Tuesday, December 23

Notes on a Scandal

This post has got nothing to do with the movie holding the same name. It just popped into my head while writing about what our Egyptian society would classify as a scandal.

A few weeks ago a horrible murder took place in the 6th of October city, precisely in one of the new luxurious compounds which were initially built on the outskirts of Cairo before the 6th of October turned from being a mere district into a governorate . Two female students, Heba (daughter of the famous singer, Laila Ghofran) and her friend Nadine ( daughter of an Egyptian engineer who works and lives in Saudi Arabia) were brutally stabbed to death inside Nadine's family apartment.

It is generally expected that the Arab media would prove to be more brutal than the murderer himself in its coverage of such cases. The newspapers, which were first to announce the news, have extremely increased the dosage this time, though.. seeking to exploit the fact that one of the victims is the daughter to a celeb. Mind you, I'm not talking about some tabloid papers.. No! These are daily newspapers that Egyptians read every morning to check local and world news and daily columns written by the top writers in Egypt. Thus, they are considered to be a trusted source of information, and usually people take what they say for granted. Yet, this time, we found journalists competing hysterically in spicing up the details related to the murder, with a special focus on the moral conduct of the two girls (the victims). They spread rumors in the form of news from their trusted sources, and made headlines out of imaginary crap, building upon a social stereotype which basically condemns a girl living alone, even if she is a nun! Those journalists kept making their wildest guesses and casting their dices on the best they could get out of this story, which instantly became a huge buzz in Egypt.

It breaks my heart to go through the details, but I will just mention some examples to elaborate on how our media has got a very strong hand in misleading public opinion, of course without being bound by any ethical codes or rules or laws to organize this chaos. In Egypt, an editor-in-chief gets in trouble if he published fabricated info concerning our president's health.. but it is fine if his paper is totally fabricated from cover to cover. Just don't come near the presidency. It is true the press enjoys great freedom.. You can accuse anybody of anything you wish, without even having to prove it. We have a huge problem with the definition of "freedom" in this country, and usually what we consider to be freedom is nothing but chaos and meanness. Just look at our streets for God's sake! Isn't this the land of absolute freedom??

Anyway, back to Heba and Nadine. And I'd like to apologize in advance for mentioning the following rumors, which, I repeat, were written as facts directly delivered from security sources, friends, and neighbors to the victims.

Newspapers said that Heba and Nadine were drug addicts, who were notorious for their multiple relationships with guys and crazy partying in the apartment where they were both killed. It was said that during those parties the girls would invite friends from both sexes, serve drugs and alcohols, and dance till the early hours of morning. Journalists were specifically keen on suggesting the idea of "free sexual relationships" which took place during those parties, with special focus on the two victims.. not forgetting to mention the names of their boyfriends, who, according to colleagues and neighbors (the papers said,) were used to spending hours with the girls in the privacy of this villa!! Yeah, all of a sudden the apartment turned into a villa.

As to how the girls were stabbed and the possible reason behind the crime (which journalists claimed was according to police investigations), it was said that revenge was a primary suspect, because both girls were stabbed several times, Nadine's throat and tongue were cut, and it was said that a post-mortem examination revealed the presence of explosives inside her womb!! You may wonder why this sadism was mainly directed towards Nadine, although she ain't the famous one.. Well, I have got no idea.. But I guess it is because the apartment was hers, and she was the one who lived alone.. which is such a shame according to our local customs and traditions. Basically, people assume that a girl living alone would normally indulge in all the worst kinds of behavior, including sex, of course - being the taboo of all taboos here - and in this case, one sex partner won't be enough, she has to have several.. while drinking and doing drugs are just to complete the stereotypical image.

It was said that this "revenge" was either carried out by one of the girls' boyfriends, out of jealousy, or by a drug dealer!! And details just kept getting more disgusting, always ending by talking about Nadine's father who lives in Saudi Arabia without knowing anything about his daughter, while sending her a monthly allowance of 11,000 EGP (yeah, coz 10,000 won't be a convincing figure, the extra 1000 would make it sound more precise and thus causing people to believe all the other details) and that she had recently lent her boyfriend 40,000 EGP to be able to buy a new car!.. Oh la la!

Why turn a simple apartment into a villa? and what have those amounts of money got to do with the murder case? and why is it considered to be such a shame? Well, again.. I don't have the answers.. but probably because a society where the majority suffers from poverty will definitely feel curious about how the girls who belong to the high society of Cairo live. Thus, those kinds of details are guaranteed to verify the stereotypical image that those people have become familiar with through the Egyptian TV series, soaps and films, which always show the rich family as leading a life full of corruption and vice.

So, to make a long story short.. It wasn't long before the truth came out (and this drove people even more crazy because they expected this real-life crime series to last longer). The facts were as follows:
1- Heba was officially married to the guy they named once as her boyfriend and later as her fiancé. She called him after the murderer ran away and that's how journalists got his name.
2-Nadine's autopsy report proved that she was a virgin, her so-called boyfriend was a colleague she loved, has proposed to her family and was asked to wait until she completes her education.
3-The murderer was found to be a 19 year old blacksmith who came to rob the house, thinking that both girls were already asleep. But, Heba, who was still awake, saw him and started screaming. He was already shaking, so he kept stabbing her hysterically to make her shut up. Her screams caused Nadine, who was sleeping in her room to wake up. Then during a struggle, Nadine injured the guy's hand with the knife he held, running to the kitchen to grab a knife.. he then ran after her stabbing her repeatedly in the back, and when she fell, he thought she died, but she held on to his feet.. then he decided to cut her throat to finish her.

Now it's questions time.. Why would our society insist on making a scandal out of this crime? A scandal involving the victims!.. while the murderer in almost all similar cases has always had some kind of a ready-made scenario on his side.. from being a hurt lover, driven to commit the crime out of jealousy, to the young victim of poverty, to even suggesting a conspiracy theory in which the Egyptian police resorted to dragging an innocent guy to present him to the public as the murderer!.. Why?.. To spoil the fun of the masses, maybe!

Anyway, I've written about this terrible crime before, in Arabic, presenting a kind of humble reading of what might be the hidden motives behind the industry of social scandals in Egypt.. Why a female victim of murder is automatically shifted to become the subject of a scandal, and may indeed be considered a criminal herself in a different context, in which a very strange definition of "honor" usually appears.. much related to the idea of "honor killings." In this context, the assumed violation of social customs and traditions is in fact viewed by the majority of people to be a very serious crime.. much more serious than murder.. to such a degree which makes the act of murder itself a righteous act or even "the sole cure" in such a case.

A female exercising free will over her body is committing the most horrible crime. Anything else can be forgiven. Anything else can be dealt with. Any other crime has got a fitting punishment, and in such a case, the criminal can indeed be forgiven after undergoing this punishment.. even if it was execution.. he can still have a good name, and his family won't live with the burden of shame hanging over its head for a lifetime. Anything and everything can be forgiven, except a female out of control. This is the scariest notion.. It is a social obsession.. It is the greatest fear of every man in our society. Families are constantly under the stress of this ever present nightmare. And it just keeps getting worse and worse as their daughters grow up.

I often get criticized when I tell my female friends that I pity Egyptian men, and that I can, on a certain level, sympathize with them. I might be asking for too much if I expect them to accept this coming from me. Yet, it won't be fair if even someone who has got the insight to realize such strong influences shaping men in our society, ever since their early childhood, can not bring herself to understand their motivations and inner struggles. Yes, we have all the right to be frustrated and to consider our men to be the worst ever at times, but we must not forget that they just can't help it.

Imagine this.. A little boy being taught from his early childhood not to mix with girls, being urged to play the role of a bodyguard for his sister/s, and even his own mother in some cases. He is bullied at school by merely naming his sister or his mother (not to mention the dirty language dictionary which mainly focuses on using the mother as the source of shame. For example, mother f***er and others). This boy then grows up to see women as a source of shame and scandal.. his own shame and his own scandal. His next mission is to go through puberty and teenage years, suffering from feelings of internalized shame, because at this age he fantasizes about females a lot, yet he cannot understand his mixed feelings towards them.. a love/hate sort of relationship. Add to that the feeling of guilt that a teenager always carries like a bulk of chains weighing down his/her soul, merely because they are normal human beings who have got a reproductive system!

Then, this young man goes through the biggest challenge off all, a sort of "to be or not to be" kind of dilemma. He is brought up to believe that his manhood lies between his thighs.. And now he became old enough to put this to the test. So, what will it be? Man or Not Man?

There are 2 ways to find out: Marriage or else.. I won't go through the second option.. it needs a separate post. Let's say he chooses marriage. Then again he faces another challenge.. not the one you have in minds.. no.. finding "the one" is not really a big deal when choosing an Egyptian wife.. The challenge here is not finding real love, it is finding the absolute virgin.

In a society like ours, a mere virgin just isn't good enough.. every man's quest while mating is to find the absolute virgin. Well, I'd better clarify what that means.

An AV is a never-been-touched, never-been-in-love, never-had-a-relationship, kind of girl. This is different from the simple "virgin".. Coz it is taken for granted that the girl must be a virgin in the biological sense! She has to bleed on her wedding night. That is out of question. The absolute virgin goes beyond her hymn.. Her husband has to be the first man in her life. It is even better if she told him he was her prince charming.. and she would really do the perfect job if she was able to convince him that his ghost used to visit her in her dreams.. a very common proto-image inspired by some Egyptian movie classics.

Let's say our guy (thinks he has) succeeded in his mission, and he was able to find his half human, half angel AV. Is the nightmare finally over? Hehehe.. you wish!

To be continued...
"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde