Tuesday, June 10, 2008

They've Got Strings, But You Can See There Are No Strings On Me

By Ian Lee
Photo by Jasmin Bauomy

Hollywood came to Egypt. The movie: Star Wars Episode One - The Phantom Menace. Let me set the scene: Chancellor Valorum is in the Senate deciding the fate of the Naboo. Queen Amidala of Naboo gives a passionate plea to the Senate in order to defend her people against the aggression of the Trade Federation. As the debate rages, the Chancellor’s two handlers, who are on the payroll of the Trade Federation, whisper corruption in his ear. And the Chancellor’s power dissipates in the midst of the Federation.

Now lets change some names. First we will change Chancellor Valorum to Abd El Faltah Allam, First Deputy of Al-Azhar Mosque, which is the premier Sunni religious university. Second, we’ll change the Trade Federation to the National Democratic Party or NDP, which is the ruling party in Egypt. Finally the people of Naboo are the Egyptians and the handlers are actually one man Abdel-Naby Faraq, Deputy of the Ministry of Religious Endowments.

Let me reset the scene. Today we went to Al Azhar to discuss issues pertaining to our areas of research. Mine happens to be Muslim-Christian relations, but that doesn’t matter right now. The interview started normally with Allam giving us an overview of Al Azhar. Then we dove into the question and answer period. Questions started as normal, but as the interview progressed things got more heated. The questions began targeting Al Azhar and their relationship with the government. This is when the Trade Federation, Faraq, stepped in.

The questions began to be answered by the ministry as we watched Al-Azhar’s power melt away. The question, if you are wondering, pertains to Al-Azhar sanctioning the torture of journalists who offend the government. As usual, they denied targeting journalists, but rather people who lie or defame someone (lying and defamation is up to interpretation here). Faraq, the Man from the Ministry, answered the rest of the questions for Allam.

As we left, the students among us who are Muslim, were astonished. A noble institute that they have looked up to so far, is now an arm of the Egyptian government.

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