Adel Imam, an Egyptian comedian with a 40-year-span in the business of laughter mainly, was tried in two separate accounts on blasphemy—insulting and abusing Islam in films and plays that have been shown and played for decades.
In the first trial, Imam received a three-month sentence. He will appeal, no doubt. In the second one, Imam’s case was dismissed. But Imam’s situation is one of the many examples that Egyptians have witnessed lately, situations that exemplify the Islamist mode of thinking and how far it wants to go, and the reaction of Egyptians to it.
Every day a new story about a ban or a curtailment emerges and gets circulated. The examples are many: Naguib Mahfouz’s novels promote prostitution and drugs, as the Salafist candidate, Shahat, reiterated; the age of marriage for girls should be lowered to 14; or teaching English is a foreign plot. These stories are leaving Egyptians bewildered and in total disbelief. The pious men, and women, they chose to lead the country are neglecting the main issues and focusing on promoting ignorance.
Some of these weird stories have occurred to test the waters. Islamists want to see how far they can go; they’d like to make social and political amendments that would suit their ways, so they try their luck in the hopes that the approach would gain momentum. If it works, albeit; if it doesn’t, nothing is lost.
One of these let’s-test-the-waters episodes is seen when member Mamdouh Ismail of the Salafi party, Al Nour, stood up from his seat in parliament, went to the microphone, and recited the call for prayers. He continued to recite even when he was asked to uphold his call by the speaker.
Ismail was making a point: that parliament should not convene when prayer is due, and that prayer should be performed before and ahead of any other duty or task. Had he succeeded, many changes would have taken place. If parliament was to stop functioning at certain times, then the same would occur regarding when lectures start, shops close, and movie theatres run. Everyone would be expected to stop what he or she is doing to pray, which is not the case in Egypt today. People continue to attend classes, go about their businesses, and postpone praying until a more convenient time. And Islam allows people a few hours to pray, and if unable, they can pray at a later time.
Had Ismail gotten away with changing the protocol by which parliament convenes, it would have entailed by far more changes across Egypt. Sure his effort this time round did not reap any benefit, but who knows? It may work the next time round—that’s all it takes: an effort.
I find Ismail’s effort frivolous, but a more risky Islamic image is seen in people such as Azza El Garf. Azza El Garf is one of the few women parliamentarians elected in the last parliament election. Because she is a woman, her in-total agreement with the laws that diminish women to slaves and objects, is quite frightening. “She has made a splash by talking about tightening Egypt’s already stringent divorce laws, rolling back the ban on female genital mutilation, and reportedly denying that sexual harassment exists in Egypt. ”
In all the above mentioned cases, the Islamists in parliament have portrayed a peculiarly opaque picture of what would be considered agreeable under the auspices of Islam: women returned to the harem times, entertainment curbed, and total control of how life is led in Egypt today.
The question now is whether Islamists gained from these stories. I believe that all these stories have portrayed Islamists as ignorant and bias. Stories go viral and in the process demean the image of Muslim parliamentarians. I believe Islamists are not ignorant, so it is a shame that they continue to make odd demands that belittle from their cause and image.
Have these stories helped the Islamists’ cause? Indeed not. In fact, liberal Egyptians are ecstatic; they want to give Islamists enough rope to hang themselves. Indeed, Islamists have stained the image of Islam much to chagrin of moderate Islamists. Talk to the pious that may have chosen a fundamentalist, and they will tell you immediately that they will not vote for one anymore.
A word of caution to Islamists: stop belittling from yourselves. Your approach will most definitely work against you. Islam is by far more superior than you make it. Egyptians will definitely lose faith in you though they will never lose faith in Islam.