Oum Khultum

Egypt through songs

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I remember taking the short flight from Amman to Cairo in the summer of 2008 as I was relocating due to my job. The flight was an hour long including take off, descend and landing . With all new and major changes you tend to remember them because it breaks from the norm. It closes one chapter but opens another. Our chapter to Egypt was marked by a constant video on loop on the Egypt Air flight called Ana Masry (I’m Egyptian) ironically sang by Nancy Ajram who is Lebanese. The singer echoes the sentiments of pride. How the people of Egypt are proud and gutsy who are lead by great leaders (Yes Mubarak was a great leader back then). You could almost forget that we were flying into a country that had a dictator for almost 30 years who ruled under emergency law. You could also forget that the last 50 years of Egyptian history was under military rule.

We spent almost 2 and half years under the dictatorship of Mubarak. It was clear and understood that no one had a voice. Oppression, corruption and American alliance was part of life in Egypt. Political voice silenced through imprisonment or death. Daily life was functional through bureaucracy and corruption. American support for the regime was guaranteed. Not only did Egypt receive 1.5 billion each year it also had the honour of being the favoured dictatorial regime in the Middle East. So much so that when Obama became president, the first Middle Eastern country that was chosen to deliver a message to the Muslim world was Cairo, Egypt.

But then in December 2010 a spark in a near by country called Tunisia gave hope to the rest of the people in the Middle East. Dictators that were supported by the leading Capitalists countries can fall and some did. From 25th Jan to 18th Feb the people of Egypt stood up and decided they no longer wanted Mubarak as their great leader. The momentum was just right and the people wanted change but just didn’t know what. All they knew was that they no longer wanted Mubarak. During those 3 weeks or so a very different kind of song became popular amongst the English speaking section of the community. The song (RAP) was a collaboration by Omar Affendeum (Syrian American) and other Arab/American,British artists none of whom were Egyptian. The RAP went viral on the net. The song was about removing the shackles of the pharaohs, about creating a better future and the will of the people was strong enough to do it. It was praising the people of Egypt with a different tone. A tone of solidarity.

Mubarak was deposed and the SCAF (Friends of Mubarak) came to power. In November 2011 parliamentary elections were announced and at the same time a local home grown band released a warm hearted song titled ‘Ya Midaan’ (Oh, The Square) referring to Tahrir (Liberation) square where the focus of the Jan 2011 up risings were. This song focused primarily on the aims of revolution, the will of the people, the dreams of those of who went to the streets when the majority were at home. The song revisits the memories of the uprising to reignite the spirit during the elections. This was the first time since I had been in Egypt that a song sang by the Egyptians about Egyptians become popular and viral that was praising the Egyptian people. This truly seemed like a song that struck the cord of many who toppled the regime. This was a song for the new Egypt. A song about hope, faith and future.

After many mind changes from the Muslim Brotherhood about running in the election or not, whether a Muslim Brotherhood Presidential candidate should stand or not. Finally the people choose Morsi as President with a small majority. By the middle of June 2013 Egypt’s first elected President was deposed again by the army with the help of millions of people and of course lots and lots of funding and media campaign (support), even the satirist Bassem Youssef  fell into the trap. A year later we decided to leave Egypt and a different kind of song was playing loop on radio, on TV and on mobile phone ring tones. The song was as predictable, it had all the right ingredients, catchy tune, singing the praises of the Egyptian people and a scenic picture of everybody happy and of course it was not sang by an Egyptian but this time by an Emirati by the name of  Hussein Al Jassami. The song is so catchy that even the sons and daughters of the anti-sisi were singing it.

Whether you like the music or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact that music plays a very important role in Egyptian society. It has been used to create, build, change and manipulate public opinion and the sentiments of the people. Although there are and have been songs sang by Egyptians for Egyptians echoing Egyptian nationalist sentiments such as this, praising the Egyptian army. At least during the time I was there and from my experiences the songs sang from other Arab artists are the ones that gained notable popularity. Aside from the catchy music, I suppose for the Egyptian society its nice to to hear from others how great they are.  Although there are lots if differences in Egypt, whether you are pro-sisi or anti-sisi, pro-MB or anti-MB, a Christian or a Muslim, rich or poor, one thing is certainly clear and that is that Egyptian Nationalism is core to the identity of being Egyptian. The religious would justify it from a textual viewpoint that Islam obliges you to love your country and the secular would justify it through the love of the land. Which ever way it is presented the end result is the same and this is the same in every country that honours nationalists sentiments over principles, it blinds you from the truth.

“You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.” – Malcolm X

From a personal perceptive during the revolution and months after, it was nice to witness a period where dictators did not rule and the hope of a brighter future based on principals was something which people aspired to. I saw the real affect of hope when people have it and how it can change a society but I also saw the dark side of a people when that hope is taken away.

When nationalism is not the focus of a nation in my opinion it has a much brighter future.

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