All the King’s Men

20/9/2017 | Postmuslim | Nostalgic | postmuslim

Egyptians sometimes yearn for the monarchy. Secular city people, especially. Let’s call them “monarchists”. They imagine a kind of convivencia of Italians, Greeks, Jews and state-approved “Egyptians”. They accept the British occupation, downplay the plight of the fellahin. And, looking at the sexagenarian military republic under which they live, they retch.

Not only at the lack of political life and the absence of rule of law. Not only at economic deprivation affecting proportionately more of the population than under King Farouk. Or corruption, repression and waste reaching infinitely higher levels. Not even at the sordid state of higher education. Ineffective infrastructure, insufficient development, inadequate health care…

The monarchists retch, in particular, at what the republic has done to the mind of the nation. Eliminating multiplicity. Normalising incompetence. And encouraging parochialism to the point where the religious-sectarian excesses of a predominantly conservative polity have come to undermine that selfsame republic’s existence…

But, seeing the monarchists retch, hearing them wax lyrical about the past, the leftists immediately start foaming at the mouth. They denigrate and mock the monarchists’ nostalgia. They insist that no convivencia ever actually took place in Egypt. And by suggesting that it ever might have — so the leftists shout — the monarchists are betraying the cause.

Leftists have not been known to define “the cause” too clearly, of course. But why they should so reflexively decry any longing for pre-1952 times is not always clear.

A colonially coopted monarchy overseeing the feudal enslavement of the majority does sound infuriatingly right-wing. But that is neither the only meaningful narrative nor a particularly true one. And, whether or not you acknowledge the fascist and fanatical overtones of Nasserism, there is no excuse for what the republic and the cause have perpetrated.

An image of Egyptian cosmopolitanism, what is more, need not undermine national independence, social justice — or Marxism. Which is why, when they object to it, it is nostalgia that the leftists like to denigrate.

But the objection seems in reality to be to anything that undermines a Platonic notion of the grass roots, the more puritanical the better. Leftists have after all consistently cuddled up to the most right-wing ideology imaginable, that of political Islam. And could this be because it is perceived to emanate from the grass roots’?

For surely if it’s nostalgia you have a problem with, the monarchy should not trouble you as much as the caliphate.

Al-Ahram Weekly