realized. You also try to give an entire population who sees you killing their folks a guilt trip through telling them how hurt you are to hear such unfair accusations hurled against you and you stress how noble you are to forgive such a grave effrontery. You also remind all Egyptians that they would have been all doomed had you not interfered to save them from a certain death and that unless you jump on board their life boat right here and now, you are bound to land in the bottom of the deep blue.
I feel that I and my fellow compatriots are such ungrateful bastards and that we better come back to our senses before it’s too late. As I feel horrible to discover how unfair I turned out to be and pick up a tissue to wipe the tears of regret that have started trickling down my cheeks, I start coughing my heart out and I wake up from this trance to the tons of chemicals I inhaled and to scenes that keep hopping in my face of people gasping for breath and others soaked in their blood and others trying to come to terms with loved ones lost in the split of a second. As if the exposure of some strange substance that is reportedly used in chemical warfare is not enough, I start getting cramps in my stomach and a crippling nausea attacks me ferociously. At the moment I am about to faint with repulsion and indignation, I frantically seize the remote control and flip through the channels and in every single one I see nothing but Egyptians betrayed, battered, humiliated, and brutally punished for asking for their basic rights.
I feel a deep pain in my chest as I try to breathe the sigh of coming back to reality and regain my dwindling power for another day of struggle against a tyranny that we mistakenly and naively thought was gone for good.
I get up and do some stretching exercise and take pride in my amazing ability to bow.
(Sonia Farid, Ph.D., of Al Arabiya also teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)