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Taking Stock

Omar Refaat pauses to take stock of the state of our country, and in an extended moment of introspection, considers whether the right choice would be to remain here, or to leave altogether...

Here is a question I’ve been struggling with as of late, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one: what exactly are we to come up with if we take stock of the state of our failed country? If I have the chance to leave - or, to put it in more palpable terms for many, to get the hell out of here - what is the right thing do? What is the moral, noble, reasonable, and beautiful choice? The inroads are as manifold as the shades of grievances to grapple with, so I’ll pick one and the cluster around it, a gesture that says a lot about the colour of the fundamental theme that runs across the whole spectrum of madness we have come to accept as fact. Too personal, petty, and shameful in many ways is this story, but it is what it is. I’ll stick to the timeless wisdom of writing what you know. So I’ll take the little conundrum I find myself in these days as an opportunity to go to the end of this; no fetters, no holding back, no cold feet.

While this runs as a clip from a bad psychotherapy session, the context is necessary to get a tinge of the flavour across. It all started a few months ago; while barely skirting a rather perilous and pretty unpleasant crevice not unfar into the territory of mental illness, death became an obsession. This is sad, to tell you the truth, because it means I have lost my zest for life, for only in fullness is there true letting go. While I am at it, I thought I might as well put my house in order, as they say. Tragicomic hypochondria and newly acquired fear of flying aside, one thorn stuck out most blatantly, and kudos to the genius of Kafka from the outset. I asked myself, what happens to my money when I die? Simple, right? You find a lawyer who won’t disappear with your money, give him a few pointers over the phone, have him email you a draft of the will, mark it up just to make sure he didn’t miss anything, sign it (possibly in front of a witness or two), pay a little bribe to have the system’s blood flowing for a second to do what it is supposed to do, take a copy and deposit the other somewhere for safe keeping, and wait calmly for death to arrive from one (or more) of the infinite possibilities Cairo affords us in this regard. Well, not precisely. I turn to a friend; he is 28, pure in heart, and rich. I’m 30.

“Listen, do you have a will?”

“Of course, I have one in London.”

Two things here, "of course" and "in London." I chose to focus on the latter.

“Why?”

“Because there is no such thing as a will in Egypt.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s Sharia.”

“What? Hold on a minute. But you're Christian.”

It gets better. While I’m no stranger to the extent of our absurdity on this front, this felt a bit over the top for my taste, even for our non-existent standards. While deep down I knew I was fucked right there and then, the little voice that makes us do the things we shouldn’t then sweeten them up after the fact, convinced me that it can’t be true, that there must be a solution somewhere.

Why am I so concerned? Easy; the prospect of meeting an untimely demise with the horror of knowing that a big part of my life, almost all of it as far as I can remember, is about to be cast into the insatiable gutter of utter pointlessness when it was already far from comfortable in this regard to begin with. For here is the thing: I have made a lot of money for my age, naturally at a Faustian price. I let morally dubious work eat up way too much of my soul, and as obscene and wrong as it is for the most unmeaningful jobs to pay the most, I’ve worked hard and paid very dearly for this nest that is my undoing, for we can’t forget the eye of the needle. And to think that complete strangers - my rightful heirs according to the “words of God,” as I would be later enlightened, born of the man (our father) who chose to have a baby with my mother and one day decided it is okay to turn that leaf over then went on to shower the earth with his unholy jizz - get all the earthly fruit of my triple all nighters in the office is a little bit too much for me to stomach.

It does not stop here, though. My partner, my companion, my freely chosen family, gets nothing because she is a Christian American - maybe a third, if all goes well. If this isn’t the darkest of impotent silences of a desert haunting our ability to breathe freely, then what is? A small thing, yet emblematic of the disaster of worshipping a code deader than the deadest past; a true mark of rabid ignorance.

Bored, anxious, and basking in neurotic regressions from an ill-advised return to the fangs of investment banking (after I had vowed never again to walk down this morbid road), I set out to find a clearing out of this fucking mess. Take me, Lord, most welcome; but not before I sort this shit out. Forget finishing my first novel, making a beautifully sad film, or finding peace, it is this that bothers me the most.

After getting ripped off by a bunch of scumbag lawyers, and too many meetings and inquiries with a bunch of terrifyingly incompetent governmental arms, here is my problem in a nutshell: I can’t write a will except for a third of my possessions. The rest, according to a set-in-stone formula that goes against anything worth living for, goes to an unknown number of brothers and sisters that I have never met - that is, after deducting anywhere between one to 10 per cent, depending on the mood of the Notary Office official who will be fortunate enough to open my will. Options? Nothing really. I’m trapped. Also, I can’t transfer abroad because there are no dollars around. The journey has been ripe, and it confirmed my worst fears about this shithole of a country, and it is a bit of a bind if you ask me.

Now, don’t get me wrong before you hear me out; I have seen and know the genius of this land’s magic, the wisdom gushing forth from the deepest wells, the undercurrents of timeless beauty. Hell, we have Sinai, right? But I would be lying to myself if I don’t accept the sordid reality of what is; so, let us call things by their names. Forget the rubbish of patriotism. What duty binds me to support, protect, and propagate a reality that is cancerous for the vast majority of its hosts? Why accept to remain enslaved to a mode of being that has been long left behind by time?

But let us not fall prey to the illusion that the system - the regime, the government, the elite, the man, whatever you want to call it - is somehow different from the soil from which it sprang. This is me and you. This is our blood, our karma. And we wonder where the insanity stops. 

Disappointed, disenchanted, and disheartened; yes, who wouldn’t be after all we have been through. But something else just got thrown asunder. The hope that what happened was the first step of an inevitable turn for the better. "If not us, then maybe our children," we consoled our inconsolable soul. Then we pushed it to our grandchildren, but now guess what, I have this uncanny feeling that it is never going to happen. Our future is our present and our present is our past. This is beyond hope. You get what you deserve. So to think it is okay to live at the very bottom of a lot of things, to bask in the smothering fumes of collective failure and be content, thankful - grateful, even - what kind of statement is that? We are the quintessential kidnapped victim who ends up, in some incomprehensible perversion, rooting for the kidnapper who is, after all, just another rotten chord in a broken symphony.

That’s why hope is slipping further away and, morally, I stand to hold the sin of having had the chance of being in a better place - an environment where the principles I try to hold dear in life, even as ideals, are a lesser delusion, and with kindred souls where I stand a better chance of being happy, of being a more whole human being. One can argue that it is a fool’s lie, that changing locale will never make you a better person. True, but it is all a matter of degree. Nature is aristocratic, as Jung said; things are not created equal. Still, I wander away from the godforsaken capital and ask myself if it is just this soul-sucking city. Possible, but the point goes deeper, more along the lines of one of the key arguments surrounding vegetarianism. The shawerma is already there; the deed long done. The source wasn’t killed for me, but it's a shame to let the death go to waste. It doesn’t work that way. You take yourself out of the system because you feel it is wrong to kill to eat when you have other means to survive, even though one person’s diet won’t really make any difference in the grand scheme of things. You don’t want to be part of the value chain, period.

I can stay here, do my duty, and give back; but ethically, where does this stand? Not too far from the fear of letting go of the herding instinct we have honed to perfection over aeons of slavery, comfort in a master-slave dynamic that is surely the only reality we seem to understand. Not too far from the endemic corruption up and down to the tiniest beat. What does this say about the fact that every pound of taxes we pay goes directly, somewhere down the line, into snatching someone from his home for speaking his mind, or bombing some Yemeni over there and far away? But I look around me and see men driving the wrong way on a highway to cut in line, and gloating and proud about it, and you wonder which is the cart and which is the horse.

Let us face it, there is an order of rank in life and we generally don’t stack up that well. Shit happens; arrested growth happens; too late happens. Maybe it is time to accept defeat and forget about the pipe dreams of rebirth and all that.

I happen to have crossed paths with a guy who made his name in business by running high-class pussy for wealthy businessmen, apparently. He turned down a ministry and went on to travel to Germany on an Air Force One - take that for economic mission. What does something as small as this indicate? We all know it and are just too scared to admit the full implications. The game is rigged, wrong, futile. It is the religious current in me that refuses this idiocy and screams against the surrender to such a sorry state. It is precisely because I think Mohamed was on the right path, despite all the faults and flaws that have come to pollute his vision and legacy. I refuse to miss the essence of what the man came to preach. Because I know there is more to life than chance, I refuse to destroy my dignity and conform to a sorrowful norm. Blame it on power issues at the top, maybe? Correct, but it is because of how we raise our children, because of how power flows around in our homes. So, what is it, stay or leave? Does it even matter?

I’m missing all the golden lights shining here and there in the blackest storm. True, and glorious, but not enough if you ask me. Maybe when more people get rich. Well, I have learnt firsthand that money buys everything except truth, beauty, wisdom, and love. Take my family, for instance. Their rags-to-riches tale didn’t bring them to transcend the level of refusing to meet the woman I love, who is a far better human being than their coveted son, for reasons I do not know because no one thought it necessary to explain. It seems a petty example, too personal and ungeneralisable, but its roots run much further than me. This is where the center of gravity is, that my aforementioned Christian friend found himself unable to be a formal witness in my marriage because of the religion into which he was born, which still makes its way onto his ID for some inexplicable reason. What does this say about us? It's an forgivable infraction or a poignant symbol as to how disturbingly deficient our collective psyche is and how ignorant we are as a nation.

I look around me now and see not only the best minds but, even sadder, the best hearts of my generation destroyed by an inescapable past. Weary and throwing in the towel, watching one corpse collapse on top of another; death of art (except for glimmers of resistance on the very fringes); death of taste, class, and tact across the whole gamut; death of peace; death of shame; death of change. Cry baby, you will say. Spot on. For I am prone to self-pity, loathing, and aggrandisement - complaining when I have had it so easy while millions starve. This is true, but, in life, every man gets his share of agony one way or another and, in the end, it all evens out within. Am I ready to be fine with the violence that we have become, the inner one before the exterior? Am I ready to escape my samsara, to shed my karma, maybe? Will I be allowed? So, here I am, back where we started from. To be quite honest, to answer the trigger question. Why am I here?


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