Sketches of a new/old political stasis


Just went to see this show, “The Last Days of Umm Dina,” at the Rawabet Center with my friend Maha. It was fun: not the sexy bellydancing promised on the poster, and not in fact a history of prostitution in Egypt, but an amateur sketch show (is this the Egyptian genre known as political cabaret?) with some songs satirizing the next-oldest profession, politics. The performers looked a lot like the audience: 20-something, wearing jeans and t-shirts, three women (of whom one muhaggaba) in a troupe of about 10 performers. There were funny numbers on the elections (ElBaradei made a brief appearance, spoke a few words, and beat a hasty retreat promising “the rest on Twitter”… Amre Moussa pretended to be the inevitable candidate doing various gymnastics to distance himself from the old regime… various old-regime leftovers and Islamists stumbled around dispensing violence or bribes and promising a “transitional period of 30 or 40 years or so,” as the three girls sang exaggerated backup to each candidate:
كلام جمييييل، كلام معقووووووول، ما اقدرش اقووووووووووووول حاجة فيه) and related phenomena. One young man deadpanned that after the revolution he decided not to be part of the old regime anymore, but to be part of the new regime (with a military salute showing exactly who Egypt’s “new” rulers were).
Lots of pointed jokes at state-run TV and SCAF and the ongoing military regime, lots of playful saluting, some slapping around of dissidents and would-be-independent journalists and such.
On the poster the show was labeled “a comedy, to a certain extent” – and that’s about right. Some things are hard to laugh about right now – the wounds are too fresh. (At the end the director came out and dedicated the show to Alaa Abdel Fattah.) There were definite moments of collective depression among the audience as well as applause and general hilarity at the SCAF send-ups. Regardless of the quality, it was good to see the downtown theatre crowd out in force, basking for an hour or so anyway in the warmth of shared political disillusion.
If even cardboard-man Tantawi is being readied for a personality cult (witness the celebrations of his birthday yesterday, appropriately coinciding with All Hallows’ Eve and marked by SCAF’s sticking the World’s Tallest Flagpole into the soil of Egypt), then the time will soon be ripe for satire again.

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