In the first installment of the story telling us of Zamalek's ascent to a sovereign state Mouwafak Chourbagui takes us back to mid-2012 to where it all began; the inception of the island as an independent republic...
Before the battle for power in the newly-sovereign state of Zamalek began, and various groups were all vying for leadership - and you can find out all about that here - the island nation was conceived. Here is the prequel to the political tale...
July 4th, 2012
US Ambassador Anne Patterson is not having a festive 4th of July. She is on the phone with the Obama administration, frantically pacing around the room, trying to appease Washington’s anger. But what can she possibly say? What words will make sense of the madness?
It all started 10 days ago in Le Pacha 1901. Champagne was flowing and sushi being swallowed like Mykonos poppers as the cheerful crowd were singing “Shafik je t’aime, Shafik je t’adore comme la salsa de Pomodore” in perfect harmony. But the joyful mood quickly evaporated when the results of the election came in. The room suddenly became one big chorus of wailing women and sniveling men. One look outside the window, to the other side of the Nile, at the army of feloukas Shaabi dancing to Morsi’s victory was all it took to convince the bourgeois troop that a second Nakba had emerged. That’s when a drunken drastic decision was taken: to set anchors aweigh and sail to Europe as chic political refugees.
Anne Patterson is now on her way to the panicked island to meet with Robert Menzaman, the country’s wealthiest businessman. A construction and media tycoon, he vowed to save Zamalek from the “terrorists and savages” who took control of Egypt. He wasn’t mincing his words. The day after the Pacha disappearance, he used his vast network and unlimited finances to seclude Zamalek from the rest of the nation. All entry points to the island are now guarded by a patrol on Harley Davidsons, towers equipped with water canons have been erected along the Nile to repel all encroaching visitors and a retired IDF sniper was even hired to protect Zamalek from atop Borg el Qaheira.
After going through the Novotel checkpoint hassle-free, Patterson finally arrives at La Trattoria at 2 PM. Only Menzaman, the restaurant staff and ex-Cairo Jazz club bouncer turned personal bodyguard, Bedanous, are present. The place had clearly been emptied out for the meeting. Patterson, herself accompanied by a couple of bodyguards, approaches the only occupied table and shakes Menzaman’s extended hand before sitting down. Noticing the flustered look on her face, he pours her a glass from an expensive French bottle of wine and wryly toasts to the “only place where alcohol is still allowed.” The ambassador doesn’t seem amused. She gulps the drink before launching the first strike: “What the fuck have you done Robert? How am I supposed to deal with this clusterfuck? Your country has its first-ever democratic election and you respond with a coup d’état? My government and the newly elected government of your country have asked me to talk some sense into you. You have a week to restore things to their natural order…”
Menzaman is adamant that he has done the right thing and interjects: “I only respected the will of the people of Zamalek. We will not accept to live under an Islamist regime and we will not stand idly by and watch our best people leave by the masses to the shores of Europe in boats. If Egypt wants Morsi, so be it but therefore we are left with no choice but to leave Egypt.” Ambassador Patterson is stupefied: “Leave Egypt? What do you mean? Are you actually planning on maintaining this charade?” Robert Menzaman leans over and explains to the ambassador that what she sees as a charade is a new reality that she has to accept: “This is only the beginning. The army itself is not too happy with the result and we have reached an agreement with them. They will give us autonomy in exchange for half of our tax revenues. We are currently developing diplomatic relationships with the people of Garden City, Katameya, Maadi, and Heliopolis, open to giving them visa-free access to Zamalek as long as their profile is compatible with our values. I am working closely with numerous liberal educational institutions to open campuses here on the island. We are submitting our candidacy for statehood next week to the United Nations and your country, Ambassador Patterson, will not only endorse it but also persuade other states to support it.”
Anne Paterson is stunned: “Mr. Menzaman, I admire your gusto but you are dreaming if you think you can pull a Kosovo on the world. The United States has positioned itself in support of the Arab Spring and there is no way in hell that we are going to legitimise this lunacy.” The wealthy businessman is unfazed by her firm response. With ice-cold composure, he slides a closed envelope across the table and boldly affirms: “I am confident you will not veto the resolution.“ The Ambassador opens the envelope and freezes; she is shocked at what she is looking at. She doesn’t utter a word. She simply excuses herself from the table while mumbling: “We have a deal” to the newly self-proclaimed leader of Zamalek.
Back at the embassy, Patterson is working up the courage to call President Obama. Around midnight local time she finally makes the call and explains to her boss that she is powerless to prevent Zamalek from seceding from the country: “Mr. President I am afraid we have no choice but to support their aspiration for independence.“ Obama is furious: ”Anne I made myself very clear. We can’t allow the whims of some crazy businessman to bear fruit. President Morsi is counting on us to be firm with Menzaman. We will intervene if…” Paterson interrupts the most powerful man in the world: ”Mr. President… they have proof… they have a picture of you fucking David Cameron fucking a dead pig…”
A week later, Zamalek is officially declared an independent republic.