The morning after
Bilal Fadl, Alayssa assubhu bi qarib? (Is the Morning Near?), Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2011
Contrary to what one is led to expect of Bilal Fadl's first book after 25 Jan, this volume is about neither the revolution nor its aftermath; making up 255 pages, rather, are Al-Masry Al-Youm columns that had been collected for publication by the end of 2010, as Fadl explains in his introduction, to follow a book named Alamen (Two pens but also, in colloquial, two slaps), which includes articles from 2005-2008. Here, then, is a popular screenwriter-cum-political commentator's typically sarcastic take on the last two years of Mubarak's reign: a testimony produced under relative censorial duress, and paralleled by the television series, Ahl Cairo (Cairo Dwellers), screened in Ramadan of 2010, which dealt boldly with corruption; another volume in the vein of Al-Sokan Al-Aslyeen li Masr (Egypt's Original Citizens) and Dehk Magrouh (Injured Laughs).
Yet according to Fadl, if not for 25 Jan, the book would have opened with a poem by the vernacular poet Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi, Tide, about the uprising of 21 Feb 1946, centered around Ismailia (as in Tahrir) Square; after 25 Jan, an introduction was in order. Fadl duly opens his book with a 2008 piece entitled "Morning will Come" in which he had delineated the oppression practised against Egyptians by the Mubarak regime and described the previous 30 years of history as the worst. To his surprise, he says, some say it is the previous 56 years (since the July 1952 Revolution) that were the worst; others, even more surprisingly, see the present as the unalterable fate of Egyptians. Fadl was nonetheless confident that the morning would come. In a column called "The Last Pharaoh", written on the occasion of the fire in the Shura Council building, Fadl expressed concern about the official gratitude shown to the president for "dealing with the catastrophe" and how the pharaoh is resorted to as the person to fix what state officials had ruined rather than held responsible.
Fadl moves onto another significant issue: the supposed Shi'a threat. Rather than expressing worries about the spread of Shi'ism, he is worried about how little Muslim Egyptians know about the Shi'a and compares the failure to accept variety to the virtual one-party system: a political landscape dominated by the NDP. In 'Ayez Ha'i (I Want My Dues), Ahmed Galal's film starring Hani Ramzi and written by Tarek Abdel-Geleil, in which a huge campaign to sell state assets and distribute the money among the citizens is halted at the last minute, comes to mind. Mubarak's regime, according to Fadl, is selling the country in order to facilitate Gamal Mubarak's rise to power in place of his father. Other issues touched on include racism against dark-skinned Egyptians, who will not even be allowed as anchors on official television at a time when America has a black president, and the obsession with past glories to make up for present-day disrespect suffered everywhere by Egyptians. In this context Fadl regards the speeches of Mubarak as identical regardless of their occasion: the 6 October victory, Labour Day, Police Daỷê¦
At one point Fadl expresses sympathy with the ruling family for the death of the president's grandson Mohamed Alaa Mubarak, an occasion for many Egyptians to express their grief even as they failed to show any regard for loss of life on occasions like railway accidents, the Deweqa catastrophe, or the sinking of Al-Salam 98; no day of mourning was announced the way it was on the death of little Mubarak, which was also an occasion for pro-regime writers to consider national grief for the president's grandson an informal vote for the president. The irony is that much of what Fadl says about those days (May 2009) is applicable to the present: the way the criminal businessmen Hisham Talaat Mustafa and his partner Mohsen El-Sokari, accused to killing the singer Suzanne Tamim, produced Qurans when they appeared in court was a pre-run of the presidents' sons following suit. Fadl takes issue with those who fell for the trick, defending Mustafa after seeing him with a Quran in his hand.
The number one topic in Egypt before 25 Jan was the process of passing the post of the presidency from Hosny to Gamal Mubarak, which was progressing in stages. First there was the foundation of the Future Generation Society in 1998, the beginning of Gamal's political career. Secondly, in 2000, Gamal joined the National Democratic Party, soon to head the notorious Policies Committee. In one of his columns, Fadl wonders why the president is silent on this topic; and he answers his own question explicitly: Egyptian society never required any explanation about anything from the president, so much so that after promising to restrict himself to one term in office he ended up ruling the country for 30 years. In one seemingly prophetic column Fadl says he believes in the youth of, praising the Facebook page "We're All Khaled Said" and defending "the Facebook generation" against general lack of faith in them.
Soon enough Facebook was to give way to the great revolution of Egypt that was joined by thousands and thousands from across classes and ages and governorates. The power of this book is how Fadl could see with enough lucidity at a time when no one suspected a revolution was about to break out.
By Soha Hesham