January 16, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 645

Renowned Egyptian Liberal Author and Playwright Ridicules Pan-Arab Nationalist Intellectuals

January 16, 2004
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 645

Following the capture of Saddam Hussein, liberal Egyptian playwright and columnist Ali Salem [1] wrote an article titled "A Big Lie Stuffed with Little Lies," in which he ridicules pan-Arab nationalist intellectuals. The following are excerpts from his article: [2]

Why Did Egyptian Pan-Arab Nationalists Immigrate to Baghdad After Nasser's Death?

"With the death of [Egyptian president Gamal] Abd Al-Nasser, three Arab capitals leapt on the legacy of pan-Arab [nationalism], whose banner Cairo had borne for so long. Since this banner didn't really exist in the lives of the people, and was no more than a romantic and vague revolutionary idea, and since all vague and impractical ideas nest only in the minds of the intellectuals, [three Arab] capitals cast their nets so as to catch with them the largest possible number [of pan-Arab nationalist intellectuals].

"… In Cairo, there were days in the early 1970s when life became almost unbearable for most authors, artists, and journalists. This stage reached its height on February 4, 1973, when we awoke one morning and read on the front pages of all the papers the names of Egypt's authors and intellectuals whom President Sadat had decided to expel from the Socialist Union.

"This membership in the Socialist Union had no importance in and of itself, except that what it meant practically was that their salaries would no longer be paid. Thus began the battle for bread, which led to the great exodus [of pan-Arab nationalist intellectuals] from Cairo.

"It was difficult for an intellectual to [admit] that he was going to Baghdad to look for bread, or because he was fleeing a possible danger, because that was shameful. So everyone declared that the reason was purely 'ideological.'

"I remember during those days some comments by the great poet, the late Amal Dunqal. We were sitting at Café Rish, and he was speaking to a young journalist who was leaving to work in Baghdad since the atmosphere of freedom in Cairo had become stifling. Suddenly Amal shouted at him: 'My brother, you sit here and curse Sadat and you think that in Baghdad you will be permitted to curse even the deputy manager of a post office…?'"

Saddam's Personality Cult and the Shoehorn Story

"One of those intellectuals who went [to Baghdad] was my friend, the outstanding film producer Tawfiq Saleh, who went to be a professor at the Baghdad Academy of the Arts. Of course, no outstanding producer could live in Baghdad without making a film about Saddam Hussein. Tawfiq produced a film on the life of the leader [Saddam] … and after he finished the film, well, naturally Saddam must see it before it went out to the public.

"Tawfiq said: The film was shown in a small theater. Saddam sat surrounded by his cronies. When the film began, they started weeping with emotion. Would you believe that each one of them finished off the box of Kleenex in front of him?!

"Saddam objected to only one scene. This was the scene in which we see his face while they remove a bullet from his leg. The actor who played the role twisted his face in pain. This is one of the common scenes in cinema – removing a bullet or an arrow from somewhere in the hero's body with no anesthetic, and then the camera moves to his face and we see it twist in pain.

"Saddam said: 'It wasn't like that, Tawfiq. There was pain, of course, but no one saw it on my face. Another thing, Tawfiq. I didn't remove the bullet with a straight razor, but with a shoehorn.'

"The story of this bullet is famous. Saddam participated in a failed assassination attempt on [then Iraqi ruler] Abd Al-Karim Qassem, and a bullet hit him in the leg. He fled to the village of Al-Dur and hid at the home of a relative, from whom he requested a straight razor that was used to remove the bullet, without anesthetic. This is what Saddam told his biographer, the late Amir Iskandar, and this is also what he told Tawfiq Saleh,in the preparatory meetings before he wrote the script. So where did this shoehorn story come from?"

Saddam Hussein: 'A Big Lie Stuffed with Little Lies'

"It is reasonable to assume that there was no bullet, no straight razor, and no shoehorn. Saddam was one big lie stuffed with little lies. You can tell everyone a different story, but when you set all of them before the camera, the lie is revealed immediately. When they played the scene before his eyes, he realized right away that it was impossible in reality. The story of using the straight razor is good only for instances when the hero is bitten by a snake. Then you slash the bite and suck out the venom – and it is best if the movie's heroine does the sucking. This is what Saddam realized when he watched the scene, and to salvage the situation he pulled the shoehorn story from his imagination. Perhaps the shoehorn could have removed a bullet – but from a tray of date pastries, not from a human leg.

"… Saddam Hussein was no more than a murderer whose heart was dead. He is one of the few who showed that revolutionary ideas are nothing more than a bouquet of lies. For these lies to be accepted by people, there is no way around killing some of them. All revolutionary parties and organizations need a cold-blooded, conscienceless murderer. On the rising path to the seat of power, there are people who must be removed; thus there must be people who will play the role of the remover. Saddam worked as a remover of the human race.

"Saddam was not a president of a country, nor was he a statesman in any way, shape, or form. He will go down in history as the man who destroyed Iraq. I will never forget the shock I felt when I saw on television the Iraqi village and its people. God, all those palaces, all those festivities and celebrations, and all those bribery payments, while human beings could find nothing to eat or to wear?!"

Egypt and the New Iraq Must Cooperate to Normalize the Region

"History has slumbered long in this region, and suddenly it has awoken, and it continues on its way with rapid steps in the direction of progress and human rights…

"Within a few months, there will be an Iraqi government and [an Iraqi] state. We must draw up ambitious plans for cooperation between the Egyptians and the Iraqis, for the sake of restoring normal life to the Arab region. Without genuine cooperation between the two peoples with the most ancient civilizations on the face of the earth, the lot of the region will be destruction and fragmentation, for a thousand years to come."

[1] For more on Ali Salem, please see:

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 622, December 5, 2003, 'Leading Egyptian Liberal Ali Salem on the Struggle of Arab Intellectuals for Freedom,' Leading Egyptian Liberal Ali Salem on the Struggle of Arab Intellectuals for Freedom.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 412, August 16, 2002, 'Liberal Arab Intellectuals on Their Governments' Information Campaign Plans,' Liberal Arab Intellectuals on Their Governments' Information Campaign Plans.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 298, November 8, 2001, ' Terror in America (25): Egyptian Satirist Playwright Ali Salem: 'I want to start a kindergarten for extremism,' Terror In America (25): Egyptian Satirist Playwright Ali Salem: 'I Want To Start A kindergarten For Extremism'.

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 33, July 31, 2000, 'Arrest of a Leading Egyptian Human Rights Activist Part I: Underlying Issues,' Arrest of a Leading Egyptian Human Rights Activist Part I: Underlying Issues.

MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 145, October 31, 2000, 'Egyptian Peace Activist on Intifada,' Egyptian Peace Activist on Intifada.

[2] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), December 27, 2003.

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