Thursday, 20 July 2017

Enemy of the masses

At the beginning of the ‘80s, I managed, along with my wife, to save a sum of money in order to buy a flat in Nasr City after we had worked for four years in a Gulf country… she is a physician and I am a journalist.

I remember the “high-level delegation” accompanying me in order to meet the owner of the buildings and her assistant; the mechanic boy whose title became “Bashmohandes” or engineer… and who, in turn, became an owner of several buildings… that woman, who was known by al-Hajja[1], along with another woman were the magnates of selling apartments in Nasr City and Heliopolis before that famous tycoon of Nasr City appeared.

They were all professional in violating laws of construction… whether regarding heights allowed or the percentage of the building area to the whole area… I thank God for I and my family survived death under the rubbles of Heliopolis’ building that collapsed during the 1992 earthquake… as al-Hajja offered in the beginning to the “high-level delegation” that came to mediate for me to give me an apartment in “Hollopolos” building… that’s how she used to pronounce Heliopolis… the price offered was 85 thousand pounds while Abbass al-Aqqad building apartment costed 40 thousand pounds.

That was the very beginning for practicing bullying against the state, its laws, institutions, and authorities… when that amoral cooperation between a certain kind of capital and corrupt people in some official entities took place… to the degree that made that woman’s son during the heated argument we had over the grave violations they made in the building say to me in front of the respected people present: “what law, Mister?... I can build a building tomorrow in the middle of the garden lying in the heart of Abbass al-Aqqad Street”.

It all started in those dark days when those who violated all that is legal and lawful went on their way until crimes of buildings’ violations became the norm… and the ironic exception is to adhere to the law’s regulations and conditions… I still remember that day when a huge building in Abbass al-Aqqad Street collapsed over its inhabitants and the crowded market lying in the first floor… I remember when then-Cairo governor Dr. Abdelrahim Shehata said that all Nasr City buildings were prone to collapsing… as cement, steel bars, and necessary specifications for construction were all violating the standard criteria.

Starting from that time and place; meaning in the upper-class neighborhoods in the time of Infitah and its peak during the eighties… until here in our present time as we live in this state of horrible bullying practiced against the state’s lands and property… against the river, its territory and what comes out of it… against the sea and its shores… we all live a tragedy of behavioral, cultural, and civilization deterioration… that is not committed by the poor and ignorant alone… but also by others belonging to the educated rich of high social classes and perhaps occupying prestigious positions.

In such regard, I may go back in time to what may be entrenched for many reasons in the negative side of the Egyptian character… as those who come from the countryside – like me – know those many who dare to eat out parts of the road, the river Nile banks, main, medium, and small water channels… and who feel no shame to shovel the boundaries of the cemetery area… and even steal the irrigation water from the neighbor who runs the water pump or water wheel… etc., all these practices that I will detail in the coming lines.

As to the road, it starts with a width of 20 meters… then at the end of harvesting a crop and planting another, owners of the fields overlooking the road start to plow, till, and level their fields as a preparation for planning, irrigating, and planting it… then you see axes and plows starting to eat out several centimeters from the road edge… year after year, these centimeters become quarters of meters… and the road shrinks from one wide enough to allow the side-by-side passing of two tractors into a twisting narrow one hardly wide enough for a buffalo or donkey to pass… and they all start their mission after they perform Fajr prayers and before sunrise; meaning before the authority, represented in the agricultural cooperative, village chief, and guards, wake up… and before the road gets busy with people including those who have relatively far fields but this road is the only way to reach their fields… problems and quarrels usually happen because of this… then the iron marks defining the road width are put… but how easy it is for many to transfer “ar-Ragma”; the stiff rock separating between fields and outlining the beginning and ending of each neighbor’s property…

Also, how easy it is to steal the irrigation water either from the state by opening the water locks at night and bribing those who guard them or steal it from the neighbors… as the one stealing makes a hole in the muddy barrier blocking the water channel leading to his field during his neighbor’s turn in irrigation… the muddy barrier looks standing while water is easily passing through it but not easily noticed unless the neighbor goes into the water channel and discovers the hole.

Not to mention the pleasure of stealing the ripe ready-to-be-grilled “corncobs” and hiding the stealth by uprooting the whole corn stalk and filling its place and not only snatching the “corncob” and leaving the stalk erecting so that the field owner does not notice the crime…

And when winter comes and there is not enough dry rubble to put under the cattle feet in barns… the one stealing goes to the cemetery usually erecting since old times over a hill so that water does not reach it during flooding… then he uses his axe to cut the edges of the hill even if his axe unearthed his ancestors’ bones… there are many more cases of practicing aggression over others’ property… whether that other was the state or people.

Now, we find ourselves in a dilemma that many long wrote about… that is the serious leader, who loves his country and is keen to protect its people, is sometimes regarded as acting in the opposite side of what people want… since people, in times of deterioration and cultural and political decline, get used to and even master practicing all that hinder the institutional work, law regulations, and fundamentals of comprehensive development… in times when individual solution becomes the answer to individual salvation even if on the expense of others and against the law and norm… also interpretation of the religious doctrine is distorted in order for this misleading twisted interpretation to provide the ethical cover for the crime.

And when things change and someone leads the society into its collective salvation in an institutional and scientific manner… then he will definitely turn into an enemy of the people… and those fishing in the troubled waters will start targeting the nastiest feelings of human beings; that is the feeling of individual salvation over the expense of the state and society in general.

I guess the message is delivered.

Translated into English by: Dalia Elnaggar

This article was published in Al Ahram newspaper on July 20, 2017.

To see the original article, go to:

#alahram #ahmed_elgammal #Egypt #fighting_corruption

[1] Title meaning that this woman performed the religious obligation of pilgrimage or Hajj.

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