War is hell, but in Egypt you grow up taking the hook, line and sinker: warriors go to heaven. Some become educated to nuance and others remain vulnerable to brain washing. The former becomes more difficult when a nation is ruled by a man, never battle tested, intent on utilizing hyper nationalism for nefarious purposes. The rhetoric of populism is, by no means, the monopoly of Mr. Abdel El Fatah El Sisi but, by numerous qualitative measures, he is among its finest practitioners regionally and internationally. So, when, during one of the many celebrations of the “October Victory”, he dedicates a significant chunk of time to a film named El Mamar (The Passage), the question begs itself: why? To understand El Mamar and its function as a fascist tool at the emperor’s disposal is to understand the Sisification of Egypt.
It is well established that state control, as reflected by Intelligence services’ ownership of production companies, of the most vital entertainment Egyptian entertainment vehicle: the Ramadan soap operas is a Fait accompli. Ezzdine Fishere, writer and former diplomat, put it best “For Sisi this is not about politics or power…he wants to reeducate the Egyptian public”. At stake are Egyptian minds, reeducation is code for brainwashing. A Propaganda Pipeline is central for the totalitarian state. Ramadan’s dramatic fare were pro military and police- those forces killed 862 during the revolution and, shortly after the coup, murdered 1000 Egyptians during the Rabaa and Nahda massacres on August 14th 2013. There is no hiding the fact that orders came down to “glorify the military” during the crucial Ramadan soap season.
And Glorify the Military They Did
The message was crystal clear for El Mamar’s cast. Indoctrination started with the June 4th, 2019 release dramatizing the War of Attrition, a period of military skirmishes undertaken by Egypt prior to the 1973 faceoff. Drama, of course, being the operative word here. Forty minutes into the film, a heavily moustached conscript, hailing from Egypt’s historically proud south, stands alone on the battlefield holding his antiquated gun and firing Don Quixotesquely as an Israeli jet spews a hail of bullets in his direction. As his commander, the lead actor Ahmed Ezz, known in real life as the man who denied fathering two children by marriage, asks “what did you do during the raid?” the soldier unblinkingly retorts: “What’s important is that the person in the plane sees me standing unafraid’’. The pressing of the emotional buttons begins in earnest. It is relentless till the end of this contrived saga.
As a six-year old child I witnessed the adults in the family plastering dark purple sheeting over our apartment’s windows on the 1973 war’s eve. That child understood little more than the fact that we were fighting the enemy and the enemy was Israel. Camp David did little to change that perception among the broad majority of Egyptians. Deals between generals do not change national psyches and the movie capitalizes on historic enmity, with great hypocrisy, even as Sisi cements himself as Israel’s best friend in the region.
That Sisi has allotted the lion’s share of his mega projects to his, grotesquely large, military establishment is no accident. On one level, he firms up crucial alliances to guarantee his seat at the head of the governance table. On the other, this modus operandi, reflects a deep belief in the superiority of the military mind. The military “can deliver large complicated projects faster than the private sector”, thinks Sisi. Look no further than the largest project in the nation, the military owns 51% of the firm handling the goliath known as the New Capital City.
Knowing well that Egyptians have been fed a steady diet of hyper nationalism since the days of Nasser, Sisi has taken the next step to the dark side: Fascism.
Egyptians love their army, but a distinction between leadership and servicemen at large is intentionally never made by those in power. Remember this is the very same leadership who ordered the countless killings on that nightmare of a day in Rabaa Square
Sisi and his ilk are not interested in white washing the army’s reputation, they don’t think it necessary. Key, to them, is the planting of the idea that the army, the ruler and the state are one.
A military that can do no wrong is the governing ethos of El Mamar. Walk the desert for tens of kilometers? Check. Swim a canal and emerge to surround the enemy? Double check. Commandeer an American tank used by the Israelis when you only know how to operate Russian tanks? Triple check. Overwhelm a superior Israeli force with the high ground? Quadruple check. Make a local Sinai Bedouin woman fall in love with you? Check that off too as the same southern (Saeedi) handles that task. There is no pretense here: these soldiers are better than you, ergo, deserve to rule you.
That is how Sisi wants it
“Those youth that didn’t experience these times, YOU made them live it” said Sisi, praising El Mamar’s cast effusively during the October Victory celebrations, last week. “We need during this period of hope and brain drain of our nations that, at least, every six months that there is a movie like this’’. In Arabic the saying goes “the repeated humming near the ear is stronger than magic”. Clearly, Sisi believes in the inherent logic.
And why not? In Operation Brainwash, in a country suffering from an illiteracy rate of over 20%, movies are an unstoppable force in shaping public opinion. Creating a handsome muscled military super-hero, Ahmed Ezz, loyal to country, army and family puts a smiling face on the same army killing civilians on a nearly daily basis in Sinai. Egyptians love their army, that is a fact, but a distinction between leadership and servicemen at large is intentionally never made by those in power. Remember this is the very same army leadership which ordered the killing of countless Egyptians on that nightmare of a day in Rabaa Square. Sisi and his ilk are not interested in white washing the army’s reputation, they don’t think it necessary. Key, to them, is the planting of the idea that the army, the ruler and the state are one.
Knowing well that Egyptians have been fed a steady diet of hyper nationalism since Nasser, Sisi has taken the next step to the dark side: fascism.
Countless readers have, undoubtedly, heard the term. Many an analyst would argue Egyptians are living it every day and, in many cases contributing to its climate but what does fascism mean? Stanley Payne, an American historian says fascism reflects a “middle class radicalism, a moral breakdown, and a product of capitalism, totalitarianism” and a longer list of traits. The last of these characteristics: totalitarianism, when juxta positioned with hyper militarization and super strain of nationalism, are the perfect amalgamation that is the Egyptian ordeal.
Said disease can be traced to the days prior to July 26th 2013 when Sisi asked Egyptians for a mandate when, literally overnight, the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling party till that point, were termed “The Terrorist group’’ by all state and privately controlled media apparatus. An “Us vs Them” binary, an othering of millions of Egyptians of an Islamist persuasion, was born; a uniquely Egyptian brand of fascism received an official imprimatur. As the virus spread through the Egyptian body politic, anyone opposing the regime was instantly labeled MB. The totalitarian fascist state demands the same voice, the same color, the same beat of the drum. Oppose it and, in Egypt, you become Muslim Brotherhood- even if Christian, as many are in the opposition.
Because fascist states put military and police personnel on higher ground and beyond reproach, this creates another chasm: military and police atop and everyone else on a far lower plateau. That separation makes the average citizen a remote mirage of an entity in the eyes of the ruling class. It explains why there have been so many mass trials: those in the ruling class, including the judiciary, view the citizen as disposable. Via the same lens tens of thousands of political prisoners are thrust into Sisi’s newly built jails. To the military boot in charge, the opposition are insects to be stepped on. No one is off limits: doctor, teacher, writer, engineer or human rights defender. As these words meet paper Amr Imam, one of the nation’s leading human rights lawyers, was snatched from his home. That arrest came after Imam’s announcement that he would goon a hunger strike to protest the brutal arrests and torture of premier Egyptian activists Alaa Abdel Fatah and Esraa Abdel Fatah
A successful advocacy for the indefensible, by autocratic logic, makes the “l’etat est moi” modality a more palatable option of governance.
Thus, a movie like El Mamar is embraced by the regime. Major stars, large advertising budget and support by the regime’s vast digital armies, easy accessibility to the original copy for online viewing; all because the deep state wants the maximum dose to reach as many as possible.
Just like Israel was the enemy in the movie, the opposition is now called traitors systematically, so it is with anyone criticizing the meekly made movie full of historical& military inaccuracy. A script considered an act of heroism by Sisi is, it turns out, stolen without credit, claims the original author.
“Take the bitter with the better”, some believe. When it comes to fascism and El Mamar only the bitter applies.