Egyptians get distracted easily. Let a story opposing their beliefs surface on Twitter or have brief-but-unorthodox footage show up on Facebook and seething-at-the-mouth yappers will wage a war of words on those who started it all. The freedom to say what one wishes even if abusive, faulted, or hypothetical has reached unprecedented heights.
Khalid Aboul Naga’s episode is a case in point. Aboul Naga, a renowned Egyptian film star, in a moment of subliminal disregard for the Egyptian way of doing things, opted to criticize the regime with President Sisi at the helm—a simple “If he is unable to protect the country, then we will ask him to ‘leave’,” using the same word, ‘leave,’ Egyptians utilized against Mubarak. A frenzy unfolded.
Undoubtedly, it is his prerogative to say what he pleases, but knowing the Egyptian mentality, he should’ve known better and anticipated the rage: one can hardly ever denounce father figures, mentors, idols, and presidents—if Egyptians associate with such persons. It is a repeat of the war against Basem Youssef, which we know ended badly with his decision to take his program off the air, a disappointment for many but expected nonetheless.
More important is what happened next: Aboul Naga, ostracized by main-stream media and irate Egyptians, called on his followers and admirers to support him and retweeted their encouragement, but rebuttal attacks got personal: Aboul Naga’s manhood and rights got the brunt of it all. Truly, things got out of hand.
Fayza Aboul Naga—in no way associated with Khalid Aboul Naga, an Egyptian minister for years, had survived many dissolved cabinets only to return as advisor to President Sisi. Aboul Naga must have hit a nerve with activists and western media alike. She was held responsible for the intense crisis in Egypt-US relations during the 2012 NGO backlash, and now is presumed to have been brought back to aggravate Egypt-US relations further while poised to control NGOs' spending and activities. Fayza Aboul Naga assumed the responsibility bestowed upon her and ignored the flutter: the best thing to do in such circumstances.
Universities in Egypt and in particular Al Azhar University have seen round after round of riots since the beginning of the fall semester. Another round began this week, and chatter immediately followed: “Univ. shooting gas&bullets. Female beaten,hurt&kidnapped” is juxtaposed against “Egypt police storm Al-Azhar campus after students torch dean's car” Does police kidnap I ask? Do peaceful protestors torch cars, again I ask? Intense yet blurred is everything around us.
And then comes President Sisi’s birthday—November 19th. Some media outlets sang happy birthday live with a cake centre stage; regular folks sent him happy birthday telegrams—do they still exist, you say? Yes, they do in Egypt. I personally found the celebrations exaggerated but not worth the attention. The flurry of activities around Sisi’s birthday smothered and stifled instead of glorified, but they definitely antagonized activists and Sisi haters. Amusingly, Sisi opponents commemorated the day as World Toilet Day! And the tug of words continues.
Egyptians, while going up in arms about trivial and insignificant matters, have ignored the core of their worries: the dangers hovering along the borders. Sinai remains a breeding ground for insurgencies and callous attacks on soldiers and army officers. The security apparatus is creating a wide buffer zone to limit access into Egypt from Gaza, but even that is met with disdain: “Rafah residents were forced to leave their homes; they’ve been displaced and will not be compensated.” In the huge scheme of things, borders must be secured. Period.
But even more worrisome, the western border with Libya is an open playing field for those who want to cross into Egypt with arms and weapons. Egypt may be able to secure the 11 kilometre border with Gaza, but how does it secure a 1,115 km border with Libya?
Libya is a hotbed of tribal wars, and, amidst the chaos, militant Islamists are gaining ground. Today ISIS flags adorn government buildings in Derna, close to Tobruk along the Mediterranean Sea and a hop from the Egyptian western border. I take all western media’s views with a grain of salt, but CNN’s article “ISIS Comes to Libya” is very troubling if it is to be verified.
The Libyan branch of ISIS now has a tight grip on the city, controlling the courts, all aspects of administration, education, and the local radio. "Derna today looks identical to Raqqa, the ISIS headquarters town in Syria," Benotman told CNN.
All Islamic groups even if varied in approach and extremism, promise allegiance to one another against the infidels be they westerners or Egyptians. The first of all these groups was founded in Egypt under the auspices of the Muslim Brotherhood. Having removed the Muslim Brotherhood from the political scene and having gotten the Saudis and other Gulf States to join forces with Egyptians against the Islamist tidal wave, Egypt is pursued as the true enemy.
Egypt had faced extensive dangers before: dictators, colonialists and invaders, but never has it taken on anything of this evilness. ISIS, if it reaches Egypt, will be joining forces with other internal groups: Ansar Bayt El Maqdis, Al Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, Muslim Brotherhood, etc.
Maybe we are creating a mountain out of a molehill and the Derna ISIS group doesn’t construe much, but Egyptians must be wary of the enemy next door, and focus on the major issues while ignoring the trivialities. The Aboul Naga(s) stories are food for chatter but in no way will shield Egypt from true dangers.