|Al-Ahram Weekly Online
26 July - 1 August 2001
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875||Current issue | Previous issue | Site map|
Fear of penetration
Once upon a time there was a school in Maadi. The boys were young gentlemen and the girls were little ladies. But doom was hovering outside the school walls. Our haven of middle-class propriety, where the older boys and girls would develop innocently romantic crushes to the tunes of Abdel-Halim Hafez, was to be no more. It would be penetrated from without.
As far as I can remember, the destructive incursion comes in the form of three adolescent boys: one, the son of an upstart, up-and- coming businessman (whose career began either in Wikalat Al-Balah -- the scrap metal trade -- or Batniya -- hashish -- but who won a newfound respectability with Infitah), brings drugs and vulgarity to the school. The second boy is a Jew of unknown origin; he brings homosexuality (which we have recently discovered is otherwise known as "habitual debauchery with men") and AIDS to our little piece of earthly paradise. The third assailant is at the gates, so to speak. The son of a bawwab or cigarette vendor or some other lowly profession, he stands outside the school inflamed with class hatred for his betters, and sexual desire for the unreachable fair-skinned maidens that are their progeny. Sporting the inevitable beard and short white galabiya, the fearsome terrorist-in-the-making winds up raping one of the schoolgirls.
This is pretty much the story-line of the worst Egyptian film I ever saw, and I would hazard, ever made. I chanced upon it on television one idle and sleepless night several years ago and stuck to it to the end, held by that strange and masochistic fascination that on other occasions will have me watching CNN's "Middle East experts" pontificating on the roots of Israeli-Palestinian violence, or for that matter, an Egyptian official digressing on the state of the economy.
My recollection of the film, I admit, is rather hazy. And even for the purposes of this column, I would not expose myself to that kind of punishment twice, so I hope the readers will forgive me if I got some of the details of the story wrong. I do recall, however, that it had a happy ending of sorts. The police, with the help of a patriotic and upright headmistress (or was it -master?), clean up the school. The invaders are repelled. As virtue triumphs once again, we are treated to a monstrously sordid scene involving the arrest of one of the schoolboys. Having been seduced by the drugs peddled by the son of the socially-mobile Infitah magnate and by the presumably irresistible attraction of the gay Jew, the boy had descended to the bottom of an abyss -- an example to those who would let down their guard before penetrators of any sort. He contracts AIDS. The audience is supposed to applaud as a boy, condemned to long suffering and an untimely death by what was then an incurably fatal disease, is dragged from his home by a dozen policemen.
The film, as I later learned from industry insider friends, was a flop at the box office. Nor was there anything particularly interesting in the fact that it was made by a woman director; the fact merely confirmed what Mrs Thatcher had already made patently clear to the whole world. Notwithstanding their alleged Venusian descent, women could be as remorselessly fascistic as the next man. Slipshod, ugly and a commercial failure to boot: where was the fascination?
The mindset, naturally; I had been exposed, in a highly condensed and especially repugnant form, to a sentiment and perspective of our contemporary reality that went well beyond bad cinema.
Some years ago, a respectable opposition newspaper carried on its front page what purported to be a news item of great importance to the public. Israel, it had been discovered, was in the process of smuggling into Egypt tons of doctored chewing gum, which, we were told in all seriousness, triggered feelings of intense sexual arousal in female chewers. The objective behind the pernicious Zionist plan, the newspaper told us, was to undermine the virtue of young Egyptian women, thereby undermining Egyptian manhood, the family and society as whole, making us easy prey to eventual Israeli invasion. Sure, some newspapers specialise in this kind of rubbish, but how, one has to ask, could the presumably well-educated editors of a major opposition newspaper print this absurd nonsense? Suspending disbelief is clearly not confined to movie-goers.
In a similar vein, we've been regaled with the ever-resurfacing story of AIDS-exporting Israelis or other foreigners who lure our young people into "habitual debauchery" of various sorts, with the express purpose of destroying their, and the nation's, immunity systems.
Fear of "foreign penetration" is not confined to sensationalist rubbish, however. Observe, for instance, much of the anti-normalisation discourse prevalent today. Why, I have often asked, are Egyptian intellectuals content to reduce what could be developed into a fairly effective popular boycott movement to the largely passive posture of not themselves meeting with Israelis? Why, indeed, do we take such pride in merely refraining from meeting the odd Israeli who shows up in Cairo, or whom we might come across in an international forum outside the country? Where is the heroism in it? I fail to see where Israelis (intellectuals or otherwise) derive this apparently irresistible pull, the resistance of which is the source of such high self-regard. It is again a question of virtue rather than politics. The Israelis, apparently, are hell- bent upon "penetrating" the Egyptian intelligentsia.
Ultimately, we need to remind ourselves that moral courage, dignity, fortitude and other traditional attributes of manhood are essentially functions of the mind.
Recommend this page© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Letter from the Editor
|WEEKLY ONLINE: www.ahram.org.eg/weekly
Updated every Saturday at 11.00 GMT, 2pm local time