The Next President of Egypt
A short story by journalist, writer and translator Nael El Toukhy, published in Akhbar Al Adab on January 14th this year. The Arabic is here on the magazine’s website. To date he has published one short story collection, تغيرات فنية (The Supreme Council for Culture, 2003) [Technical Changes], two novellas, ليلى أنطون (Merit, 2006) [Leila Anton] and بابل مفتاح العالم (Merit, 2007) [Babel, Key to the World], and a novel, الألفين وستة، قصة الحرب الكبيرة (Merit, 2006) [2006: The Story of the Big War]. A second novel, نساء الكرنتينا [The Women of Karantena] will shortly be released by Merit. Among other things he maintains a blog of Hebrew literature translated into Arabic.
“What’ll we do, boss?”
“We’ve been through so much.”
“A whole year. We can’t take it. All this happening.”
He turns to face him: “Forget it, friend. Forget it.”
On the 12th of February, one day after the abdication, a letter is sent to one of the youth of the revolution. The letter contained just six words: “Good morning. I am the next president of Egypt.”
Death cruises the streets. The country burns. Blood, the reek of gas and fire and scorched chassis. And suddenly, a Facebook page is set up, its title: The Next President of Egypt. The page consists of only two images, the first a slogan, God is Great, Glory to Egypt, the second a portrait, a portrait of a person sitting in a darkened room, his features unclear though he appears to be veiled. The page is empty but for comments by some kids. The kids think it’s a set-up. Mystery surrounds the situation.
In a few weeks, the Next President of Egypt’s popularity is unparalleled. Nobody knows his name and address, what he looks like, but in all the polls that try to gauge the popularity of the presidential candidates, the next president of Egypt wins hands down. The next president does not speak: monolithically silent.
And suddenly he speaks. In a video on YouTube:
“The old world cannot go on. The new world shall emerge from out of the old, as an eggshell shatters and the egg emerges from within. That is all.”
The Next President of Egypt really was veiled. Nobody knows what he looks like. Most likely, because his face is afflicted with acne, he’s missing an eye, leprosy: nobody knows.
The skin complaint story spread day after day and as it spread the Next President’s popularity grew. The proportion of those under his spell swelled. One might say that by the end of the year, the next president of Egypt had been transformed into the public figure who enjoyed the greatest unanimity of support from all sectors of society. Nobody could say a bad word about him. He was transformed: a part of Egyptians’ culture.
With just a single exception. During one demonstration a man appeared carrying a sign that read Down with the Next President and laughing. The photograph nettled everybody but even so nobody raised any objection. Simply put, he was seen as a madman. Who would oppose the next president of Egypt? You even know him to oppose him? People swapped jokes about him and in no time he was forgotten and brushed aside.
What became of this man? Not a thing. He was still around. Still mocking himself whenever he carried his sign. And so evaporated what we might call the opposition, without any action on the part of the Next President of Egypt.
This was how he operated: Victory through the mind. He who opposes me opposes that he doesn’t know and he who supports me is, in brief, on the side of history. There must be a next president of Egypt and I am he. I am history, nature, physics; I am moving forward and progress and the flow of life. The rational mind has been victorious over all that oppose it: madness, the unconscious, feelings. The rational mind has crushed those who stand in its way, with the blessing of all, rulers and ruled alike. There is no escaping the web-like domination of the mind, the fox mind, the snake mind, foxlike, snakelike all at once.
The people are being killed, now. In the streets and houses and public places you find corpses whose source you do not know. Fire consumes everyone.
Something satanic was taking place. Authentically satanic. Satan’s world meshed with our own. The world of two dimensions meshed with the world of three. Great rents opened in the fabric of the universe and anyone drawn into these holes quickly lost their minds and withered, transformed in no time into two-dimensional beings.
Egyptians can’t stand all this. Egyptians are the best-natured people in the world. The Next President of Egypt was never silent and likewise, never spoke. He appeared in one video, looking out at the expectant audience, then smiled and the video ended. His popularity grew. It was impossible for anyone to do anything in the face of this popularity. Could anyone stand there, like our mad friend, and shout that he was against the Next President of Egypt?
The mind is victorious.
“The people are tired, boss.”
“The time has come for them to rest.”
And he smiles.
The Next President is without features and without voice—his voice is distorted—and without political affiliation. The Next President of Egypt has never said anything over which two people can disagree. And yet, since he first appeared, the old world really has been peeled like an egg. But the new world has not emerged. All this blood flowing for nothing, for a blank.
What people have understood from the next president’s words is that rage is no solution:
“Do not be angry. Terror is the solution. Rage is no solution.”
Satan possesses us. The two-dimensional world returns to attack our own at every moment: when we hear strange sounds in our lonely homes, when evening dissolves, at the slightest contact with any dead body, at the sound of an unknown language.
For a whole year terror was the people’s lot. Freedom from terror was not an option. At times, it seemed, the two-dimensional world was so firmly affixed to the three-dimensional that it was impossible to conceive of breaking the bond. Through terror, the Next President of Egypt was able to cultivate conflict. The mind versus terror. Terror is a vast wild beast, sprawling limitlessly away; the mind returns sprawling beasts to their natural limits. Become more and more terrified. The more you are the closer you come to the mind. The day rises out of night. The egg emerges from the eggshell.
For a whole year, people circled each other. The two dimensional world attacked them. People collapsed into the gaping black holes between the worlds. The reek of petrol everywhere.
The Next President is axiomatic now. The thing most axiomatic in the minds of the population. People scrawl phrases on walls, like, The situation will only stabilize with the coming of the Next President of Egypt, The Next President of Egypt is the president who will rule Egypt, like it or not. The walls explode. Stones fly over the heads of human beings. Corpses swell on street corners surrounded by flies. Suddenly, wild beasts are everywhere, phosphorescent brutes whose bodies weep sticky, greasy fluid. What links these beasts with the Next President of Egypt? Are they with him or against him? Terror leaves no room for answers.
It goes on, much further on, until the longest video yet in which the Next President of Egypt speaks:
“We will forget all that has happened. We will forget the horror of what has happened. The time has come to let the curtain fall. The time has come to start anew. All that has taken place has never happened. We will dive into forgetfulness that we might build everything. We will derive all values from the heart of forgetfulness. We will pluck out the pearl.”
During the broadcast, no one speaks. The entire country is bewitched. The entire country is ready to pluck out the pearl.
The Next President’s supporters start holding training sessions for losing memory and the sessions bear fruit. People start to forget all that has happened. The terror begins to disappear. The Next President of Egypt appears, gesturing behind the YouTube screen, then the video ends. The country starts to emerge from the dark tunnel. Is it the end of the world? Certainly it is, not in the sense that the world will pass out of existence but rather that hereafter it will be forever altered. The world enters Utopia, immutability; no time, no place.
The presidential elections are held and the Next President wins with one hundred per cent of the vote. If one hundred and one were possible he would have won that too, without a single instance of fraud. We are here now with thirty years of elections behind us. We are in the final phase of the world’s formation. People are fascinated, listening to their president after forgetting all that has happened, after the world has split away to become three-dimensional once more. The whole world’s in its place, now: the two-dimensional in its place and the three-dimensional in its place. East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. The rational logic of historical progress.
And so the new world appears, without a soul being aware of it. Everyone has forgotten the prophecy and they pay no heed to its fulfillment. All the people remember is a scene from an advertisement:
Chef Maged is preparing a dish of egg and beans, an Egyptian classic. He grips a tennis racquet. With the racquet he launches the boiled egg against the wall and it rebounds. He hits it further. And so on. Five shots in succession, the sound cranked-up—Takk! Tokk! Tikk!—then he catches the egg in his hand and dexterously brushes at it. The egg is now perfectly ready: gleaming, completely stripped of its shell. This is Déjà vu. No one knows what this scene means to them—they have forgotten everything—but the scene is rich in meaning. The egg is the hard core of the new world.
The next president of Egypt appears. His face is firm. His tone is firm. His voice is full of hope.
“Now we begin the world. Nothing has happened. Nothing will. We hang suspended in a bubble. We take the tool and peel the egg. Enjoy.”
The Egyptians’ eyes are fixed on the screen. The Egyptians are fascinated.