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Trickster’s Path

March 18, 2018

TawfikTrickster(1)If one tries to consider Tawfiq ‘Ukasha as a counterreactionary populist demagogue, (as do the few journalists and political scientists who mention him at all), the bizarre rises and falls of his career are hard to explain. Ultimately he falls foul of every social movement in Egypt, even the returning military regime he once advocated for.

But if one considers him a trickster, as Walter Armbrust suggests, his volatile rises and falls, about-faces and self-reinventions make more sense.

Last May (2017), ‘Ukasha was fined EGP 5,000 and sentenced to one year in prison forging his PhD degree on official electoral documents. It turns out that the university he claimed to have gotten his degree from does not, in fact, exist.

Nobody would have noticed the discrepancy if ‘Ukasha, as an MP from Daqahlia, had not already drawn attention to himself by violating a longtime parliamentary boycott of Israel by inviting Israeli ambassador Haim Koren for a meal at his residence in Daqahlia. According to Egypt Independent:

Okasha said that he wanted to discuss various important issues with the Israeli diplomat, including the issue of Palestine and negotiations over Ethiopia’s controversial Renaissance Dam project.

Tricksters in myth are loutish, puffed up with boasts and lies, ravenous for foolery. They are at once gods and animals, defying structural order and social logic. If there are rules, ‘Ukasha has to challenge them, cross the boundaries, push the borders because that’s what tricksters do.

For example, back in 2016, ‘Ukasha’s Al-Faraeen television station went off the air in the middle of the show “Mubashar Misr” [Egypt Live]. According to news reports, the station had failed to pay its bills to state-affiliated Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC), where it is videotaped.

This was apparently no surprise to viewers of al-Faraeen because ‘Ukasha had announced on the air that he had no intention of paying the bill, both on principle, and because he needed the money to run for Parliament.

According to news reports, ‘Ukasha spent EGP 242,000 to fund his run in parliamentary elections, and these costs were covered out of the channel’s debt. ‘Ukasha announced his intention to  close the Faraeen Channel and sell it, and let the new owner take over whatever debt was owed to EMPC.

Since al-Faraeen was essentially a personality-driven vehicle for ‘Ukasha, it was never sold, and went off the air.

But ‘Ukasha wasn’t just defaulting on debt–he was playing the part of trickster again. Al-Faraeen was a highly popular show with a very high audience share–but it failed to get advertising revenues commensurate with its popularity.

As Dr. Mahmoud Alamuddin of Cairo University told Al-Quds al-Arabi

The closing of the channel for lack of funds reflects two things. Firstly that televised media is suffering from political monopoly, and secondly that the political view affects its revenues from advertisements, even if it is widely watched…”

 

In other word, advertisers stayed away because Tawfiq ‘Uqasha is a controversial, and hence politically chancy risk. So Tawfiq stuck the political establishment with the bill, using the money he saved to join the political establishment as an MP.

In his excellent paper “Notes towards an anthropology of political revolutions,” Bjørn Thomassen suggests that revolutions inevitably provide environments in which Tricksters thrive. But it is seven years since Tahrir Square, and as the current regime seeks to bring all aspects of Egyptian society, including media and Parliament, under its direct control, it has little patience for tricksters, even those ostensibly on its side. When ‘Ukasha emerges from prison he’ll have neither television station nor political office as a springboard for his shenanigans.

And yet, somehow, I doubt we have heard the last of him…

References

2015 Closing of Faraeen channel due to debt, Okasha to sell it…” Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Oct. 29

2017. Tawfiq Okasha sentenced to 1 year in prison for forging PhD certificate. Al-Masry al-Yom, May 10.

Badreen, Bassam. 2015. “From Tawfik Akacha to Reham Saeed: Obsessive Compulsive behavior…Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Nov. 2

Thomassen, Bjørn. 2012. “Notes towards an anthropology of political revolutions.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 54(3): 679-706.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2018 3:04 am

    This is a fascinating post and I’m very grateful for the reference to “Notes towards an anthropology of political revolutions” by Bjørn Thomassen. I thought you might want to take a look at an Anthropology News article just out by Giacomo Loperfido: What Can Anthropology Say about Populism? It seems there might be a connection between Loperfido on contemporary demagogues and Thomassen on tricksters?

    • March 20, 2018 5:21 am

      Very interesting. Thanks for the head’s up. I’ll certainly look at it.

    • N Sherbini permalink
      May 29, 2018 3:56 pm

      Impeccable analysis! Thank you for the insight – I have been trying to get through this issue from the start but gave up in the end! With this, it now makes perfect sense.

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