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The Democratic Republic of Zamalek: Bearded Blues

In the second installment of the story of an independent Zamalek, the island nation has gained sovereignty and the battle for power among different factions has begun...

Illustration by Ganna Hashem.

In the previous installment of the tale of Zamalek as a sovereign state, the island nation finally acquired independence. Now the battle for power has begun...

August 10th, 2012

A group of armed men are standing guard at the foot of a building on Mohamed Mazhar street. They are there on the orders of Robert Menzaman after he placed his nemesis, Ahmed Sheikhsbeer a.k.a The Milk Sheikh, under house arrest last month for defying his call for an independent republic. He is no longer allowed to exit his apartment or receive visitors. Only food and medicine can reach his door.

Sheikhsbeer, the wealthy owner of Seoudi market, has been a thorn in Menzaman’s side ever since the UN granted independence to Zamalek on July 11th. He is a rare breed on the island, a fervent Islamist who regards his neighborhood as a neo-colonial hotbed of debauchery and sin. 

When Morsi won the election, he became overzealous, making daily speeches about how the imminent religious renaissance would purge Zamalek from its immorality.  Sheikhsbeer hired a Salafi graffiti artist to spray-paint “R.I.P” in front of every pub, left threatening notes on the doorsteps of women who didn’t wear the veil, and spat next to people who spoke English in public places. When Menzaman took control of Zamalek, he decided to punish the bearded agent provocateur by restricting his movement and influence. Not an easy thing to do to an old friend…  

Indeed, The Milk Sheikh wasn’t always a religious fanatic. He and Menzaman were classmates at an elite international school, often played tennis together at Nadi El Gezira and even had a shared first childhood crush: Soad Hosni in Zawgati wal Kalb.  While studying Management at AUC, Sheikhsbeer fell in love with Amy Grashon, an American exchange student, and subsequently completed his M.A in California to be with her. But when he proposed, she turned him down citing cultural differences. He returned to Egypt heartbroken, humiliated and bitter; the world that educated him, the world he embraced, rejected him. He found solace in the confines of his core identity and broke ties with most of his friends, especially the Coptic ones. At war with his Westernised identity, he renounced all components of its culture except one: the milkshake. He was often spotted in his signature elegant linen galabeya queuing up at McDonald’s after Friday prayers, impatiently waiting for his beloved strawberry milkshake to invade his body in a stream of creamy ecstasy.

When he turned 26, he married his second cousin Fatma and fathered two children: Youssef and Leila. They grew up in a very strict and conservative home and while Youssef effortlessly absorbed his father’s ideology, Leila rebelled and would later flee the household. Now 54, his last true goal in life is to spearhead an Islamic rebirth and witness the Muslim World return to its former glory. Only through religion can Muslims feel dignified in this unjust world and only through power will The Milk Sheikh feel whole again. But there is one man standing in his way. A man who embodies everything The Milk Sheikh left behind…

The doorbell rings.  Fatma puts on her black 3abaya and veil and exits her room. She opens the door then greets the visitor, a man in an Alex Top uniform. With a simple nod, she points to the living room before disappearing. There, a silhouette, prayer beads in hand, is gazing through the window at the forbidden world outside. He turns to reveal a tired face with a scruffy beard. He invites his guest to sit on the couch: ”We don’t have much time Yehia, if you stay more than a couple of minutes they’ll suspect something.” The Milk Sheikh then grabs the delivery bag containing koshari and hands him a 20 L.E note with instructions on it.  

As Yehia exits the building, he is searched one more time by the security cordon before being allowed to get on his Vespa. Yehia isn’t a resident of Zamalek; he goes there to work every day from Imbaba and has been subjected to the humiliating checkpoints reserved to non-denizens ever since the island achieved independence. He has always loathed the place - that inaccessible paradise where he watches people spend in a day what he makes in a month - but the checkpoints proved to be the last straw, the insufferable frustration that drove him straight into the reactionary clutches of The Milk Sheikh.

Riding through the streets of the new country, he gawks at its elated citizens strolling around, enjoying their exclusive little bubble detached from reality, indifferent to the plight of the poor and unconscious of the bigger picture. He feels like he is nothing more than a visual décor, a fetishised object of authenticity channeling their self-orientalism. Never has he been more convinced that jihad is the only way to reclaim any sense of value. When he arrives at Alex Top, his place of employment, he salutes the 7 men who were waiting for him. Among them is Youssef Sheikhsbeer, the charismatic and handsome son of the indisposed leader. He has come to be known as Don Ekhwan due to his womanising charms and his record 69 3orfi marriages, which enable him to halal consummate his conquests. He has clearly assumed leadership of the group ever since his father has been constricted.

Now that everyone is present, he stands up with confident posture and addresses the small audience: ”El salamo 3aleiko. We are all here because we share a common dream, a dream that is now being lived by the rest of the nation except us. Make no mistake; we are hostages in our own country. How dare this blonde fuck, this entitled kafer megalomaniac make a mockery of the will of the people and bury Allah’s laws? This republic is nothing but a bogus fantasy, but God willing, it will last as long as a Siberian in a sauna. Triple M Takbir!” The whole group feverishly shouts: “Long live The Milk Sheikh, the Morshed and Morsi.” Don Ekhwen then approaches Yehia and asks him to hand over the package. On the 20 L.E note, a simple message is written: 188/9/P28. 

August 18th, 9 PM at Pub 28. That’s when and where Robert Menzaman will be assassinated.


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