By Sherin Sobhy
Playwright Lenin El-Ramly refuses to talk about the reality taking place without first briefly explaining the history of the past 60 years. El-Ramly dates the chaos we live in today to Abdel Nasser’s era and the 1952 Revolution, which he believes to be a coup.
From the days of Abdel Nasser and up to the last elections of Mubarak, the elections had been rigged because the state belonged to the president, El-Ramly says, elucidating on our current state of affairs.
Sadat, wishing to get rid of the leftists, released the Muslim Brotherhood members from prisons, realising his mistake too late, according to El-Ramly. He further drew the comparison to Mubarak, saying he did the same, forcing the people to choose between him and “chaos”.
Though El-Ramly never joined the protests to Tahrir Square, one thing that caught his attention was that the youth there did not live during Abdel Nasser’s or Sadat’s eras. They lifted signs with pictures of Abdel Nasser with his military uniform while chanting “down with military rule”.
“Isn’t this chaos? How can they insult the military and at the same time lift a picture of a military president?” El-Ramly questioned.
“Things are confusing for people, especially young Egyptians, who only hear of Abdel Nasser but do not read about him, even though he is the one that led us to this mess,” he said.
When talking about Al-Sisi, El-Ramly said that we are taking very slow steps, and we must be patient because the issues in the state are immense. “We have a corrupt government, Al-Azhar has become a state within a state, and the Salafis followed. As per the constitution, you cannot form a party based on religious backgrounds. However, Mehleb only met with Al-Nour Party. We are close to being just like Libya, Syria, and Yemen.”
And while El-Ramly was ambivalent regarding whether Al-Sisi engages intellectuals in his projects, what he seems to be clear on is that the country has “eliminated the role of intellectuals, thinkers, and scholars”.
In his latest play “A Ghost In Our House”, Lenin tells the story of a group of people who inherited a haunted house. At the end of the play, they house is burnt down, and El-Ramly said that in order to get rid of our own ghosts, we must do the same.
What’s important to El-Ramly is what we want now. We have to prioritise and do the things that are most important first, because we do not have the power to do everything at once. Al-Sisi, he believes, cannot do everything, so can we enter war with ministers or Salafis, bearing in mind that we are still fighting the Brotherhood?
Is this a delayed war?
This is not a delayed war, but everything has to take its term and we cannot be talking as if we had everything and lost it, because it is not true. We are talking here about a 90-million-people nation, which has so many old issues. Al-Sisi did many things, including the Suez Canal project, in which many people invested, and other projects. Al-Sisi himself said that we have to have priorities.
Why do some intellects feel disappointed with Al-Sisi’s policy?
I don’t know; you should ask them.
Do you not feel disappointed?
No, I don’t, because the situation is worse than what we live in. We cannot put all the burden of change on one person, because in that case he will turn to be just like Abdel Nasser: a tyrant.
Is there a just tyrant?
There actually is a just tyrant, when people are unaware. Al-Sisi does not believe he is the best, as all his predecessors did. They made us believe that things are less intense at the times of Sadat and Mubarak, but they would later do what pleased them. We, on the other hand, only used to applaud. Many young Egyptians at the time of Abdel Nasser were detained and killed, and it also happened in the times of Sadat and Mubarak.
Where do freedom and democracy stand in the state’s priorities?
I do not know which democracy you mean, or whether it is the issue of protesting without a permit.
Do you believe we are a democratic country?
We do not even have a parliament to talk about democracy.
Why have we not achieved this either?
There are so many things we cannot achieve. For a moment, I thought that the delay in the parliamentary elections was intentional, but again everything in our country is. When Al-Sisi asked the Al-Wafd Party to resolve issues together, conflicts arose right afterwards. Al-Sisi is not postponing the elections for personal reasons.
What can Al-Sisi do for the parliament to be convenient to him?
He cannot do anything. Salafis will take more than 20% of the seats, the Brotherhood will also take seats. We still have a long way to freedom.
Who holds Al-Sisi accountable now?
No one is being held accountable for anything, and Salafis make announcements that take us 12 decades behind. Al-Sisi can now issue whatever decrees he needs to issue. The state cannot kick the Brotherhood from the places they are in, because they have been there for so many years. In the newspapers, Hamdeen Sabahy says whatever he wants; ElBaradei left the whole country, along with many others. The country is fighting many sides, and this is what led to the chaos.
We do not have tyranny; everyone writes whatever they want freely on Facebook. When we have a parliament, change the protests law, but what if the parliament itself refused to change it? Will people behave like the Brotherhood?
Why is there no intellectual war, just like the state’s war against terrorism?
An example of this is when a man has 10 sons: three live abroad, three live in hospitals, and two are psychologically unstable. This is Egypt. Didn’t they stop Islam El-Behiry for blasphemy charges? Who did this? Was it Al-Sisi? Would Al-Sisi have prevented them?
There are so many secrets about this revolution, which the Brotherhood played a big part in. Mubarak had to get rid of the Brotherhood and the Salafis at any cost. However, instead of a conflict, he left them just like Sadat and Abdel Nasser. He even let them escape prisons. This was going to be the bigger mess. Rebels have to read history to know what Egypt is. We now see that Syria and Iraq are being demolished, and Libya and Yemen are witnessing the same thing. They will destroy our history.
To what extent did Egyptian liberalism go?
They took everything. Everything is being robbed, even knowledge. All our remaining intellectuals are old and not many in number. The rest were journalists. Liberals do not have parties or any entity or clubs. Youngsters cannot possibly be talking like rebels; they must understand everything first.