On Friday, Islamists surrounded the St George church in Beni Suef demanding the return of a 21 year-old Muslim woman whom they alleged was kidnapped and converted last November by the church in order to allow her to marry her Christian boyfriend.
Well, it turns out she did run away with her boyfriend—only he wasn’t Christian; he was Muslim. Epic sectarianism fail.
And in July of last year, a young engineering student walking his fiancée home was killed by a number of men belonging to a group calling themselves the ‘The Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice Authority’, who deemed what you might otherwise have called an innocent or gentlemanly act to be an example of “vice”—one which they had to put a stop to, or at least advise against.
My usual response to the incidents that incite these holier-than-thou reactions (hand-holding couples, interfaith relationships, etc.) is a shoulder-shrug and a “so what”. My reaction to the reaction is usually “Why don’t they mind their own business?”
But, of course, this is typical since I’m a naïve, westernised stooge—a slave to another culture, a traitor to my own. So my opinion doesn’t matter here (one of these days, I’m going to get an Islamist to guest write this column; “consider it your sadaqa for the day, brother”; I’m sure my editor would love that).
Anyway, on that hellish day (during Ramadan, I might add) when I moved into my new apartment, a fellow resident saw it fit to welcome me to the neighborhood with a barrage of very rude and nosy questions:
“What are you doing here?”
“Do you live alone, or with someone else?”
“What is your profession?” (I wish I’d said “pimp”)
“Are you married?”
And to think I just wanted to say “hello” to my new neighbours; that I had the temerity to be… friendly. Welcome to the neighbourhood.
In London, minding your own business (along with forming straight, orderly queues) is practically a religion, so this was a bit of a shock (many innocent questions, even those posed by acquaintances, are usually preceded with “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but [insert question]?”).
In Egypt, on the other hand, minding your own business is a very rare commodity—a street fight, or a thief chase, for example, will draw otherwise non-involved bystanders by the dozen, and I must say, the gusto with which they participate is… impressive.
Well, both approaches have their pros and cons of course, and you pay for and get returns from them in different currencies—Egypt is “warm” as the cliché goes, and London is not exactly a friendly city.
Anyway, it was later explained to me that the reason for my neighbour’s nosiness was my being a young, unmarried, full-blooded male. Something which, in this country, gives the rest of your neighbours the heebie-jeebies—mainly because they immediately expect that you will be entertaining ladies at your apartment for evenings involving boozing, the snorting of cocaine off delectable backsides, and all manner of savage excesses like devil-worshiping orgies and strip scrabble. If only they knew the sad truth (I make a Catholic priest look like Mick Jagger; my wildest night since moving in involved my enjoying a devilishly delicious mug of hot chocolate whilst watching an illegally-downloaded copy of The Dark Knight Rises with my cats. Hardcore).
Now, if backed by reasons and some semblance of a rational argument (whether religious in nature or not), I will respect the point of view that such things—displays of public affection, premarital sexual escapades, imbibing intoxicants, interfaith relationships, even—might be immoral, even if I don’t agree with some or all of these objections.
The question here, however, is not whether these things are wrong or right, it is, (assuming even that they are wrong), why they are possibly someone else’s concern? If the acts are consensual (and, hopefully, sensual) why is it your business?
Given stories I have heard from others, I assume that if I were to be a naughty boy and bring home a lady (I would never do that—my place is practically a nuclear disaster zone), and I was caught by my bawab, he might hit me with the following (after hitting me physically, no doubt): “Do you think I’m a pimp? Do you think I’m a PIMP?!” (The best reply to this would be: “No buddy, I think I’m the pimp here.”).
Why do otherwise un-involved individuals think they are affected by, or even responsible for, someone else’s morality or lack thereof?
An obsessive compulsive disorder patient, who suffers from a phobia of germs, say (this one seems to be pretty common), attempts through their rituals and repeated actions not only to “decontaminate” themselves, but also to do so for the surrounding vicinity, like the house, for example. Even other members of the household may be implored by the patient to do the same.
The point of the example is clear, I hope. With this little thing called “public morality” in Egypt, everyone must get involved—gangbang style. Everyone must decontaminate the lebensraum from all manner of immorality such as showing the world you love someone or dressing “provocatively”, or even… moving into a new apartment minus a spouse.
It seems some people suffer from an acute case of obsessive compulsive morality disorder. Perhaps they have such a low opinion of their own morals and resolve that they fear your corresponding lack of it will contaminate them; or, perhaps, since this is what seems to be readily on their minds, they are secretly longing to do whatever it is they think you are doing; or, and this one’s interesting, they do it already, just hush-hush style.
And now, all of this is part of a national project (“You say you want a renaissance? Better free your mind instead”, a la John Lennon).
For enshrined in Articles 10 and 11 of the recently-passed “greatest constitution in the history of humanity” are the following: “The state and society shall commit to preserving the true nature of the Egyptian family”, and “The state shall protect ethics and morals and public order”.
It was a dilemma voting for Shafiq or the Space Cadet. But I am suddenly reminded of the story of the fox and the scorpion.
For the record, I abstained (no pun intended).