I had a day of history today at one and a half exhibitions.
1. Men 2aglak anta you ungrateful shit
The first was called “Achievements of President Mohamed Hosny Mubarak” (sub-caption: “He promised. And he delivered”. Like Cook Door) and was held at the premises of the Ministry of Social Development, a large expanse of space ruined by that blancmange type of characterless architecture which might also be included under the list of Mubarak’s achievements.
When we arrived a car park attendant confirmed that the exhibition was indeed on but that the exhibitors were packing up. Strange we thought, since the exhibit was advertised as running for three whole days, but pressed on anyway.
Arriving (at around 1 p.m.) at the door we saw flags being folded up, plants being carried away, display stands being dissembled. In short, all the signs of people wanting to leg it and start the weekend. Still there were some achievements left, visible by carefully avoiding bits of wood with nails sticking out of them and other construction debris.
The first exhibit consisted of pictures of Hosny, BFF Safwat El-Sherif, and boy king Gamal (at a post office counter in a casual shirt, perhaps inquiring about his stamps) surrounded by endless and dull text about the many achievements the National Democratic Party has realized under Hosny’s wise stewardship. It was a powerpoint presentation without the power. I had my picture taken with Safwat above my head, like a sinister hat. Moftases gave Hosny’s extended hand a high 5…etc.
Mounting a gynormous escalator we were conveyed upstairs where a live concert of Mohamed Tharwat singing “We Chose Him” for the president greeted us on a big screen. The concert dated approximately from 1991; Suzie had shoulder pads and Hosny’s jowls were still following orders. It turned out to be an exhibit by the Ministry of State Information. Two bored middle-aged employees watched the screen as a never-ending stream of people in cruise-style oriental fancy dress floated past, shook the royal hand and shared a quick laugh.
Most of the exhibits had gone by the time we arrived or were in the process of leaving. They were mostly arranged by governorate and ministry.
Ismailia had loads of pictures of Hosny. El-Wady El-Gedeed had dates. Minia had crystal. The Ministry of Agriculture had wool and handwritten informational posters.
Interestingly there was also a selection of pharonic artifact reproductions accompanied by a sign headed “Egypt’s Wish List”, like on Amazon. Underneath it were pictures of all the gear that foreigners have nicked and which Egypt wants back. Strictly speaking the failure to recover stolen items is not an achievement but in the context quibbling about this point felt like upbraiding a serial killer for swearing in public.
Downstairs there was a slightly interesting travel section about the 3rd Metro line (which will allegedly be completely finished in 2012) and the railways (which claimed that over 30 train stations have been renovated). This being Mubarak’s Egypt, there was an exhibit about a complicated spaghetti junction type flyover resembling innards, in Malawi, Minya.
For no apparent reason there was also a booth by Jaguar the car manufacturers. Achievement by proxy, perhaps, or is Hosny. The people manning the booth had buggered off by this point, obviously, so we couldn’t ask why it was there.
We left, none the wiser as to Mubarak’s achievements but armed with illuminating literature. One booklet listed all the “achievements” Alexandria has witnessed under governor Adel Labib, including basic infrastructural obligations such as installing a sewage system in Agamy and developing Alexandria’s streets.
Not yet completely sickened by seeing images of the president everywhere we then went up the road to the Panorama 1973 War Exhibit, a rotunda building whose sole purpose seems to be to ensure that visitors leave knowing less about the war than they did when they entered.
2. We’re off to Button Moon
Surrounding the rotunda is a pleasant garden filled with military craft replicas and parties of visiting school and college kids. There is a mural donated by North Korea.
Almost immediately upon entering one is confronted with the “souvenir” shop, consisting of miniature flags, Al-Ahly football club insignia and postcards of an assortment of personages including a wrestler I did not recognise and, appallingly, that army-draft dodging Michael Jackson-impersonating item popularly known as Tamer Hosny.
We were almost immediately ushered onwards by an officious man with a walkie-talkie who informed us that the “show was about to start”. Rounding the corner I was delighted to see full size tanks, and that a crowd of excited young girls in fluorescent colours were assembled on top of it, meaning that I could clamber all over it as well, and I did.
We were then shooed into the rotunda through a hall lined with a last supper type image of Hosny et al at a table doing war, as well as a sign on a door saying القائد COMMANDANT which I wanted to nick.
I couldn’t believe that they weren’t taking the piss with the first show. We parked our arses in a cinema type room, along with a party of college students, it all went black and then a loud voice started holding forth in modern standard Arabic. In front of us were some curtains. These then went back to reveal a miniature war landscape made out of papier mache. The voice boomed on and then stuff lit up and little model planes flew and tanks on sticks tanked and rockets rocketed in a frankly primary school project fashion which reminded me of this:
In fact Moftases and I buggered off early and attempted to go upstairs to the panorama exhibit which we had been told is where the real money is. Alas however the Panorama works on a strict conveyor-belt type system and we were informed that there was yet another show to sit through before we could ascend to the heavens. We had a look inside the cinema and it was yet more grim papier mache. Being extremely bloody hungry, but yet not hungry enough to eat a display of the 1973 war, we avoided the enthusiastic attendants and ate some Pot Noodles sold outside, but were foiled in that by the omnipresent officious man with the walkie-talkie who told us that we had FOUR MINUTES to eat before our party would go upstairs to the panorama. Then he stared at us and pursed his lips until we could stand it no longer and fled.
Inside we were given the rock star treatment and allowed to use the LIFT, (only cos there was noone else around) and we arrived in the darkest mothafucking place I have ever been in since I left the womb. Now I can truly empathise with the Chilean miners. The attendant advised us to sit in the middle (“the VIP seats”) and I experienced a mixture of emotions as I groped my way through the pitch blackness to a seat which a certain high echelon governmental posterior might have once graced.
The college party eventually arrived and sat down and then the bloody thing started to spin as we stared at an enormous scene of fighting in the 1973 war painted on the walls of the rotunda which then turned into a recreation using replica objects, creating a sort of 3D effect. I mean it was well done and everything but after about 5 minutes I started wishing they would either speed the spinning up that we could leg it without being apprehended by the bloody attendants. Particularly given that mix of the booming narration and nationalist songs was singularly uninformative.
In the event we stayed until the end when the booming voice stopped and we were plunged back into darkness like someone had accidentally pulled out the plug. Everyone filed out and went downstairs.
I didn’t expect to see any critical examination of the war but I didn’t expect it to be that chest-thumpingly bad. The worst bit however is that as usual the role of the men who actually fought the war – the men who died - is given only a fleeting reference. The big brass gets all the limelight. And everyone who sacrificed something for that war deserves a better tribute than the Panorama.