Buying Georgette and Mubarak’s Laughable “Democracy”

كاميل حليم Ýí 2006-08-14

The news coming out of Egypt recently has been particularly discouraging – journalists and bloggers jailed, judges reprimanded for doing their jobs, the State of Emergency laws extended, Christians attacked in churches during Holy Week, Ayman Nour’s appeal denied and his offices burned down. But even among this continual deluge of bad news, I read something recently that truly shocked me. It was reported that Coptic MP Georgette Sobhi exchanged her signature on a petition calling for Ayman Nour’s release for the Mubarak regime’s support of a ban of the book and movie versions of The DaVinci Code.

The wildly successful and controversial novel The DaVinci Code, by author Dan Brown, was first published in 2003. This work of fiction presents an alternate Christian history in which Jesus did not die on the cross, but married Mary Magdalene and had children with her. Many have labeled the novel as blasphemous and profane, claiming it is a direct and calculated attack on the Christian faith which denies the central tenet of Christianity – that Christ died on the cross for the world’s sins and that his resurrection from the dead signifies hope for the future of mankind. Others see the book as a full frontal assault on the Roman Catholic Church, portrayed by Brown as a malevolent, oppressive institution that has deliberately hidden information about Jesus’ true fate in a cynical ploy to retain power. Many others point out that the writing is poor, the story is flimsy and the historical research Brown did was shoddy.

Whatever one’s assessment of the novel or its plot, the most important point about Mr. Brown’s book is that it is a work of fiction. While Brown drew background material and plot points from a variety of sources, the defining characteristic of this novel – and of all novels – is that it is a story, not an accurate recounting of history. Neither is it a theological treatise or a polemic against the Catholic Church or Christianity in general. The book sprang from the imagination of Dan Brown, it was written to make the author money, and that is precisely what it has done.

The fact that this work is not based in fact, however, has not stopped people around the world from rising up in protest against the book and the recently released film. From Singapore to England to Washington, D.C., Christians have organized boycotts of the book and especially the film, different denominations have issued official statements denouncing the both versions of the story, protests and demonstrations have been held and the film has even been banned in several countries, including Pakistan, China and portions of India.

The DaVinci story transforms from fiction to politics in Egypt where President Mubarak is using Brown’s book and film to exacerbate religious divisions between Christians and Muslims. Initially, it was announced that The DaVinci Code would be shown in Egypt, angering Coptic Christians around the country and in the government. This outrage played into the hands of the radicals and intensified the drama. In the next act, the Maglis al-Sha’b, or People’s Assembly, banned the film because “it insults religions, and what is blasphemous to Jesus Christ is considered insulting to Islam as well.” The government has decided to confiscate the book version also, which has been one of Egypt’s best-selling titles since its 2003 release.

In the meantime, Ayman Nour found conscientious supporters in the Maglis al-Sha’b with a desire to see justice done who circulated a petition calling for his release from prison, which was a direct slap in the face to Mubarak. One of the original petition signers, Georgette Sobhi, is one of only 2 women and 7 Christians in the Maglis al-Sha’b. The government knew that the Christian MPs virulently opposed allowing the film to be shown in Egypt, so they bribed Sobhi to induce her to withdraw her support for the petition. They offered to back the ban on The DaVinci Code; in exchange she was to remove her signature from the Ayman Nour petition. Georgette accepted these terms from the government, creating a Hollywood ending for everyone – the petition was quashed, the film wasn’t shown and everyone was happy. Everyone except for Ayman Nour.

I understand that Ms. Sobhi is a Christian and one of only 7 MPs representing around 10 million Coptic constituents. I also know that Christians feared that the release of this movie in the religiously divisive atmosphere promoted by the Mubarak government would give anti-Christian Muslims ammunition to further degrade and humiliate Christians. However, in Sunday school we all learned that one of the primary Christian values is to help the defenseless, the helpless and the needy. And who is more in need of aid right now than Ayman Nour, jailed for five years for being the only person who dared to stand against Mubarak in his fight for freedom and democracy in Egypt? Who is more defenseless than Nour, whose appeal was denied, and who is a shining hope for all Egyptians and for Christians in particular? For what group would benefit more from a democratic egalitarian society in which all citizens could freely participate in Egyptian social, economic and political life? You made the wrong decision, Ms. Sobhi. You sold out a man’s life for a hazy ideal of how Christianity can be depicted in fiction. And you fell into Mubarak’s trap of trying to keep his citizenry busy debating religious issues in order to distract them from what is actually happening in the country.

The problem is not just with Ms. Sobhi, of course. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) is to be commended for its immediate condemnation of The DaVinci Code ban as restricting freedom of expression, thought and belief in order to impose particular religious and political ideals. This organization is a strong and consistent champion of truly free press and media. From forming a roundtable discussion to promote the creation of a law barring the imprisonment of journalists, editors and publishers to demanding an investigation into why Ayman Nour’s weekly newspaper editorial was banned to its recent condemnation of the imprisonment of Al Dostour’s chief editor for publishing a story about certain alleged financial misdeeds of President Mubarak, the EOHR stands for free press. I am not certain about its stance on the Danish cartoons, but examining its excellent record, it seems a relative certainty that the EOHR would not have let fear of radicals influence its position. As the EOHR clearly realizes, free press and free media are the hallmarks of a democratic society and should not be restricted. And without these, human rights violations cannot be corrected because they can never be openly exposed.

But where was the official Egyptian governmental human rights organization, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)? Why didn’t they voice an opinion on the ban? More importantly, why have they remained silent about the prisoner for politics exchange between Sobhi and the Mubarak regime, and Ayman Nour’s continued unjust imprisonment? The answer lies in the very formation of the NCHR, described by a National Democratic Party (NDP) leader as the “brainchild” of the party’s Policies Secretariat, led by Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son and the clear heir to the throne. The NCHR board boasts illustrious names such as Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali, the former Secretary General of the United Nations. But in actuality it is just another governmental entity that exists only to create the illusion that the regime is monitoring human rights abuses. The NCHR is complicit in maintaining the status quo and preserving the NDP’s stranglehold on power in Egypt while glossing over, covering up or defending the current regime’s human rights violations. It is shameful that the NCHR even claims to be concerned with protecting human rights. But even more shameful is that someone like Mr. Ghali would lend his name, and therefore credibility, to an organization that deliberately prevents legitimate human rights concerns from being raised. Mr. Ghali, a Copt, has defended the rights of oppressed people around the world but has turned a blind eye to his own people, Egypt’s Christians. Both Ms. Sobhi and Mr. Ghali have failed miserably in remembering their Sunday school lessons at the expense of Ayman Nour’s freedom and human rights for Egyptian citizens.

The Parliamentary system is also an ineffectual vehicle for protecting the rights of the Egyptian citizenry. The Maglis al-Sha’b is run in a manner that basically prevents its Members from representing their constituents in a zealous and equitable manner. In a free, democratic society, members of the legislative branch must leave their business affairs behind. They work for the people they represent on a full-time basis, they place their financial assets in a trust over which they have no direct control, they are obligated to make full disclosure of their finances, they are accountable for all of their actions – both in and outside the chambers of Congress – and are observed under a microscope during their tenure in office. If any hint of corruption or wrongdoing surfaces, they are held legally responsible for their actions. No member of the government is exempt from these criteria – including the President!

In Egypt, however, Members of the Maglis al-Sha’b – who represent 77.5 million people – work at the business of government only on a part-time basis. They retain their private businesses and have no obligation to disclose their financial activities. In addition, MPs are granted immunity from prosecution. The confluence of these circumstances invites corruption for personal and political gain and practically guarantees that the MPs cannot fairly represent their constituents. What kind of Parliament operates with these conditions? The answer is clear – one that does not demand the highest standards of justice and fairness from its members and one in which governmental backing for a ban on a work of fiction seems a fair trade for withdrawing support for the release of an innocent man from unjust incarceration.

The Georgette saga and Mubarak’s laughable “democratic” system are a disgrace to Egypt. This is especially noticeable looking back to the early 20th century when we were pioneers in mastering democracy, justice and enlightenment in the Middle East. We should bemoan the passing of the days of Saad Zaglool, Mustafa el-Nahas and Asem Amin.

As a Copts condemning two of my own, I extend a hand to my Muslim brothers and sisters and ask them to take stock of their own community. We all have a duty to unite our country and fight the separatism that is encouraged by the corrupt system. This can only be accomplished if we join hands together and exercise self-examination and constructive criticism.

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تاريخ الانضمام : 2006-08-14
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