In 1954, the Egyptian novelist Youssef El-Sebai wrote his famous Arabic novel “Rudda Qalbi” (give me back my heart), a romantic story about the 1952 Egyptian revolution. Later, the novel was turned into a successful film that became synonymous with the revolution, a must-watch on Egyptian state TV every revolution anniversary. The hero of the story, Ali, resembled many Egyptians of his generation, an ambitious guy from a modest background who worked hard for a better life, and fell in love with the pretty, rich princess. Later, he becomes a prominent soldier who joined The Free Officers Movement and “liberated” his country from the corrupt king.
Over the last sixty years, there were countless movies and soap operas similar to Ruda Qalbi; the poor guy and the beautiful rich girl fighting against tyranny, which (surprise, surprise!) did not vanish following the revolution. The Free Officers were corrupted by power, and failed to fulfil the promises they made to their fellow Egyptians: bread, freedom and social justice. Egypt continued to produce shabby Royals and Pashas who continued to oppress their fellow Egyptians and committed the same crimes as their predecessors. Post-1952 Pashas were fond of wrong definitions, semi-truths and a dodgy education system; so the coup became a revolution, and dictatorship was considered the ultimate democracy and censored books were the only source of knowledge.
Unsurprisingly, Egypt continued to produce more “Ali’s”, with some subtle differences; the modern Ali is Islamo-nationalist, who thinks religion is the answer to Egypt’s troubles. He is also a pragmatic businessman, not interested in agricultural reform as his predecessor was, but keen on giant projects, grand malls, supermarkets, Islamic fashion and halal movies depicting the new Islamic “renaissance.”
Democracy for modern Ali is a tool to reach power and sideline the old officers; the tyranny of majority is halal and welcomed as long as the ballot box bring the “right” results. Currently, Ali is willing to put up with some degree of opposition, he still feels a bit vulnerable, and is willing to wait until he solidifies his gains before he turns against his opponents.
Modern Ali still wants to marry the rich beautiful girl, but do not expect romance from him though, the era of romance vanished a long time ago; the elegant, graceful Egypt has been replaced by a crowded, chaotic one. Instead, Ali will offer his new wife an expensive dowry provided she wears the hijab and follows Islamic tradition. Ali also likes to be ”moderate,” he will allow her to work if she wishes to do so, (in suitable jobs of course), and he will shake hands with her non-Muslim friends as a sign of openness. He also might consider a big halal tourist project, in which she and her friends can spend quality time on a segregated beach so they can swim and practice sports in a proper Islamic environment.
Modern Ali is not willing to reflect on the old one, he thinks he is smarter than the old one was and would not end up committing the same mistakes, but when you ask him why, he gets annoyed and changes the topic. Let’s hope he knows what he is doing!
As for Yousef El-Sebai, I doubt if he would be able to write the same novel in 2012. Even if he did write one, he would almost certainly give it a different name, something like “give me back my country.”