Anything but sex, religion and the president
Lenin el-Ramly's biting satire has turned him into one of the most widely read satirists in Egypt.
The scriptwriter: Everything's O.K., but now they want me to erase part of the script, a few little items about terrorism.
Hassawi: The censor asked you to do this?
The scriptwriter: No, the producer, the director and the distributor did.
Hassawi: Why is that?
The scriptwriter: They say that terrorism in Egypt is finished.
Hassawi: How's that? Did they forget the terrorist attacks in Taba?
The scriptwriter: I told them, but they said that's not considered terrorism because it happened in Taba.
Hassawi: How could that be? Taba's no longer considered part of Egypt? If that's the case, then we have to give it back to Israel.
The scriptwriter: I told them, but they said in those terrorist attacks Israelis were killed and therefore it's not considered terrorism.
Hassawi: But more Egyptians were killed there and citizens of any other place.
The scriptwriter: I explained that to them, but they told me that it's the fate of the Egyptians and they're also considered shahids [martyrs] and in any case will receive their reward when they enter paradise.
Hassawi: And what about the events on the bridge at the university [where a suicide bomber perpetrated an attack - Z.B.]?
The scriptwriter: I asked them, but they said it was an isolated incident involving a deranged person, not terrorism.
Hassawi: But now [after the attacks in Sharm El-Sheikh - Z.B.], I'm sure that they'll screen your film without any cuts.
The scriptwriter sighs and remains quiet.
A customer in the cafe: Y'allah, dear brothers, you can't remain silent in the face of terrorism, following the attacks in Sharm today.
Another customer: The first step is that we have to break off our ties with them.
Hassawi: You mean we have diplomatic ties with terrorism?
Customer: Indeed, and we must close their embassies and throw them out of here so that they stop plotting against us.
Hassawi: These plots, whose are they?
Customer: America and Israel, of course. They're the ones who planned the attack in Sharm El-Sheikh. The fact is not a single Israeli or American was killed there.
After a few more questions and answers the customers explain to Hassawi (which in Arabic means "donkey races") that America and Israel don't want there to be economic prosperity in Egypt.
Hassawi: And do we really have economic prosperity here?
Customers: No, but tourism is the most important source of income. Enough already with those infidels, who come to our country, desecrate our holy sites and even pay in hard currency.
After the customers provide a series of explanations to Hassawi, who doesn't understand what the fuss is about, they get fed up with his "pointless" questions and start to attack him.
Customer: Don't you see the connection between Condoleezza Rice's visit and the attacks that took place one week later? What, are you stupid?
Customer: Don't you have any national consciousness, Hassawi?
Customer: Are you with America and Israel against Muslims, Hassawi?
Customer: Are you an agent of the crusade against us, Hassawi?
Hassawi turns to the scriptwriter and asks him: Why are you keeping quiet? After all it's your problem. Say something!
The scriptwriter: I'll cut the script and write a new script about other terrorism.
Hassawi: Other terrorism? What do you mean?
Customer: The terrorism that you experienced now. You'd better repent, Hassawi.
Lenin el-Ramly's biting satire on the prevailing conversation in Egypt has turned him into one of the most widely read satirists not only in Egypt, but also in Arab countries in general. El-Ramly, who has written over 30 scripts for film and television series as well as 12 plays, reacts to this talk in his weekly column in Al-Ahram, using the character of Hassawi, the innocent but wise man who asks pointed questions that no one really wants to answer.
It is a legitimate way for El-Ramly to describe the reality in Egypt, the gap between official positions and the truth, between what the government wants citizens to think and what the citizen actually thinks. And it all appears in a newspaper that is owned by the government.
El-Ramly is perhaps the most talented representative of the genre of satire and political lampooning among Egyptians, a genre whose roots the Egyptian researcher Shaaban Abd al-Samad of Cairo's Ein Shams University dates back to the pharaohs. There is also cartoonist Amru Fahmi, whose strip in the newspaper, Al-Akhbar (also an organ of the government), is widely seen as being responsible for the dismissal of the previous prime minister, Atif Obeid. Fahmi, together with the publicist and satirist Ahmed Rageb, poked fun at the prime minister daily until they turned him into a joke - and also the entire Egyptian government.
Ahmed Rageb is a legendary figure in the Egyptian press. Alongside sharp series of articles, he publishes a daily item in Al-Akhbar called "Half a Word" in which he comments incisively on the condition of Egypt and the Arab world. For example, he wrote, "the Arab League was created so that Arabs would have a place where they could exchange curses and accusations of betrayal. But now there's no longer any reason for the League to continue to exist, because the curses have moved over to the venue of summit meetings." Incidentally, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) submitted a complaint against Rageb to President Hosni Mubarak in 2001 after in one of his columns he wrote a thank-you letter to Hitler, thanking him for eliminating the Jews "even though he didn't finish the job." The ADL received a response stating that Rageb's columns are part of democracy. But as with any formal writing in Egypt, satire and cartoons are also not free of censorship. "There are four subjects that we can't touch on," Al-Ramly explained in an interview with the paper, Egypt Today: "Sex, the president, religion and social values. In other words, it's not permitted to write directly about them, but you can touch on them in satire."
Is that really so?
In the same issue, cartoonist Amru Fahmi was asked if a fellahin - the figure that became the symbol of his caricatures - would one day be able to meet the president and not just the prime minister, whom he makes fun of all week.
Fahmi initially said yes, why not. And then immediately recovered: "Now we have a million other subjects to deal with," in other words, what's the rush to deal with the president? But even without dealing with the president, Egyptian satire is spicy enough for the public to understand who is responsible for its situation.