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Who is beating up ‘am Helmy with a shoe?

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Farid Zahran

Farid Zahran

In the Middle East and Egypt, people have gotten used to utilising the words “shoe” and “slipper” in verbal insults. Of course, the physical usage of the items exists, as demonstrated by the Iraqi journalist with the former President George Bush junior. We have also witnessed women living in low-class neighbourhoods use slippers to beat up people during street fights.

The concept has gained a symbolic aura, which points at humiliation rather than physical harm. Therefore it has become enough to wave the shoe or slipper to humiliate the adversary; people would shout “I will hit you with a shoe”; an empty threat that seems to do the trick.

So, the use of shoes and slippers in the language has become so common that it has seeped into political talk as well.  Insults in political conversations have become much more common and people use them all the time, especially through social media websites like Facebook. It started with using these insults with adversaries who were hated by everyone and so it became accepted. Then it transformed from being used against enemies to being used against anyone who disagrees with you.

We have seen politicians vehemently announce that this or that person should be beaten up with a shoe. Insults also included “slaughtering” or “shredding” the person or even the whole of the Egyptian people.

I was told that police cadets are told during their years in the academy that they are the “owners and masters” of the country. I also know many rich and influential people who act as if they own the country as well. They see the rest of the people as a burden; they are seen as excessive breeders and eaters who refuse to work. Therefore, they should thank those “masters” for their generosity. In this context, hitting people with a shoe becomes understandable or even necessary. This behaviour is copied by those who belong to a lower class, in an attempt to become more like the country’s masters.

The 25 January participants were hoping to create a country that sees everyone as an equal, where people enjoy freedom and justice. Yet, the police decided not to work, and people started missing the country’s security. So much so that it became impossible to report any crimes. The police gave the country a choice: if you want us to work, it means we have to beat up people with a shoe.  Of course, those who belong to the upper middle class and upper class will rarely be beaten up with the rest of the people. Therefore, public opinion chooses to go back to that humiliating state.  This has been reaffirmed by people’s belief that 30 June would have never happened if the police and army did not unite against the Brotherhood.

Therefore, instead of asking the police to do its job without humiliation, people demanded that others be beaten up to ensure the return of security and stability. This trend has even befallen those belonging to lower classes. A young man working at one of the TV networks once told me: “’am Helmy told me, ‘I want the president to beat me up with a shoe’.”

Which president would be willing to do such a thing? And after dreaming of a different country, will we accept this humiliation?

About the author

Farid Zahran

Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party

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