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Updated: August 24, 2013 19:19 IST
ARMCHAIR WITH A VIEW

Find the bad guy

Krish Ashok
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Illustration: Satwik Gade
The Hindu Illustration: Satwik Gade

Who can unravel Egypt’s socio-political mystery? The author looks to his grandmother.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, has so many protests planned that it now has a waiting list for protesting groups and is managed by IRCTC. In my opinion, what they need to do there first is to erect a large effigy of a 10-headed Rameses and burn it down. You might wonder why. Read on.

In 2011, Egyptians protested there to get rid of 30 years of autocratic rule under Hosni Mubarak. They succeeded and then proceeded to conduct free and fair elections that made one Mohamed Morsy the president. In 2013, after some problems with IRCTC’s site, they gathered at the square again to depose Morsy and bring back army rule and, right now, no one’s apparently sure what the right thing to do is, because the ratio of the number of Tahrir Square protests to available political leadership options in Egypt is approaching infinity as the denominator approaches zero.

So how does one make sense of the chaos in Egypt? It’s quite simple — pay selective attention to facts that fit well with your worldview.

If you are the type that believes that the impoverished neighbourhood tailor Abdul must pay for Mughal destruction of Hindu temples, then you might selectively pay attention to the fact that, at the age of 14, one chap named Ayman Al Zawahiri joined the Muslim Brotherhood (the deposed president Morsy is from the MB), an organisation that once attempted to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser, who has a section of New Delhi’s Outer Ring Road named after him and is, therefore, a friend of India.

So obviously, supporting Morsy is entirely out of the question because you know, it’s not good to support anything that had anything to do with Ayman Al Zawahiri. But, of course, one has to deal with a few other inconvenient facts first.

Morsy is Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president in an election that had no reported irregularities, like biryani packets for votes, and he even agreed to annul the problematic conservative decrees that the Tahrir Protestors 2.0 were angry about. Also consider that it is believed that the anti-Morsy protests were funded by Mubarak-era elites who wished to have someone more pliable in power. And guess who comes to power after Morsy was removed? A whole lot of Mubarak-era guys and, among other things, they are now working to get Hosni Mubarak — whose ouster two years ago was celebrated around the world as the ultimate flowering of the Arab Spring — released from prison.

Typically at this point, the angry young man Morsy, whose father has been defrauded, his sister besmirched and mother traumatised vows revenge and the Hindi movie declares intermission. But real life has this strange tendency to not resemble Amitabh movies from the 1980s. For starters, the rest of the world has a problem with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood because, well, they are a conservative religious party that unfortunately won a free and fair election. And to add to this mix, YouTube is now full of videos that show MB activists faking injuries to get worldwide attention.

And Mubarak, if one reads the right Wikipedia pages, is a religious moderate, so perhaps Tahrir Square 1.0 itself was a bad idea. Honestly, don’t the Americans have a tradition of giving chemical weapons to autocratic incumbents? That way, they could have cleared the square well before the camel dung hit the Hadron Collider, so to speak. But who would they give it to? The original autocrat? The religious chap who overthrew the original autocrat? Or the military regime with connections to the original autocrat that overthrew the religious chap who won an election fair and Tahrir square?

Egypt does have a rich history of suppressing fundamentalist ideologues of monotheistic Semitic religions, especially ones who had a keen ability for word processing on handheld tablets but, in today’s world, unless there is oil beneath the Red Sea, no one is going to bother parting it.

So how does one appear erudite and knowledgeable about Egypt without appearing to take sides since the situation is evidently quite complex and nuanced?

That brings us to the 10-headed Veena Rockstar villain I was referring to at the start. The Ravana Theory that my grandmother invented is a powerful analytical tool to help make sense of complex geopolitical situations. In the 1990s when the situation in Sri Lanka was going from bad to worse and, as Tamil people, we couldn’t figure out who was really to blame for the root cause, she settled the matter by declaring that “after all it was a place ruled by Ravana. No good can ever come of that.”

Rameses is clearly Egypt’s Ravana and Tahrir Square badly needs a Ramlila.

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