A world turned upside down

While I was outside a polling station waiting to bother voters while covering the referendum, a man sidled over to me.

He was unusually tall, his height accentuated by the straight line of his blue galabeya, and was wearing heavy rimmed 1960s-type sunglasses.

“See that man over there?” He whispered conspiratorially, pointing at a middle-aged man entering the polling station unaware that he was under scrutiny and in no way remarkable other than for the Afghani style he was wearing.

“The man in the Afghani hat,” the man said.

“Yes what about him?”

El balad bazet [the country has been ruined]," he declared before floating away without any further explanation.

I accompanied a colleague to Zagazig shortly before the first round of the referendum for a story he did on anti-Muslim Brotherhood [MB] protests in the Delta city. One MB office had been the subject of an arson attack.

We went to a different MB office in order to meet the head of the MB youth section of Sharqiya, a cheerful man in the mandatory uniform of suit with no tie and light beard.

On our way into the building the bawab enquired as to who we are and my colleague joked, “don’t worry we’re just going to set fire to the MB office and leave right away”.

“Do you need a lighter?” The bawab replied deadpan without missing a beat.

The head of the Sharqiya Muslim Brotherhood youth section laughed.

There is a bank below our newspaper’s office, and a middle-aged security guard sits outside it in a little kiosk under the stairs reading the newspapers or playing with his phone.

Morning pleasantries have inevitably descended into a discussion of the constitution and it transpires that the security guard voted yes. My merry friend greeted him with, “kharabto el balad” [“you’ve destroyed the country”] an expression that in 2011 was the favorite refrain of the anti-revolution camp.

A man sitting next to the security guard riposted with, “so you’re feloul!” and there then followed one of those lively and interminable discussions about the constitution overshadowed only by the fact that much of it was spent establishing that we were actually talking about the same draft and also that nobody knows what the final draft looks like.

This repositioning of political groups has for me been the most disconcerting aspect of 2012. Mohamed Morsy made his constitutional declaration in November and a compass moved and suddenly what was north became south and the familiar landscape of the last 30 years got turned on its head.

The MB, through their own stupidity and political avarice have departed the moral gray zone they inhabited as Mubarak’s mercurial opposition and are busy using up the people’s benefit of the doubt through decisions that out-Mubarak Mubarak. Fellow gray zoners in Salafi movements express their discontent by mobilizing against their bugbears. Both groups use the same techniques employed throughout the revolution but tend to go the extra mile by busing people to protests and building semi-permanent toilets.

The group loosely referred to as feloul — but which covers people who felt at best lukewarm about the revolution and voted for e.g. Ahmed Shafiq — have taken to their battle stations now that The Beards Are Coming, and have proven to be the big surprise of 2012. The lefty liberal neoliberal opposition movement(s) meanwhile plod onwards, at their best when united by a common figure of hate whose surname begins with M but seemingly unable to harness any of the fragile spirit of their tenacious street protests and turn it into something robust with nationwide appeal – at least if we interpret the 64 percent yes of the referendum result as the extent to which the voting populace endorses the MB or isn’t convinced by its opposition. The army is finally back in its barracks having managed the transitional period in what many regard as a diabolical fashion but there are some voices clamoring for a military intervention against Islamist rule.

Even Tawfik Okasha, enfant terrible of television who spent his entire life up to 23 December 2012 on the wrong side of history has been semi-rehabilitated and his famous 13-13-13 prediction that the Masonic plot against Egypt will come to fruition in 2013 coincides nicely with the MB’s tightened grip on power.

There are constants, however. Conspiracy theories are still as popular as ever and remain particularly useful to leaders under fire as an alternative to public self-criticism and acknowledgement of fault. The media continues to be targeted by censorship poorly disguised as litigation. Healthy men die in police stations, children are crushed by trains and decades of negligence, people are just as poor and life goes on.

Sarah Carr is an Egypt Independent journalist and blogger.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

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