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A not so good omen

Music is a powerful means to stimulate the memory. Certain songs take me back to specific moments in my childhood, university years, and adulthood. The song Bushrat Kheir (“Good Omen”), recently released by Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jasmi for Egyptians in celebration of these presidential elections, will always remind me of Monday and Tuesday of this …

Basil El-Dabh
Basil El-Dabh

Music is a powerful means to stimulate the memory. Certain songs take me back to specific moments in my childhood, university years, and adulthood.

The song Bushrat Kheir (“Good Omen”), recently released by Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jasmi for Egyptians in celebration of these presidential elections, will always remind me of Monday and Tuesday of this week.

In every Cairo and Giza neighbourhood I visited, the song was blasted from street corners, polling stations, and shops, often accompanied by the sight of Egyptians dancing and celebrating. The name of the song gets its name from the end of its refrain that says:

“You’re writing tomorrow on your terms,

This is a good omen.”

For some Egyptians, the second presidential election in three years is a good omen. Ever since he ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has won the support of many and these elections are essentially a formality before he becomes the country’s next president.


Voters I spoke to in front of polling stations seemed sincerely excited. “Sisi saved Egypt,” a woman in Shubra repeated to me on Monday. I was told by others about how Al-Sisi would solve all of Egypt’s deeply rooted problems, how he was going to revive education, and how he was going to rid the country of terrorism once and for all.

But, as everyone following developments in Egypt knows, these presidential elections and the impending result aren’t a “good omen” for everyone. As Minister of Defence, Al-Sisi oversaw one of the most far-reaching political crackdowns in Egypt’s modern history. And although the government has vowed to wage its “war on terrorism”, the target and scope of those affected has expanded dramatically.

Al-Sisi’s election isn’t a good omen for a free press. Al-Jazeera correspondent Abdullah Al-Shamy, who was arrested at Rabaa Al-Adaweya more than nine months ago and has been hunger striking for more than 100 days of them, remains in detention without charge. Three others, Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed, and Peter Greste are currently standing trial on a slough of terror-related charges. During his campaign Al-Sisi did not have much to say other than the press’ role should be rallying the public behind a “strategic goal of preserving the Egyptian state”. Other journalists also remain in detention, as two members of the Rassd News Network stand military trial on charges connected to a series of audio and video footage leaked by the network of Al-Sisi making statements about various subjects. They are being charged with illegally “obtaining military secrets”.

Al-Sisi’s election is not a good omen for a civil state. The former defence minister has clearly denied that the military’s budget should have complete civilian oversight and much of his rhetoric has embraced the culture of an untouchable military institution with the privileges and prerogatives it has enjoyed for generations.

Al-Sisi’s election is not a good omen for political dissidents, many who are in jail now. An independent count put the tally of arrests since Morsi’s ouster at 41,162 with an overwhelming majority for political activity under the guise of the banner of ”fighting terrorism” that Al-Sisi erected last July and continues to be an important aspect of the security apparatus’ narrative for suppressing dissent. Al-Sisi was given the opportunity to address the Protest Law, which has been used to detain peaceful demonstrators. However, instead he elected to warn Egyptians of the dangers of “irresponsible protests”.

Al-Sisi’s election is not a good omen for marginalised members of society, who will continue to face problems under a leader who deny that such problems exist. An integral part of Al-Sisi’s campaigning before elections dealt with women’s issues, often using the patriarchal tone that has become the norm, saying in an interview that all Egyptian women would be “his daughters”. When asked about possible discrimination in the army against Egypt’s Christians, Al-Sisi denied that such a problem exists, despite the fact that none of the 23 members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are Christian, and very few exist among the entire institution’s leadership.

And finally, Al-Sisi’s election is not a good omen for stability. The cornerstone of Al-Sisi’s campaign promises capitalises on Egyptians’ desire and need for stability.  Most of the people I talked to outside polling stations made reference to the field marshal’s military background when discussing hopes of stabilising the country. However, the last year has made it clear that for Al-Sisi and others in the security establishment, stability is achieved through eliminating opponents, rather than seeking reconciliation or uniting with those at odds with post-30 June Egypt.  The way in which the law has persecuted certain protesters and political opposition does not bode well for a future Egypt in which stability comes to fruition through plurality and diversity. As more are pushed to the margins of political sphere and society, the more likely they are to find ways of expressing opposition in a way that undermines stability.

Looking for good omens is a must in Egypt. It’s a critical coping mechanism we’ve employed through three years of disappointment and heartbreak. I recognised that when I spoke to unemployed dancing voters in Cairo’s working class neighbourhoods or even middle and upper class voters who want to live in a safe and stable country. But until all members of Egyptian society truly have an opportunity to determine tomorrow on their own terms, there are no good omens.

Basil El-Dabh is The Daily News Egypt’s politics editor. B.eldabh@thedailynewsegypt.com

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  • shahira amin

    great piece…speaking truth to power, BRAVO Basil

  • nessma

    well written article.

  • Reda Sobky

    There is some fundamental truth that you are ignoring in this piece which is that every sector of society was threatened and continues to feel threatened by the deposed and their view of womens’ role and rights , minority rights, loss of mirth and the prevalence of a hateful, depressed divisive and narcissistic misogynistic tendencies. For all those people for whom it came down to an existential moment of truth…the absence of the deposed is the greatest good omen. The rest is old embedded negative traits that need to be overcome to reach a level of social organization that can compete effectively in the world economy. To be truthful here it seems like there is a need for a collective reordering of the internal psychic state towards the spiritual values that honor everyone and that succeed in creating inclusion of women in public life and leadership and institute equality before the law. So now it is just relief from the nightmare and the hope that integrity will prevail and Egypt will have learned from past errors and recent experience.

    • AgnosticEgyptian

      Sisi is just as hateful of women and minorities as the MB are. Sisi defended the virginity tests conducted on the women who protested against the SCAF in 2011 and Copts have always been second class citiziens in Egypt regardless of who’s in power. The MB were never a real threat, they were always too weak to do any real harm, the army has held the cards all along.

      • Reda Sobky

        Sorry, this is a categorically incorrect statement and denies the facts on the ground. I will only remind the reader of the night of the 47 burning belfries (bell towers), never before in history had forty seven churches been burned in one operation, one night, the same night. This kind of falsification is an integral part of mid twentieth century mass misinformation and formulaic responses, please try not to be ridiculous. The deposed were hateful in their behavior towards every constituency in society including women who wish to modernize their role in society and minorities even Sufis. Why do you think what happened, happened? Please don’t portray the deposed as victims because if you insist, it is clear they are victims of their own making-character is fate and we can’t avoid it.

        • AgnosticEgyptian

          I didn’t defend the MB, I’m just stating facts. No one knows who blew up those churches, it still hasn’t been confirmed that it was the Brotherhood. Anyways, they’re not going to be destroyed, they’ve been around too long and are too entrenched in society. And Sisi really is no better, he is just smart enough to hide his nastiness.

          • Reda Sobky

            Fully confirmed and witnessed, separating the vileness of ethnic cleansing from its perpetrators is also an old technique and I challenge you to state who you think staged those events, if it is not the deposed. I actually saw substantial footage myself that showed the perpetrators and identified them, denial does not help you, “has not been confirmed”, linguistically meaningless-yes they did it and some of their statements actually border on admission. Apologists for religious fascism are just that, apologists and no more.

          • AgnosticEgyptian

            Religious fascism is no better than military fascism. Considering that the military fascists are the ones with all the power and money, they’re the real threat. Ask Sisi where all of Mubarak’s money is, he won’t tell you.

          • Reda Sobky

            Very lame response, making the deposed ok by saying what you say makes very very little sense.

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  • Nour

    in this hard times we are living i feel frustrated and always disappointed from the surrounding lies,hatred,injustice and oppression specifically what media broadcasts 24/7. so when i read such an article i feel alive again cause it proves that there is always hope and lots of people didn’t lose there humanity yet

  • kent

    The irony is that Emirati singer made that ‘Egyptian Tabla/Folk Music’ song, about the Egyptian elections whilst his country never witnessed one.

    • Reda Sobky

      The Qatari propaganda machine has an entertainment arm that pays people to do things like that. The most despotic of all is Qatar, how they cry over democracy seems ridiculous and absurd, actually laughable while they suck the blood of their imported slaves to build the venue for the world cup they bribed their way into getting.

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