By Joseph Fahim
Midway through what became the January 25 Revolution, numerous observers, university professors and experts attempted to write a sketched narrative of the uprising, drawing comparison to other revolutions near and far and deducing predictions while overlooking the specificities and uniqueness of the Egyptian condition.
Time proved most predictions wrong. No one was able to forecast the outcome of those historical 18 days, driving many to a state of confusion bordering on panic. Amid this chaos, artists and prominent media personalities alike were thrust into the battle, forced by the public and media alike to take sides and incidentally show their true colors. The result was something akin to a comic allegory of political opportunism and hypocrisy, fronted by charlatans and petty profiteers.
Unlike the Nasser and Sadat eras, Mubarak’s 30-year reign was cloaked with a deformed freedom of expression. Opposition media proliferated in the past decade, giving dissenting voices the space to criticize the regime in the open. The person of Mubarak was the sole unapproachable taboo; few journalists such as El-Dostor’s Ibrahim Eissa dared to challenge him in person, often leading to dire consequences.
Celebrities were on a slightly different wavelength, simply because the stakes were much higher. Several filmmakers, artists and a handful of actors — actor Khaled El-Sawy, directors Khaled Youssef, Yousry Nasrallah and Daoud Abdel Sayed — were political activists before they became filmmakers and they didn’t shy away from speaking out against the regime. When it came to the foreboding subject of Mubarak, only a handful took a direct stab at him: veteran poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and late iconic filmmaker Youssef Chahine. The rest steered clear.
Last year, film star Khaled Abol Naga made headlines by becoming the first celebrity to openly endorse a candidate other than Mubarak for the presidency. His support for Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei didn’t affect his career but it did land him in hot water with Mubarak’s goons who, up until a month ago, were practically in control of the entire nation.
One of the many merits of the revolution is that it allowed many latent voices to break their silence and rebel against the status quo. On Jan. 25, actor Amr Waked was seen chanting “down with Mubarak” with the rest of the protestors; filmmaker Amr Salama was subjected to brutal beating by the police; prominent TV presenter Mahmoud Saad refused to appear on air and spread the regime’s lies.
More faces started to emerge over the next few days: actresses Basma, Jihan Fadel and Mona Zaki; actors Khalid Abdalla (of “The Kite Runner” fame), Asser Yassin and Khaled El-Nabawy; filmmakers Mohamed Diab, Ahmad Abdallah and Ahmed Maher, novelists Ahdaf Soueif and Alaa Al-Aswany and numerous visual artists including Mohamed Abla.
The most vocal voice of the bunch was none other than famed music composer Ammar El-Sherei, the same man who had written the Mubarak anniversary operetta “We Have Chosen You” 15 years ago. In an anxious call to state TV, El-Sherei lambasted the regime’s broadcast service for misleading the public and spreading venomous lies about protesters.
On the other side of the fence were the Mubarak loyalists; a group of performers known for their longstanding relationship with the former president. Chief among this company was comedian Talaat Zakaria, star of the pro-Mubarak propaganda “Tabakh El-Rai’s” (The President’s Chef). Zakaria, whose medical treatment a couple of years ago was fully paid by the government, claimed that Tahrir Square had transformed into a den for drug consumption and fornication.
Zakaria’s co-star and former head of the Actors’ Syndicate Ashraf Zaki, also a well-known Mubarak sympathizer, staged a contentious pro-Mubarak march on Feb 2. Union members lamented his “shifty position,” forcing him to resign within days.
Actress Samah Anwar also drew loud outcry for her derogatory comments that called for the burning of the protesters. Other ardent supporters of Mubarak included actresses Ghada Abdel Razek, Zeina, Magda Zaki, veteran actor Hassan Youssef (who blamed foreign forces for orchestrating the revolution) and singer Amr Moustafa.
A number of stars such as Yousra, Elham Shahin, Ahmed El-Sakka and Mohamed Sobhy chose to take a less inciting position, calling for protestors to go home while showing solidarity with Mubarak.
With imminent victory looming on the horizon, ex-opponents of the revolution suddenly appeared to have a change of heart, praising the youth for demanding change and leading the country to a better future. Nevertheless, the public did not buy their amended stance.
A prime example is notorious pop star Tamer Hosny. An icon for countless misguided teens, Hosny provoked derision at the start of the protests, describing Mubarak as a “father” with many children to tend to, declaring that “there are many young people who do not know how hard he has worked towards maintaining peace.”
Most TV presenters maintained an impartial position. The most contentious member of this group was Amr Adib, who despite having a reputation of being the regime’s fierce watchdog, has repeatedly asserted that no one but Mubarak is fit to rule Egypt at present. After the latter announced his decision not to run for another term, Adib called for protestors to go home and allow Mubarak to leave with his dignity intact.
The change of tide brought about by the revolution pushed the majority of detractors to reverse their position, and thus began the grand posturing parade.
Sobhy, Shahin and the like hailed the youth for their historic accomplishment. Hosny went down to Tahrir to apologize for his comments, claiming that he was fed those statements, only to be beaten up by angry protestors. Adib dubbed the day Mubarak stepped down as “the day we all became free.”
State media followed suit. Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar dailies welcomed Mubarak’s resignation with the headline “The people have overthrown the regime.” Al-Ahram’s chief editor Osama Saraya saluted the revolution after blaming the Muslim Brotherhood at first for masterminding the “Friday of Anger.” Even Tamer Amin, co-host of state TV’s “Masr El-Naharda” (Egypt Today) who has been widely regarded as the mouthpiece of the regime, turned from extreme right to extreme left.
What we’re essentially witnessing here is an epic venture of pandering by dozens of public figures out of touch with the public, desperately trying to save face and gain some popularity.
Hardly any of Mubarak’s apologists stood their ground, even those who continue to support him in secret. The stakes remain high, and therefore their beliefs had to be alerted to accommodate popular opinion.
The question of whether voices from the right can exist in such an uncertain climate is beside the point — although it does appear that any state supporters are being witch-hunted at the moment.
The reason why Zakaria, Anwar and their ilk were rightfully attacked by both the opposition press and the public is simply because they came off as uninformed, ignorant to put it more bluntly, and injudicious. On the other hand, Amin, Hosny and the rest of the lot proved to be nothing more than dummies, controlled by anything that can boost their status.
On the outset, the post-January 25 Revolution world looks increasingly black and white: The pro-Mubaraks are seen by default as accomplices in his crimes while the anti-state rebels are seen as the loyal, valiant defenders of liberty, truth and justice. But if Mahmoud Saad’s interview with Abdel-Latif El-Menawy, head of Egypt’s state TV news, is any indication, truth is not so clear-cut.
In show business though, the distinction may be more viable. History will tell of those who defied the system and those who chose to remain silent in fear of risking their privileges, of those who put their reputations on the line and those who nonchalantly rode the wave.
The beauty of the revolution is that it was faceless; no major public figure, no opinion leader, managed to shape its course or influence the people. The year of the revolution will also be remembered as the year when stars fell down to earth and crashed into pieces.