I am reporting this from an undisclosed location in Cairo under the cover of darkness and in an ancient script that no one but me and some Templar knights who died a long time ago can read. I am doing all this to evade the people I am writing about and if I don't return, I want someone to make sure this gets published. Of course, there is a pretty good chance that I could just be an average dude masquerading as a journalist and writing this from his brightly lit apartment in Los Angeles, but never mind that.
What is important is that even after several days in Cairo, I still can't figure out whether the Egyptian Army is a benevolent or malevolent force in Egypt's transition to democracy. They are like a schizophrenic peacekeeper, first suppressing their own people to maintain order under Hosni Mobarak, then helping to topple him so that the people could have democracy, then suppressing their own people to maintain order under Mohamed Morsi, and now threatening to topple him so that the people can have democracy again.
On one hand, the army has certainly been a stabilizing force in a land wracked by political turmoil and uncertainty. They are also the only line of defense against militant extremism. But try as I might, I am finding it hard to come up with examples of military coups that have really just been well-meaning and kind in nature. The word coup itself implies something violent and the word junta (which is what the indefinite 'provisional' government run by the army will be) is completely undemocratic.
So is the army the right solution here?
Really, who the hell knows? The complex interplay of -- wait, there's someone at the door!
They found me. I don't how but the Egyptian army found me and now there are soldiers at my door. Is it too much to hope that they are just looking for a drink of water? Well, there is only one way to find out.
So I open the door and say: "Hola, senor."
The Middle Eastern man standing in the doorway looks at me funny and then turns to his companion, who just shrugs. Then he turns back around and marches assertively into the room, pushing me aside and saying something in Arabic that I don't understand. I am scared but try not to show it. The man says something else and this time I respond in even more Spanish, hoping to confuse them.
But these men are clearly trained and don't lose their composure easily. The first man, who is evidently the leader of the group, decides to switch to the common vernacular of body language and punches me in the face. It is only then that I realize something interesting -- the man is not wearing a military uniform! In fact, none of the men accompanying him are either. Instead they are all dressed like Osama Bin Laden, with traditional Middle Eastern garb and long beards, every single one of them.
I blink. Who are these people? And in my surprise and confusion, I blurt out something in English: "You're not soldiers."
The leader of the group smiles, revealing a set of nicotine-stained teeth that would put an Englishman to shame, and exchanges a knowing look with his men.
Leader: I knew you spoke English!
Me (flustered): No hablo inglés!
Leader: Cut the bull. We know who you are and why you are here.
Me (dropping the act): But who are you?
Leader: The Brotherhood of the Traveling Extremists. Didn't the long beards give us away?
Me: So what do you want with me?
Leader: We want you to be fair in your coverage of the revolution.
Me: But the Egyptians want democracy, not fanaticism.
Leader: Maybe, but they also don't want a despotic military government. The army just wants to take over by deposing Morsi. We are a better solution.
Leader: We will give people the illusion of democracy so they remain happy.
Me: The people don't want an illusion. They want a real democracy!
Leader: Not at all. That's what the Americans want. The Egyptians are different, more evolved. We believe that all of life is merely an illusion and so why worry if the democracy is real or not? No point getting worked up about silly things.
Me: Egypt has a flailing economy, poor infrastructure, and widespread corruption. Those things are not silly. They need to be fixed and the Muslim Brotherhood has no intention of fixing them.
Leader (shakes his head): The Muslim Brotherhood is a different group. We are the Brotherhood of the Traveling Extremists. Okay, you got me there. We don't want any real development in Egypt but then neither does the army, so pick your poison.
Me: So you're basically telling me that the poor Egyptian people are going to be suppressed no matter who is in power?
Leader: You are not as dumb as you look, American. Pretty much. The only way the people will really get a clean government is if they form a new army, one that is not power-hungry, and then use that army to get rid of extremist groups like ours -- who are also power-hungry.
Me: I'm confused. I thought this was supposed to be the Arab Spring.
Leader (a big laugh): It's 102 degrees outside. Does it feel like spring to you?
Me: But the army will destroy you if Morsi doesn't step down.
Leader: Don't worry about that. We'll just hide behind the people and make them fight the army.
Me: That's cowardly.
Leader (menacing): Be careful who you call a coward or we can punch your ticket right here...
Me: I'm sorry. But even if you win, what makes you any better than a military government? Do you have an economic plan?
Leader: Of course. We will break up the pyramids and sell off the pieces to foreigners. We estimate that we could make at least a billion dollars that way. There are also the mummies, which collectors will happily buy.
Me: What about education?
Leader: No problem. We will set up Madrases all over and no child will be left behind.
Me (a shudder): You will be corrupting an entire generation of Egyptians with your ideas.
Leader (singsong voice): You say corrupting, we say enlightening, you say tomato...
At this point I know the answer to my question, and all I want to do is get myself out of Cairo in one piece, and so I promise the Brotherhood of the Traveling Extremists that I will be fair in my coverage of the revolution, and run as fast as I can to the airport. For all the problems with a military regime in Egypt, Morsi and his supporters may just be worse.
But just before I leave, the leader of the group pulls me aside and takes out his cell phone.
Me: What is that?
Leader: The iPhone 5S.
Me: But the 5S isn't out yet!
Leader: We are testing it for Apple, unofficially of course.
Me: So what do you want?
Leader: Small favor. Could you message your followers and tell them to follow us on twitter?
SERIOUSLY SKEWED is brought to you by Sanjay Sanghoee, a political and business commentator. Sanjay is a banker and is the author of two thriller novels, including "Killing Wall Street". For more information, please visit www.sanghoee.com
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