Sunday, March 25, 2012

Egypt: Islamist MP's lies & nose job scandal

Foreign Policy
The nose job scandal in Cairo

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mohamed El Dahshan

Anwar El Balkimy, a Member of Parliament for the Nour Party, underwent a nose job on Feb. 29 in the private Salma Hospital in the posh Cairene district of El Agouza. He insisted on leaving the clinic, according to its manager, on the same evening the procedure was performed. In so doing he defied their advice that he remain under supervision for another day.

By itself this story would offer little cause for headlines. But Nour just happens to be the party of those ultraconservative Islamists, the salafis, and they explicitly deem plastic surgery as forbidden by religion. This was probably why he refused to remain bedridden: He was afraid of getting caught. But how could he conceal his new nose from his fellow MPs once the bandages were off?

That's when it gets really entertaining.

Here's what Nikolai Gogol writes about the leading character in his short story The Nose: "...[A]s though visited with a heavenly inspiration, he resolved to go directly to an advertisement office, and to advertise the loss of his nose."

Balkimy decided to tackle the issue rather differently. In a call to the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA), he said he had been attacked by masked assailants who robbed him of 100,000 LE ($17,000), attempted to kill him, and left him for dead. The wounds sustained in the attack necessitated surgical intervention.

Coming in the wake of two other attacks on politicians in past weeks, the story seemed plausible. To seal the deal, he filed a police report detailing his accusations.

Balkimy then went to another hospital where he allegedly underwent the necessary surgery, and he appeared on television, from his hospital bed, with most of his face bandaged.

A spokesperson for the Nour Party, Yousry Hamad, decried a "campaign to liquidate Islamist politicians," and confirmed on the party's Facebook page that the MP was indeed undergoing emergency surgery.

Unfortunately for Balkimy and his party, there were numerous eyewitnesses who knew that his bandages actually came from the hospital where he had undergone plastic surgery. The manager of the hospital, two doctors, and four nurses exposed Balkimy's lies. Someone even leaked the hospital bill and the release form, which Balkimy had signed.

Balkimy denied it all, accusing the hospital manager of lying and threatened to take legal action. He assured everyone that his nose had to be operated on because of the injury he sustained from the attack.

Eventually, though, medical evaluation proved that Balkimy was the one doing the lying. The Nour Party promptly reversed course. In a television interview, spokesperson Nader Bakar intimated that Balkimy might not be entirely right in the head, forcing himto resign from the party and the parliament. (The photo above shows salafi MPs hard at work.) The public prosecutor has also moved to request that his parliamentary immunity be lifted so that he can be charged for faking a police report.

The word in town this morning is that the parliament speaker will likely reject the MP's resignation and will issue a reprimand to our national Pinocchio (whose nose, in this case, got smaller rather than longer.)

If there is one lesson to be learned from all this as we approach presidential elections, it is that you shouldn't vote for deputies based on an appearance of piety. This, of course, is what many voters have done until now, thanks to an electoral climate that is defined by the dichotomy of liberal-vs.-Islamist parties, falsely presented as the "pro-religion" or "anti-religion" forces.

The most dangerous and little-noticed consequence of this scandal is the detail that the police had indeed arrested five suspects in the case -- for a crime that never happened. Anyone in Egypt can tell you that they would have been made to confess to the crime, too -- a reminder that police reform is long overdue. Such reform is urgently needed not only to stem the present (real) crime wave in Egypt, but also to protect the rights of all citizens, be they innocent, suspects, or convicted criminals.

*Photo courtesy of Asmma Waguih - Pool/Getty Images

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