Is it mandatory for Egyptian writers who want to be published in the Western media to willfully feed the West’s craving for lopsided information about Egypt? I guess it is, or else their work wouldn’t be given the time of day. Emphasising the West’s outlook on Egypt seems to be a prerogative for being published, as writers become trapped into corroborating the Western media’s conceit and arrogance.
A case in point was an article in the Washington Post on 28 February by Ezzedine C Fishere, an Egyptian who left for the United States in 2016. The article, “Egypt’s Music Ban is Part of a More Disturbing Cultural Repression,” set out to prove that the ban on Mahraganat music in Egypt – a form of street music that lends itself to offensive lyrics – exemplified the repression of a military regime.
I wonder why the Washington Post would be interested in such a topic, but I was more perplexed by the deliberate referencing throughout the article of the military as being “behind the ban,” as “an agent of social transformation,” and as the instigator of a “comprehensive programme of public education.”
It looked as if the military was going around whipping Egyptians into becoming decent, respectable folks. It isn’t. Most Egyptians want positive change.
The article compares the ban on Mahraganat music to a Netflix drama called “The Man in the High Castle,” in which an American Nazi regime bans the music of marginalised groups in an effort to “cleanse the public space from the sounds of the millions it has oppressed.” I’m afraid the writer has been watching too many Netflix dramas to differentiate fact from fiction.
Had Mahraganat music not encouraged vulgarity and obscenity, the “oppressed,” in other words the Egyptians, wouldn’t have called on the Musicians Syndicate to ban it. This is not how things are done in the West, where rap music and other genres speak freely of drugs and sex, but the writer of the article should have known better. Egypt will remain a culturally conservative country for years to come.
When things go against what Egyptian people consider to be proper, they find it insulting and disrespectful. The writer of the article had thus intentionally forgotten his Egyptian roots in order to satisfy his allegiance to Western ways. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi once told French President Emmanuel Macron that “we are not Europe” and “that is normal for us.” I agree.
The guidelines and framework by which government institutions work in moulding a country are also at issue here. When US President Donald Trump bellows discriminatory messages, Americans follow suit. When prostitution is legalised in Turkey, this sets the standards there. When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, already the father of five, or maybe six, children, announces his engagement to his current girlfriend who is with child, Egyptians find this shocking. When Pete Buttigieg, the Democratic Party presidential elections candidate in the US, refers to his companion as his “husband,” this is definitely unusual for Egyptians. It is to be expected that cultural expectations are not the same across the board – to each his or her own.
“This campaign of cultural discipline is, unfortunately, supported by segments of Egypt’s elites,” Fishere says of the ban on Mahraganat music. “Self-righteous liberals…, paternalistic nationalists… and Islamists – all cheer the military’s reeducation programme.” Here we go again, as the writer refers to the military’s grasp. However, this is an indiscriminate cluster of groups. If so many are repulsed by the lyrics of this music, what then?
In an effort to reiterate Western notions, the writer in an earlier lecture also spoke of how ultimately all the Arab states, with no exceptions, would collapse, saying that their “irreversible fragility” was of their own making and there was very little hope of their moving forward. If this doesn’t feed into Western ideology, I don’t know what does.
His proof as to why Egypt would ultimately collapse is the one million young people who want jobs and housing every year, the 12 per cent yearly budget deficit, and the accumulated debt of $60 billion. His suppression of any improvements taking place in Egypt was calculated and intentional.
He mentioned an odd example of how Egypt could reverse its supposed collapse, belittling its other efforts. “Now you can get a birth certificate in five minutes,” he wrote. I am about to surprise the writer. Mr Fishere, you can get not only a birth certificate in five minutes, but you can also get any other kind of certificate, marriage, death, divorce, etc., and you can also get your ID card delivered to your door, as I did.
Egypt’s e-payment network is alive and well. Via a little kiosk across the street you can pay your cell phone bill, your Internet and wi-fi bills and your electricity, gas and water bills.
There is more to such improvements than the insignificant changes endorsed by Western publications. Fitch Solutions, a provider of global market insights, sees an uptick in growth rates over the next decade in Egypt “because of ongoing reforms and the inherent advantages in the Egyptian economy,” for example.
The UK Financial Times has confirmed this trend. “Three years ago, Egypt’s economy was teetering on the abyss, as entrepreneurs scoured the black market for dollars and foreign investors… now it is being hailed as one of the region’s fastest-growing economies.”
The efforts exerted by Egyptians to make Egypt a better place are undeniable, and they refute Fishere’s theory that the Arab countries will ultimately collapse. Of course, those who see eye to eye with the Washington Post and other similar publications will never see such developments and improvements.
The writer ends his article by saying, “as in ‘The Man in the High Castle,’…Egypt’s Reich will also fall,” coming up with this prediction because Mahraganat music has been banned. But then, as an accomplice to the Washington Post, or its mere sidekick, he would want this to occur. Dream on, Mr Fishere, dream on!
The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly