Flashes from another Life

It is imperative to understand that the rise of political Islam in Egypt is the result of methodical and continuous planning and execution that has been in the making for decades. I witnessed the birth and growth of Islamic extremism in Egypt in the eighties of the last century. It was inevitable that the snowball that had started rolling back then would acquire momentum and these extremist movements would gain enough strength to drive the country in the direction which we are witnessing today.

I recall an incident that happened to me thirty years ago, on a hot and humid summer day in Alexandria, Egypt, where I lived then. I was driving my car in a congested street with a friend next to me. The sidewalks were overflowing with pedestrians. I saw a middle aged veiled woman who was walking with a young boy, no older than 5 years old. I presume he was her son. They caught my attention as she was pulling and pushing him between the crowds in wrath. In the eighties, the veil was not very widely spread in Egypt as it is today. I was wearing a light and colorful summer dress with front slits on both sides. The stoplight turned red. I got caught in a conversation with my friend to only be alerted by a harsh voice of someone talking outside the car window. I was startled to see the veiled women standing on the side walk so close to the car. From her vantage point, standing on the curb, she could see clearly inside the car, and apparently didn’t like what she saw.

The veiled woman grabbed the young boy who looked tired and thirsty in this heat. She pointed inside the car, at me, of course, with her eyes fixated on my legs and yelled in rage, “Take a good look at her uncovered legs, for they will burn in hell.”

I was stunned, to say the least, not to mention that my privacy was invaded, and I felt insulted. However, I managed to stay calm and smiled back at her. And in a very cold voice I responded, “Hell is exactly where I want to be if it means that I would avoid seeing those of your kind.”

She babbled and walked away pulling the young boy behind her and I drove to wherever my destination was, in anger, of course. This incident though had happened almost thirty years ago, yet it is still vivid in my mind as if it was yesterday. I still remember the color and style of my dress, the person who sat next to me, and even where it had happened; the exact street and stoplight. I do remember all these minute details.

What we are witnessing today has been brewing for a long time. Governments kept a tight lid on these movements and used Band-Aids solutions to deal with them instead of eradicating them to curb their influence. But once these leaders fell in the revolutions that swept across the Middle East, in what came to be known as the Arab Spring, the boiling pots exploded and Islamic extremism spilled across the entire region. Unfortunately, there are no quick solutions to clean after the mess that was created. And what took decades in the making will not disappear in the near future. It will require united global efforts to reverse its effect or else the whole world will suffer from the consequences.



Filed under Politics

3 responses to “Flashes from another Life

  1. LT

    My first encounter with an Islamic extremist was as a child in the 50’s when household help told me that Copts are evil and that I shouldn’t befriend Coptic children at school. When told my father, he said “Go tell her we are all God’s equal children”.

    My next encounters were all amongst my high school teachers in the 60’s. They were all marginal characters and no one took them really seriously.

    One of these was Salah Abu Ismail, father of Hazem Abu Ismail who commanded a militia and was disqualified from running for president since his mother was a US citizen, a fact that he absolutely denied.

    Salah Abu Ismail was an Arabic Language and Religion teacher in my upper high school. Quite a shifty character who later became an Islamist MP and was caught dealing in foreign currency.

    I had more serious and sustained encounters with extremist students at university level in the early 70’s. By then, extremist movements were much more visible and well organised.

    I can tell you many stories of the type that you mentioned, but I find the exercise depressing rather than amusing. They destroyed our country.

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing. I thought the fifties was a decade of more understanding and tolerance. I am sure it is painful to remember, but the truth has to come out.

      • LT

        Copts were never really and truly accepted as equals by the Muslims in Egypt. They are at best tolerated. What’s going on right is an extremal version of tensions that were always there. It’s only a question of degree.

        Even worse, stories of how the Jewish people were well treated in Arab countries under Arab then Ottoman rule are essentially bogus. There is a horror story in E W Lane’s book, “An account of the manners and the customs of the modern Egyptians”, written in 1833, that’s too gruesome to recall.

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