Song of Egypt: Rima is Back to Her Old Ways

Yasser Elmanawahly stayed true to his ideals. (Photo: Supplied)

By Mamoon Alabbasi – London

In Egypt, there is a new catchy tune circulating in social media pages. The song, which gives a symbolic description of the current events in Egypt, is sung by an artist who is known for his strong support for the 25th January 2011 revolution. Yasser Elmanawahly stayed true to his ideals even when they clashed with those who were in power following the fall of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak. He was critical of the country’s military council, SCAF and he did not hold back in criticizing the rule of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

But today, following the coup that overthrew Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on dissent and on freedoms, the stakes are much higher. When public and private media outlets sing the praise of the de facto ruling military regime, and when political disagreement with that junta could have you end up behind bars, framed with trumped up charges, or simply six feet under – then now is not the ideal time to release a song about the Emperor’s Clothes.

Which is why his debut song ‘Rima’ is not only a work of art in the aesthetic sense but it is also a brave act. It sings truth to power without compromising on ‘form’ for the sake of ‘content’. There is cohesion between the melody, lyrics and video clip, which are tied up together by a folkloric flavor.

The lyrics, written by Mohamed Elsyed, are themselves highly idiomatic where what is left unsaid is understood from the little that is said. Here is a rough translation of the lyrics:

Rima is back (to her old ways) after the change
With an old tale, that we’ve witnessed times before   
With raised batons and banned speech
People are dying from bullets and hunger
Now she is back, but why is she back?
You see, the ill-fated one had a lamp
And brave children that he left to decay
He did not know how to drive without exceeding the limit
So he crashed into a post, especially prepared for him
Rima saw him and overthrew him
Now Rima is back 
You ask why Pharaoh is acting like a Pharaoh
Rima is back (to her old ways) after the change
With an old tale, that we’ve witnessed times before
You see, the ill-fated one had a lamp
Now Rima is back with repeated words:
‘A movie hero is coming, O kids’
‘A trustworthy statesman’
‘Although he is affectionate, he is tough and brings down mountains’
With few drummers and capitalists
And permissible fatwas and filmmakers
Rima is back
Now Rima is back wearing many faces
Covering up a crime by crying for help
You won’t fool us with your games, mean one
We’ve encountered fake ones times before
To hell with Rima!

In a telephone interview with the lyricist, he said Rima is “a reference to the police state”.  The choice of name is based on the old saying ‘Rima is back to her old ways’. Why is the police state back? Well, it’s because Morsi, referred to in the song the as the ‘ill-fated one’, did “not listen to the revolutionary youth”. Instead, “he left them to old regime”. A combination of Morsi’s mistakes and the traps set by the deep state (like deliberate electricity outage, gas shortages and other orchestrated crises as well as misleading media campaigns) is beautifully captured in the lyrics: ‘He did not know how to drive without exceeding the limit / So he crashed into a post, especially prepared for him’. Even though Morsi had a ‘lamp’ (a reference to his presidential post) he remained ‘ill-fated’.

For those who follow the current events in Egypt, the rest of the lyrics are pretty much self-explanatory: the glorification of the military by ‘drummers’ (propaganda praise), the idea of a superstar savior (who is in effect a Pharaoh), the welcomed fatwas of pro-military clerics, the factious news and the capitalists who fund the media. The lyrics are indeed powerful, which is what prompted Elmanawahly – who usually relies on his own lyrics when singing – to contact Elsyed in order to use them as soon as he saw them on the wall of the lyricist’s Facebook page.
When interviewing Elmanawahly over the phone, he stressed that “the revolution is still on-going”, expressing his “full faith in today’s youth” to carry on the struggle “for freedom, dignity, and real independence”.

He is still daring to ask, “What happened to the martyrs of the revolution?” And he also asks about all of those who have died since, including members of police.

Many of the revolutionaries, he said, were “in a state of shock”. But they are still committed to the path of 25th of January. He doesn’t have to choose between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military rule, because he sees a third way.

Whether that third way ever sees the light is hard to predict. But unlike many self-proclaimed revolutionaries, he hasn’t sold out to the returning dictatorship. In the meantime unfortunately, as the lyrics note, ‘with raised batons and banned speech / people are dying from bullets and hunger’.

– Mamoon Alabbasi is a writer, news editor, and translator based in London. His Op-eds, reports, reviews, and poetry have appeared in numerous media outlets & publications. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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