I am Egyptian. That, in itself, should tell you a lot. My country has gone through a lot. At first, I was an active participant in events unfolding. I eagerly joined my fellow countrymen, both online and offline, in our quest for freedom and justice. Even though the Mubarak regime hadn’t done me any personal harm, it had destroyed my society. It had made corruption endemic and made a mockery of democracy. Sham votes kept Mubarak on his throne, and the promise of more of the same in support of his heir, Gamal, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Egypt revolted. We had had enough. We wanted our country back. We wanted police brutality to go away. We wanted freedom of speech. We wanted political freedoms. We wanted injustice to be redressed. We wanted a lot of things. Unfortunately, none of that came to pass.

Instead of voting in a government that offered more freedoms, the majority of my countrymen and women decided that they were going to vote in a government that actively worked to reduce freedoms. They couch this in religious terms, but, make no mistake, their ultimate goal is to reduce freedoms.

It was then that I started creating my isolation bubble. I started by unsubscribing from users on social media who posted bigoted ideas. My lack of Arabic reading skills helped. It allowed me to miss the most bigoted posts and comments. But while my Arabic reading skills are imperfect, they are not non-existent. Every now and then I came across a post I could read. A post so bigoted that it made me want to puke. As the list of people I unsubscribed from grew, my social media feeds became more sanitised. The worst offenders’ posts were hidden. I could no longer see them or be affected by them.

So far so good. But the bigotry moved from social media to TV. A large number of satellite channels began spewing hate. Their intolerant message was painful to me. Every time I watched these channels, I got depressed. My country was being run over by right-wing haters who were destroying everything good Egypt stood for.

I began cutting down on TV. As a matter of fact, I reached a point where I no longer watched TV. I got my entertainment fix from the Internet. As my isolation bubble grew, I lost track of current events in Egypt. I became, for all intents and purposes, a tourist in my own country. I refused to be dragged into political discussions, and, when my emotions overcame my better judgment, and I got dragged into such a discussion, I ended it quickly.

So I was surprised to learn of the latest event. I learned about it from the Facebook posts of one of my tolerant friends. I am referring here to the movie that mocks the Prophet Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam. While I am not a Muslim, I have a great respect for this tolerant and great religion. So I was dismayed that someone thought it was a good idea to create a film insulting this faith, a faith I respect and to which most of my good friends belong.

But what followed was more shocking. I expected a measured response. I expected Al Azhar and/or the Egyptian government to lodge an official complaint about the film, and to inform the US government of their displeasure about this. Note that my knowledge of US law told me that the US had no legal way to stop anyone from producing any movie, regardless of its content, and posting on the Internet. But I thought that if the Arab and Muslim world expressed it’s dismay in a well organised and dignified manner, perhaps pressure could be brought against those responsible for the movie to back off.

Instead, mobs all over the Arab world stormed US embassies and even killed four members of the diplomatic staff in the US embassy in Libya. More alarming still was the chorus of cheers coming from most of my friends on Facebook about this event. There were a few sane voices though. One of the best responses I saw on Facebook was from, ironically, a staunch supporter of the Islamist movement and the MB. He said:

Let’s put things into perspective:

  1. Making a movie that insults Islam is an abuse of freedom of expression
  2. Attacking the embassies of the country where this abuse occurred is irresponsible
  3. Killing the diplomatic staff in the embassy of this country is a heinous crime

If the purpose of the movie was to make people in the middle east look bad, it has succeeded. Not because of the contents of the movie, but because of the response of the people to the movie. We have shown the world that we respond with violence and murder to content that offends us — instead of proving the makers of the movie wrong using measured and organised responses, we proved them right by engaging in violent and murderous behaviour.

This event has driven me further into my isolation bubble. I no longer want to know that my friends, or at least a significant majority of them, think that killing people and storming diplomatic missions is the proper response to insulting movies. I wanted to believe that my friends were capable of better than this. Sadly I was wrong. Every time I see a post praising the attacks and murder, something inside me dies. The hope that we could one day make it as a tolerant multicultural society disappears. It’s replaced by a deep disappointment. I expected more of us. Maybe I should stop having such high expectations for Egypt, I might not feel as let down then…



  • Maryanne Stroud Gabbani, September 14, 2012 @ 5:52 pm Reply

    I totally understand.

  • Jeanne Lewis, September 14, 2012 @ 9:26 pm Reply

    Thank you for this, Sherif. Please never give up your voice of reason.

  • Janet L Roberts, September 15, 2012 @ 10:29 am Reply

    Making a movie abusing Islam was stupid. Insulting the faith of so many in the world. I have not seen this film and I am not Muslim but I have respect for the people and their religion. What I do feel strongly about is the violence that has followed, the murder of innocent people. The protests, the damage done to buildings! What does this acheive? Address those responsible for the making of the film not everyone else in the world. Some of us just want to get on with our lives and live in peace.

  • This is not cultural shock, this is cultural illiteracy | Sherif Fadel Fahmy, February 21, 2013 @ 10:57 am Reply

    […] about my struggle to integrate fully into Egyptian culture. I wrote two posts about this, here and here. Yes, this is the third post about this topic, so sue […]

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