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The Night Before

by Mahmoud El-Lozy

Dubbed by the renowned drama critic Nehad Selaiha as an “actor, director, and teacher of the finest caliber,” Mahmoud el-Lozy is a groundbreaking contributor to Egyptian theatre. His trilogy, We That Are Young, more than lives up to his reputation. Excerpts of the trilogy have been performed in the past by el-Lozy’s students, with the second play, And Then Went Down to the Ship, performed in New York. To date, however, none of the plays have been published in print. We decided to feature an excerpt from the final play in the trilogy, Us and Them, to honor el-Lozy’s commitment to providing an innovative space for the revival of Egyptian theatre classics as well as for the creation of his own masterpieces.

The first two plays in the trilogy, Bay the Moon and And Then Went Down to the Ship, are set in 1970s Cairo and 1980s Beirut, respectively. The action in Us and Them takes place in the USA and Egypt in the aftermath of 9/11. In the final two scenes of the play presented here, el-Lozy draws a shrewdly accurate portrait of some of the characters common in Egyptian society on the eve of the Second Gulf War.

Dramatic characters (in order of appearance):

IBRAHIM/BILLY, a man in his late fifties
LAYLA (Ibrahim’s eldest daughter), a woman in her mid-twenties
ALI, a man in his late twenties
FATMA/TAMMY (Ibrahim’s youngest daughter), a woman in her early twenties
TAREQ/ROCKY (Fatma’s fiancé),  a man in his mid-twenties
ABBY, a woman in her early thirties
MOHAMED/MO (Ibrahim’s cousin), a man in his early forties
CAROL (Ali’s mother), a woman in her early fifties


 

The Night Before

El-Gouna, March 19, 2003. It is nighttime, but the garden is very well-lit. Ibrahim is on the phone.

IBRAHIM. I don’t understand. She didn’t go to the office today? And you haven’t seen her? She never called? Has anyone seen her today?

During this phone conversation, Layla enters from the direction of the house. She sneaks up to her father and gives him a hug and a kiss.

LAYLA. I’m here, Dad!

IBRAHIM. Layla! At last! (To the person he was speaking to on the phone.) She’s here. Thanks a lot. Bye.

LAYLA. Happy birthday, Dad.

IBRAHIM. Was the traffic very bad?

LAYLA. No. I probably should have left Cairo earlier. Your present is in the car! Let me go fetch it…

IBRAHIM. There’s no hurry. What did you get me?

LAYLA. I’m not going to tell you! But I think you’ll like it.

IBRAHIM. You really didn’t have to get me anything.

LAYLA. Daddy, stop it. You’re doing your “poor little old me” number again.

IBRAHIM. It really wasn’t my idea to have you all come down to el-Gouna for my birthday. But your aunt Didi insisted and insisted and…

LAYLA. And insisted…

They laugh.

IBRAHIM. You must be very hungry. Sayed can heat something up for you. I’m sorry we couldn’t wait. Your Aunt Didi had a soufflé and…

LAYLA, laughing. And a soufflé waits for no one!

IBRAHIM. She’s very upset because it wasn’t as fluffy as it should have been.

LAYLA. Where is she?

IBRAHIM. She’s taken a tranquilizer and gone to bed. She is convinced her dinner was a total disaster. Where’s Hassan?

LAYLA, after a short pause. Hassan has been…held back.

IBRAHIM. Is he all right?

LAYLA, looking intently at Ibrahim. You really don’t know?

IBRAHIM. Don’t know what?

LAYLA. That Hassan was arrested last night?

IBRAHIM. Again? What for, this time?

LAYLA. You don’t know that either?

IBRAHIM. What happened?

LAYLA. They kidnapped him.

IBRAHIM. You said he was arrested.

LAYLA. This time it was more of a kidnapping than an arrest.

IBRAHIM. What do you mean?

LAYLA. They stopped his car in the middle of the Giza Road, pulled him out, shoved him into their car, and drove away.

IBRAHIM. How do you know that?

LAYLA. Because I was in the car with him. And there were dozens of witnesses. They saw it all. So I’m not making it up and I’m not being hysterical. I’m sorry I can’t provide you with satellite pictures.

IBRAHIM. Who were they?

LAYLA. Don’t do that with me, Dad. That’s not a question any of the people who came to help me asked.

IBRAHIM. They didn’t say why?

LAYLA. I can’t believe you—of all people—are asking me this! Whenever they arrested you, were you ever told why?

IBRAHIM. Layla, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what happened.

LAYLA. I don’t want your help.

IBRAHIM. Very well. I want to try and help Hassan.

LAYLA. He doesn’t want your help either.

IBRAHIM. That’s not for you to decide.

LAYLA. We don’t want any favors from your greasy new friends.

IBRAHIM. Let’s just try to get your husband out of jail as soon as possible.

Ibrahim takes out his mobile phone and starts dialing a number.

LAYLA. If you make this call, you’ll never see me again.

IBRAHIM. Don’t be silly.

LAYLA. I mean it. Don’t you understand? That’s the one thing they can’t take away from him.

IBRAHIM. Take what away?

LAYLA. His self-respect. (Pause. Ibrahim puts the phone back in his pocket.) Good. You still remember.

IBRAHIM. I don’t understand why you are so angry with me. I really don’t.

LAYLA. At least now we know that the invasion of Iraq will proceed according to schedule.

IBRAHIM. Well, the ultimatum expires tonight. And it doesn’t look like Saddam will step down.

LAYLA. You think this has anything to do with Saddam?

IBRAHIM. They want him out.

LAYLA. They’re doing it for Israel, and because they want all that Iraqi oil. (Conspiratorially.) But don’t tell anyone I told you.

IBRAHIM. It’s a point of view.

LAYLA. If they are rounding up the usual suspects here, then it means it will happen. And soon. Do they still call that “collusion” in your “post-whatever” world order?

IBRAHIM. It is a very delicate situation.

LAYLA. It is a murderous situation. You know, Dad, it’s all right to call a spade a spade. There was a time when you did.

IBRAHIM. Things were different then.

LAYLA. You were different then.

IBRAHIM. At least, let me make one call just to find out where he is.

LAYLA. I said no, Dad. And I mean it.

IBRAHIM. Don’t you even want to know…

LAYLA. He’ll tell me all about it when they release him.

IBRAHIM. Very well. Have it your way.

LAYLA, giving him a hug. Thanks.

IBRAHIM. But you are staying for the weekend?

LAYLA. I’ll try.

IBRAHIM. Because there is someone very special…there are two very special people I would like you to meet.

LAYLA. Here?

IBRAHIM. Yes. They’ll be spending the weekend with us.

LAYLA. I thought this was going to be a family affair.

IBRAHIM. They are family, in a way. You remember my old friend Ali?

LAYLA. Yes, of course. Well, not really. You just told me quite a bit about him.

IBRAHIM. Well, his son Ali is here with his mother, my old friend Carol.

LAYLA. You told me about her, yes.

IBRAHIM. And I think you’ll get along very well with Ali. He is a very bright young man. It seems he’s working on a PhD at Columbia.

LAYLA. He lives in America?

IBRAHIM. He now teaches in Beirut.

LAYLA. Good. I’m glad they’re here. This way I won’t have to listen to my sister’s babble. Is the very resistible Rocky here, too?

IBRAHIM. Of course. And please try to control your temper. It’s my birthday.

LAYLA. I’ll do my best.

IBRAHIM. Do a bit more than that.

LAYLA. Where are they now?

IBRAHIM. Rocky and Tammy?

LAYLA. No. Carol and Ali.

IBRAHIM. They must have gone for a walk. By the way, I gave Carol the room you usually stay in. I hope you don’t mind.

LAYLA. I am not a spoilt brat like Fatma. I can sleep anywhere.

IBRAHIM. And try not to call her Fatma in front of people. She gets very upset.

LAYLA. Too bad for Fatma.

Layla gives her father a quick kiss and moves towards the house.

IBRAHIM. Layla! For my sake!

LAYLA. My name is Lily!

Lights fade to blackout. When they come back, Ali is sitting alone in the garden. Soft pop music can be heard in the background throughout most of the remainder of the scene. Layla enters quietly from the direction of the house. She looks at Ali for a moment before moving towards him.

LAYLA. Unreal…

ALI, shaken out of his reverie. What?

LAYLA. All this…

ALI. Oh! It’s…It’s…

LAYLA. Unreal. (Pause.) You like it here?

ALI. Your family is very hospitable.

LAYLA. And you are very polite.

They laugh.

ALI. I’m not used to…to all this…

LAYLA. Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. (Pause.) So you are Ali’s son.

ALI. So my mother tells me.

LAYLA. Your mother has been to so many places. She has seen so much.

ALI. What has she been telling you?

LAYLA. Stories.

ALI. She has quite a few to tell.

LAYLA. Her own story is quite fascinating.

ALI. It’s the way she says it.

Pause.

LAYLA. Until tonight, I never thought I’d come across an American who…who listens…I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to be insulting or anything.

ALI. Don’t apologize. It’s not your fault. So you are Ibrahim’s daughter.

LAYLA. His eldest.

ALI. And Tammy’s sister?

LAYLA, laughing. It’s true, you spent the afternoon with them! Has she kept you amused?

ALI, diplomatically. She’s…very young.

Layla laughs. At this moment, Fatma and Tareq enter from the direction of the house.

LAYLA. Speak of the devil!

FATMA. We’re going over to Rocky’s place. His brother is throwing a big party tonight. You want to tag along?

LAYLA. No, thank you. Have fun.

FATMA. Ali?

ALI. It’s been a long day and…I’m really not the party type.

FATMA. Anyways, if you change your mind you know how to get there.

TAREQ. Hey, Layla, what’s up with the boycott?

LAYLA. Same as ever, Rocky, same as ever.

TAREQ. Because, you know, nobody believes in this boycott rubbish. Nobody. And it’s not working. It will never work.

LAYLA. Why are they arresting supporters of the boycott, if it’s not working?

FATMA. Let’s go, Rocky! She’s going to give us another one of her stupid speeches.

LAYLA. Are you saying it is my patriotic duty to buy American products? I thought you didn’t believe in nationalism.

TAREQ. I care about Egyptian workers. That’s what I’m saying.

LAYLA. So what did you do for them when they were being laid off by the thousands in the name of privatization? Remind me now, how many millions did you make out of it all?

TAREQ. What have you done for them? Answer that if you can!

FATMA. Let’s go, Rocky. Forget about her. Don’t let her get to you.

TAREQ. Communism is dead! You watch the news? Communism is dead!

LAYLA. Then you should sleep well tonight, Rocky.

FATMA. Let’s go, Rocky! Don’t listen to her!

LAYLA. Bye, Rocky. You don’t want to be late for your party.

FATMA, pulling him away in the direction of the footpath. What did I tell you? I told you not to talk to her. I told you we should go. Why do you let her get to you? You never listen to me…

Fatma and Tareq exit.

LAYLA. They are going to be very happy together. (Pause. Ali and Layla laugh their hearts out.) What was it like?

ALI. What?

LAYLA. Growing up in America and all that?

ALI. Very confusing at times. (Pause.) For a long time I was angry with my father for dying before I could get a chance to see him. I was angry with my mother. I was angry with the Israelis. I was a very angry little boy.

LAYLA. Are you still angry?

ALI. Probably. Anyway, I was so angry then, that for a long time I wouldn’t even allow my mother to talk about my father in my presence. I guess I was trying to pretend he had never existed.

LAYLA. That’s not unusual.

ALI. And I became Al. It simplified things.

LAYLA. How did you become Ali again?

ALI. It’s a long story.

LAYLA. It’s going to be a long night.

Pause.

ALI. I was about sixteen at the time of the Gulf War. Egypt was very much in the news at the time…you know, as America’s ally in the war on Iraq. It got me curious. So I asked my mother to show me the pictures she took of my father in Cairo and in Beirut…their pictures together… and, of course, the pictures she took in Beirut at the time of the Israeli siege of the city. (Pause.) She showed me a notebook that had belonged to him. It wasn’t a diary or anything. It was more like a collection of newspaper clippings with comments here and there. Some of them were pretty old. (Pause.) And when the war started…when I heard the commentators on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN…when I heard them cheer with every missile that fell on Baghdad…(pause) and it wasn’t just the media. My schoolmates. My teachers. My friends. Everyone. They were so happy…so excited. It was as if all their dreams had suddenly come true. The boys felt manly, and it made the girls horny for the manly boys. America was happy. America was proud. I felt I didn’t belong.

LAYLA. Did you let Carol know how you felt?

ALI. She strongly advised me not to call too much attention to the Arab side of my identity.

LAYLA. That was wise.

ALI. But a couple of years later I went to college…and everything changed…

LAYLA. What happened?

ALI. I met Arabs for the first time in my life. Students.

LAYLA. What were they like?

ALI, laughing. It took me some time to sort my way through the tensions and the rivalries.

LAYLA. So you got an early taste of the Arab world?

ALI. That I certainly did.

LAYLA. And it didn’t discourage you?

ALI. At first, I was rather shy. I only observed them from a distance. The ones that caught my attention were a group that would sit for hours in the cafeteria, drinking cup after cup of coffee. And the cigarettes they smoked…but you know what really made them stand out?

LAYLA. They were loud?

ALI. That too, of course. No, it was the papers. The newspapers. They had piles of them on their tables. And they were really reading them. All of them.

LAYLA. And those were the Arab students you hooked up with?

ALI. Eventually. The Palestinians became suspicious of me when they found out I was half-Egyptian.

LAYLA, laughing. Of course!

ALI. But that didn’t last long. I soon became a member of that loud group of argumentative newspaper readers. But I never became a smoker.

LAYLA. Good for you. My husband smokes like a chimney.

ALI. Omar, with whom I became very close, encouraged me to go to Palestine and see for myself how things were out there. He came from a family of hardcore Popular Front supporters. So in 1997, I went to Palestine. I stayed for a while with Omar’s family in al-Khalil…Hebron. From there, I went to many towns, cities, and villages of what they call the West Bank. (Pause.) I discovered another world. One I would never have imagined possible if I had stayed in America. It all seemed to confirm my suspicion that what I was learning in the classroom had very little to do with the real world.

LAYLA. What did you do about it?

ALI. I was…dissatisfied. With the curriculum…with the university…with quite a few of my professors…and with myself. But I plodded along. I couldn’t think of an alternative to what I was doing.

LAYLA. You felt trapped…

ALI. Something like that. In 2001, I went to Egypt, Lebanon, and Palestine to do research for my dissertation. (Pause.) I didn’t like Egypt at all.

LAYLA. It’s not in one of its likable phases.

ALI. In Palestine, I…I realized that I would never be able to get back. (Pause.) And when it came to the Israelis and their “promised land” fantasy…(Pause.) When I saw them bulldozing olive trees and cutting them down one after the other…olive trees that had been there for centuries…I knew.

LAYLA. You knew what?

ALI. That they cannot claim any love for the land. They don’t love it. They can only rape it. That’s not love. (Pause.) And when I saw the tears in the eyes of Palestinian farmers as they watched their olive trees being cut down…and there was nothing they could do. Nothin…(Pause.) Why don’t Egyptians go to Palestine?

LAYLA. What?

ALI. The world has abandoned them. But you are supposed to be their brothers and sisters. Why don’t you go there? You can, you know. All you have to do is cross the border. They need your support, your solidarity. Why don’t Egyptians go to Gaza?

LAYLA. It’s not as simple as you make it sound.

ALI. The Israelis can’t stop you from going to Gaza.

LAYLA. The Israelis are not the problem.

ALI. What is the problem?

LAYLA. The Egyptians. They don’t let us go beyond al-Arish. Once we get there they stop us and send us back.

ALI. Why do they do that?

Layla does not answer. Mohamed and Abby enter from the direction of the footpath.

ABBY, to Mohamed, laughing. You’re too much! I can’t believe the things you are saying!

MOHAMED. I make a point of never saying anything.

ABBY. There you go again! You’re just too much!

LAYLA, to Ali. And here’s another happy couple.

ABBY. Hi, guys! Enjoying the moonlight?

LAYLA. Actually, we were enjoying the silence.

ABBY. I know! Isn’t it just a dream?

MOHAMED, hugging Layla. How is my favorite cousin?

LAYLA. Your favorite cousin is very glad you’re here.

ABBY. Isn’t this place just a dream?

ALI. Absolutely.

ABBY, to Layla. I’ve heard so much about you! And I have so much to tell you.

LAYLA. You do?

ABBY. Oh, yeah! I think you’re just the person I’ve been looking for.

MOHAMED. What about some drinks, people?

LAYLA. Nothing for me, thank you.

ABBY, laughing. You want to get me drunk.

MOHAMED. Never. That’s not my style. What can I get you?

ABBY, to Layla. Isn’t he just too much?

LAYLA, looking at Ali. Absolutely.

MOHAMED. Ali?

ALI. I’ll go with you.

Mohamed and Ali exit in the direction of the house.

ABBY. He’s so witty! And so…so smooth…Do you get what I’m trying to say?

LAYLA. I think so.

ABBY. I was talking to your father earlier. And when he told me you’re a journalist, I said to myself, “Oh, my God!”

LAYLA. You did?

ABBY. And you being a woman, of course, is just great! (Layla doesn’t answer.) I’m not making any sense, I know. OK. We’re trying to set up this magazine, here in Egypt, but it will be distributed in the whole Arab world, of course. It’s a big thing. And I’m here with a group of people to put together a team. There are quite a few Arab Americans with us, too. We’re targeting young readers, of course, but, hey, anyone is free to read it, right? It will be both in Arabic and in English. You can see, it’s a very multicultural sort of thing.

LAYLA. Why?

ABBY. Why what?

LAYLA. Why this magazine?

ABBY. Oh! I see. Well, it’s really very simple. I’m sure you are aware that the Arab media is…well, what can I say? You know, not really up to Western standards.

LAYLA. I’ve noticed.

ABBY, laughing. Who hasn’t! Anyway, that’s why we’re interested in creating a magazine that would help build constructive communication between the US and the Arab World. We want to establish harmony where there is now so much misunderstanding and confusion. As an educated woman, you must realize that Arabs have a very, very distorted vision of the US and, unfortunately, for the moment, the radicals and the extremists seem to have the upper hand. There’s so much anti-American rhetoric going on!

LAYLA. I’ve noticed that too.

ABBY. I can’t tell you how disheartening it is. People should be told the truth. The US is not waging a crusade against Islam. The US is not interested in Iraqi oil. It has no designs on the region. But you know what it’s like. When it comes to conspiracy theories, Arabs just can’t get enough of them. But any sane person will tell you there is no conspiracy. There never was.

LAYLA. That’s very reassuring.

At about this point Mohamed and Ali come back with drinks in hand. They stand and listen to the ongoing discussion between Abby and Layla from a distance.

ABBY. And don’t you agree that people have a right to know what is really going on?

LAYLA. They certainly do.

ABBY. But the media in the Arab world is so…so unprofessional. So irresponsible. Look at al-Jazeera, for God’s sake. Now, what kind of responsible reporting is this?

LAYLA. It’s unforgivable, what they do.

MOHAMED, to Abby. I think you’re barking up the wrong tree here.

ABBY, to Mohamed. What? (Back to Layla.) I say we need to replace all this culture of hate—because that’s what it really is—with a culture of peace. And this magazine could be an important bridge between our two cultures. Between the West and Islam. Arabs will get a chance to understand what the US is really all about. I’m really very proud and very excited about this project. It makes me feel like I’m really making a difference.

LAYLA. Why are you telling me all this?

ABBY, with a big smile. We are looking for Egyptians like you to write for this magazine. It would help raise our credibility. But before we get to this, we will need to train them, of course.

LAYLA. Train them…for what?

ABBY. For the kind of objective journalism that, as you know, is sadly missing in the Arab world. They are just not used to it. We’ll have to teach them what real journalism is all about. And, of course, you being a woman and all that is going to be so useful.

LAYLA. Useful…for what?

ABBY. Well, what with this being an Islamic country and, you know, with the oppression of women and everything, I think it would be great to have someone like you, emancipated and Westernized, on our team. It would be really good for our image.

LAYLA. You seem to have thought it all out in great detail.

ABBY. When I saw you, I said to myself, she’s got to be the one!

LAYLA. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I am definitely not the one.

ABBY. It really pays very well. You’d be surprised.

LAYLA. I don’t think so.

ABBY. I’m not trying to rush you or anything.

LAYLA. Don’t worry, you’re not.

ABBY. At least give it some thought, you know, before making any final decision.

LAYLA. I can give you my answer right now.

ABBY. You don’t have to.

LAYLA. Oh, but I want to.

MOHAMED, under his breath, to Ali. Uh oh…

ABBY. Before you say anything, let me tell you about some of the fringe benefits that come with the job. There will be quite a bit of traveling. To conferences and such things. Actually, there’s one coming up very soon. In Italy. All expenses paid. We are really very well-funded. Even the State Department has really been very generous on this one. Have you been to Italy? It’s really lovely. I just love pasta, even though it does terrible things to your waistline.

LAYLA. I like pasta, too. But getting back to your offer, I’m afraid I am going to have to say no. Absolutely out of the question.

ABBY. That’s too bad.

LAYLA. You see, dear Abby, I have no intention of being a bridge, or a tunnel, or whatever else you come up with, between “the West and Islam,” as you put it.

ABBY. But what I meant was…

LAYLA. I know exactly what you meant. I also think you should know that I don’t believe in “bridges,” as you call them. This is just another one of those catchwords for dimwits. It sounds harmless but it’s really nothing but a ploy to encourage native, weak-minded pseudo-intellectuals to join your pathetic propaganda schemes with open legs. You see, I believe in solidarity. Solidarity means you don’t need to explain yourself. It’s about sharing a vision of humanity as indivisible. Solidarity eliminates the “otherness” of others. There is no “other.”

ABBY. I…I think I sense some anger here…

LAYLA. No anger. But maybe that’s what you sense when you are confronted with something you don’t want to hear.

ABBY. This…this attitude is really not helping the conversation.

LAYLA. You made me an offer…I’m telling you why I can’t accept it. Don’t you think I owe you an explanation for my refusal?

ABBY. No…No, it’s OK.

LAYLA. And about your image…America’s image in this part of the world. (Layla laughs.) Well, I’m afraid no amount of new and improved detergent will help clean it up. You see, you’ve been caught with your knickers down and, to be quite frank, it’s not a pretty sight.

ABBY. I think you are taking all this a bit too far…

LAYLA. So you can count on me to continue to expose the policies of your country in every possible forum. As for the collective fantasies you people have about yourself and your role in the world, that’s fine by me. God forbid I would deprive any of God’s creatures of their delusions. Just don’t try to sell me your self-righteous paranoia. It doesn’t play well here. I suggest you keep it amongst your beautiful selves as you go down on each other in your never-ending collective displays of self-adoration. And who knows, maybe soon the Iraqis will give you a taste of reality. They won’t be throwing flowers at your trailer-trash ghetto army, believe me. They will fight. They will fight and you will bleed…Bleed to death, I hope.

ABBY, horrified. Oh, my God! I can’t believe you said that! Don’t you have any respect for American lives?

LAYLA. I have as much respect for American lives as Americans have for Arab lives. I have one million dead Iraqi children’s worth of respect for American lives.

MOHAMED, upbeat, to Abby. It’s time for a drink!

LAYLA. One last thing. Never try to butter me up with that middle-class American feminist garbage. I am an Arab woman and I am a Muslim woman. My battles are my own. Do your cheerleading anywhere you want, but not on my turf. And while we’re at it, just remember that if it wasn’t for us Arabs, you Western women would still be wearing chastity belts.

MOHAMED, to Abby who is by now speechless. We’ll make it a double.

Mohamed pulls Abby gently away in the direction of the house.

ALI. That was…harsh.

LAYLA. She’s worse than the bimbos on CNN! Too bad she doesn’t come with a remote control. I would have just switched her off!

Ibrahim and Carol enter from the direction of the footpath.

IBRAHIM. Still up? It looks like nobody is planning on going to bed tonight.

CAROL. The reflection of the moon on the lagoon is magical.

LAYLA, abruptly, to Ibrahim. I want to talk to you.

IBRAHIM, slightly taken aback. Now?

LAYLA. Yes, now.

IBRAHIM. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?

LAYLA. Now, Dad.

There is an awkward pause.

CAROL, to Ali. Ali, come and make me a glass of arak. No one knows how to mix it like you do. (To Layla.) I’m only borrowing him for a moment.

LAYLA. Thanks, Carol.

Carol and Ali exit in the direction of the house.

IBRAHIM. What do you think you’re doing?

araLAYLA. Did you know about her?

IBRAHIM. Did I know about…whom?

LAYLA. That “Indiana Jane” woman. Abby what’s her name!

IBRAHIM, with growing anxiety. What about her?

LAYLA. Exactly! What about her?

IBRAHIM. Come to the point.

LAYLA. Are you trying to corrupt your own daughter? Is that what it’s come to?

IBRAHIM. You’re not making any sense.

LAYLA. Did you know what she was here for?

IBRAHIM. Her mother is an old friend of your Aunt Didi…

LAYLA. No. What she is doing in Egypt.

IBRAHIM. She mentioned something about setting up some kind of magazine…

LAYLA. Do you know what kind of magazine?

IBRAHIM. Step out of this obsession with conspiracy.

LAYLA. I don’t have an obsession with conspiracy.

IBRAHIM. I have never believed in conspiracies and you are not going to convince me at my age to change my opinion on the subject.

LAYLA. Maybe because you are yourself part of that conspiracy.

Pause.

IBRAHIM, slowly. I know you are upset because of Hassan, but to even suggest that…

LAYLA. Who are you, Dad? Tell me.

IBRAHIM. I am your father.

LAYLA. What else?

IBRAHIM. Shouldn’t that be enough? (Pause. Layla doesn’t answer.) I can’t stand seeing you so unhappy.

LAYLA. I don’t know who you are anymore. I know who you once were. But who are you now?

IBRAHIM, impatiently. Why are you doing this to yourself? I don’t understand. I simply don’t understand.

LAYLA. Then teach me. Teach me how to live without self-respect. Teach me how to live without dignity. Teach me how to become a “good” Arab. Teach me how to become like you.

Pause.

IBRAHIM. If that’s the way you feel about me, why did you come?

LAYLA. It’s your birthday.

IBRAHIM. Some chore.

LAYLA. You’re my father.

IBRAHIM. You make it sound like it’s a terrible burden. (Pause.) What are we talking about here?

LAYLA. We’re talking about you.

IBRAHIM. I thought we were talking about Abby.

LAYLA. Abby can rot in hell! I care about you.

IBRAHIM. Thank you.

LAYLA. Don’t. Don’t belittle me.

IBRAHIM. I mean it. Thank you. (Pause.) Now will you tell me what is really upsetting you?

Pause.

LAYLA. You used to be respected and admired…Don’t interrupt. Please. (Pause.) I remember when they used to come for you in the middle of the night. I didn’t know why at the time. I was too young to understand. What were those strange men doing in our house, I used to ask myself, and why were they making such a mess every time they came? (Pause.) And after they’d take you, Mom would make us cocoa and tell us stories until dawn. (Laughing.) We never went to school the following day. (Pause.) When I got older, Mom told me. She told me who those men were and why they came for you. (Pause.) All the years you spent in jail…I missed you so much. I needed you. (Pause.) But Mom taught us to be proud of you. And Mom was so strong. You have no idea how strong she was. (Pause.) And I remember how you used to put me on your knees and tell me about your trips to every corner of Egypt…about your speeches at political rallies…You would describe to me every factory town and every village you had gone to…I remember it all. And as I grew up I was told by so many others how you had been their inspiration. You became my inspiration. (Pause.) Now…look at yourself…look at what you write. (Pause.) They say you are a turncoat…

IBRAHIM. Do you agree with them?

Pause.

LAYLA. You have joined hands with the oppressors, Dad, and I can’t understand why. Is it to earn the honor and privilege of an invitation to a reception at the American embassy? Is it to have your articles published in the Western press? Or is it so you can give yet another talk at some worthless peace conference in Europe or America? Can you only value yourself through their eyes?

IBRAHIM. Now you are being really silly.

LAYLA. You have taken advantage of the respect you had gained in the past, back when you stood up for something that mattered to so many people. You have exploited their trust. Look at your articles. You are using the language of the oppressors to discredit everything that is good in us. Palestinian resistance is “terrorism,” the existence of Israel is “an asset to the Arabs,” the alliance of Israeli technology and Arab labor is “the foundation of any future development,” the “threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction…” You even speak of globalization as if it were the highest point of socialism and human liberation. It is really pathetic.

IBRAHIM. Every person is entitled to his or her opinions. And every opinion is open to discussion. We don’t have to be at each other’s throat over differences in opinion.

LAYLA. Their boots are at our throats, Dad. This ultra-liberal stand of yours is completely out of place. This is not just an opinion. We are not talking about different brands of tomato sauce on a supermarket shelf. The lives of people are at stake. The very existence of a nation is at stake.

IBRAHIM. What is your point?

LAYLA. Iraq is going to be buried under American bombs any minute now. And you have played a part in making it possible. You have paved the way for it. You have been their facilitator. You and all those new liberal pragmatic intellectual friends of yours.

IBRAHIM. There isn’t anything anyone could have done to stop the Americans. They made up their minds to invade Iraq and get rid of Saddam a long time ago.

LAYLA. Perhaps. But could they have done it without their bases in Qatar? In Kuwait? In Saudi Arabia? Without their military facilities in Egypt? Without the logistical support this country is providing their troops? Have you counted how many of their warships have crossed the Suez Canal over the last few months?

IBRAHIM. You know very well that Egypt would be in violation of international law if it were to deny any party passage through the canal.

LAYLA. Remember to say that to the Iraqis who will survive Egypt’s admirable compliance with international law.

Pause.

IBRAHIM. Are you ashamed of me?

LAYLA. I don’t like what you’ve allowed yourself to become.

IBRAHIM. I’m sorry I can’t be your hero.

LAYLA. I don’t want you to be a hero. I want you to be yourself.

IBRAHIM. I only want to protect you.

LAYLA. I don’t want your protection. (Pause.) Hassan protects me. We protect each other.

IBRAHIM. Hassan is in jail.

Pause.

LAYLA. Did you know?

IBRAHIM. Know what?

LAYLA. That he was going to be arrested?

IBRAHIM. Is this an accusation?

LAYLA. It’s a question.

IBRAHIM. It’s a stupid question. (Pause. Gently.) Layla, I want you to be very careful. If you get yourself arrested I won’t be able to do anything for you.

LAYLA. I wouldn’t want you to.

IBRAHIM. I know.

Pause.

LAYLA. I love you, Dad.

IBRAHIM. I know.

LAYLA. And I miss Mom so much.

IBRAHIM. I miss her, too.

LAYLA. I never needed her as much as I do now.

Ibrahim takes Layla in his arms. Pause. Then Layla pulls herself away.

LAYLA. But I’m not apologizing to that bitch! I don’t care what Aunt Didi says!

IBRAHIM, laughing. I’ll handle it. Forget about it. (Ali enters from the direction of the house with two bottles of beer. Ibrahim spots him.) I’m going back to Carol now. She must be thinking we’re one hell of a crazy family.

Layla laughs. Ibrahim exits in the direction of the house and gives Ali a pat on his shoulder on the way out. Layla turns around and sees Ali. He goes towards her and gives her one of the beer bottles.

LAYLA. I’m glad you’re here.

ALI. And I am glad you’re here.

Pause. They laugh. After their laughter dies out there is another pause.

LAYLA. My husband was arrested yesterday… (Pause. Layla is crying quietly. Ali puts his arm around her. She rests her head on his shoulder. She stops crying and dries her tears.) It’s all right. It’s all right. They’ll release him when the war is over.

ALI. Then he won’t be in jail for long.

Pause.

LAYLA. I am scared. I am scared that my father may be right after all. That I am banging my head against a brick wall for nothing. That it’s not worth it. That no one gives a damn about anything.

Pause.

ALI. Why have there been so few demonstrations here against the war? Don’t people realize what is going on?

LAYLA. They’re afraid.

ALI. Millions have demonstrated in England, in Spain, in Germany…

LAYLA. They don’t shoot demonstrators in England, Spain, and Germany. Not yet. And, anyway, what have all those demonstrations achieved? The Brits and the Spaniards will still go to war. So much for the will of the people. March and scream and scream and march, we will still do what we want to do. Isn’t that the democracy the West wants to teach us? It sounds more like scream therapy to me. Let’s see what those demonstrators will do the day after the bombs start falling.

Pause.

ALI. They will be coming for you, too. After Iraq. After Syria. After Iran…

LAYLA. I know.

ALI. Not for oil. For water. There’s quite a bit of it behind that High Dam of yours.

LAYLA. I know.

ALI. And Israel needs water for its settlements, and for those settlers that keep coming from Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Ukraine, Poland, Russia…you name it. But they’ll never mention the water. They never mention the oil when they talk about Iraq.

LAYLA. It will be for a noble cause.

ALI. To protect minorities.

LAYLA. That’s a noble cause.

ALI. It always plays well with human rights groups in the West.

LAYLA. Amnesty International will love it.

ALI. Not to mention Human Rights Watch.

LAYLA. There will be a consensus.

ALI. United we stand…

Pause.

LAYLA. What will you do…after the bombs start falling on Baghdad?

ALI. Go back to Beirut, I suppose. There’s nowhere else for me to go. What about you? What will you do?

LAYLA. We’ll scream and shout…and we’ll get beaten up by the riot police…and we will cry…we will go back home and we will cry…and then we’ll go back to our sad, pathetic lives. (Pause.) And I will probably wish for something I have so far tried very hard to avoid wishing for.

ALI. What’s that?

LAYLA, after a short pause. I’m afraid I’m coming very close to demanding revenge rather than justice.

Lights fade out to blackout. When the lights come up, Mohamed and Abby are entering from the direction of the footpath. The following scene takes place much later than the previous one. It is after three in the morning. They have been smoking hashish for the last hour or so. The overall mood of this scene should be mellow and playful.

ABBY, laughing. I don’t know if I should believe you! You’re making it up!

MOHAMED. That doesn’t make it any less true.

ABBY. There you go again! I don’t know what to say anymore!

MOHAMED. Some good has come out of it after all!

Abby can’t stop herself from laughing as Mohamed sits down and starts rolling a joint.

ABBY. Another one! What are you trying to do to me?

MOHAMED. Turn you into a hedonist.

ABBY. That sounds…sexy…

MOHAMED. Only if you want it to.

ABBY. Are you trying to seduce me?

MOHAMED. Never!

ABBY. That’s not nice. Do you really mean it?

MOHAMED. What would you like it to be?

ABBY. I’m not saying.

MOHAMED. Ah, you’re such a tease!

ABBY. I’m not a tease!

MOHAMED. You’re not a tease.

Mohamed has finished rolling the hashish cigarette. He lights it, takes a drag, and offers it to Abby. They pass each other the joint through the following exchange.

ABBY. So what do you do when you are not smoking joints and hitting on single women?

MOHAMED. I drink scotch and hit on married women.

ABBY. But seriously. What do you do?

MOHAMED. That’s it.

ABBY. But didn’t you say you were in banking or something?

MOHAMED. That was in New York…before I inherited a small fortune.

ABBY. You are rich? (Taking a drag.) This is really good.

MOHAMED. Filthy rich. So rich I don’t have to work for the rest of my life. I’ll give you the address of my dealer.

ABBY. And you like that?

MOHAMED. I believe in the good life. And I have a good life in Egypt.

ABBY. Didn’t you have a good life in America?

MOHAMED. It was all right. For a while. I didn’t complain too much.

ABBY. Why would you complain about life in America? You can get anything you want there. You can have the best of everything.

MOHAMED. In Egypt, I lived like a king. In America, I was…I was bored.

ABBY. Bored? You lived in New York! How can anyone get bored in New York?

MOHAMED. I felt very lonely.

ABBY. You lonely? In New York? I don’t believe you!

MOHAMED. There was no one I could tell jokes to. You’re such a humorless people. It’s all that political correctness. It’s killing you.

ABBY. We have a sense of humor. We do. I do.

MOHAMED. I’m sure you do, darling. But it was extremely frustrating. I couldn’t crack a joke without being told I was sexist or racist or something equally offensive. It was cramping my style, especially with women. And style is everything. Everything else was permitted. Well, almost everything. But the moment I would crack a joke, a simple joke, she’d be ready to leave…or throw me out. Yes, I admit it. I have had to endure the humiliation of being kicked out of sanctuaries of feminine delights and thrown out like a leper onto the dismal streets of an unknown land in the darkness of stormy nights.

ABBY. I would never throw you out.

MOHAMED. You haven’t heard my jokes.

ABBY. Is that why you didn’t stay? Because you couldn’t tell jokes?

MOHAMED. I think it also had to do with the baby talk.

ABBY. What are you talking about?

MOHAMED. And the baby food. Yes, the baby talk and the baby food.

ABBY, laughing. You are trying to confuse me.

MOHAMED. I could never do that.

ABBY. Does this mean you don’t like Americans?

MOHAMED. I don’t mind them from a distance. It’s safer that way. Definitely safer.

ABBY. Do you think I’m dangerous?

MOHAMED. I’ll tell you in the morning.

ABBY, laughing. It’s going to be dawn soon!

MOHAMED. Very well. I’ll tell you in the afternoon.

ABBY. You don’t really hate Americans, do you?

MOHAMED. I like jazz.

ABBY. You don’t look like a jazz lover to me.

MOHAMED. I think I have every song Billie Holiday ever recorded.

ABBY. The blues singer?

MOHAMED. The jazz singer. She’s a jazz singer.

ABBY. I didn’t know that.

MOHAMED. It’s a common mistake.

ABBY. Tell me you believe in America.

MOHAMED. I believe in America.

ABBY. You do?

MOHAMED, with an Italian accent. “I believe in America.” That’s the first line from The Godfather.

ABBY. The gangster movie? Do you know that I’ve never seen it?

MOHAMED. How come?

ABBY. It’s too violent for me. I hate violence.

MOHAMED. I don’t believe you.

ABBY. I am a very gentle person.

MOHAMED. I’m sure you are.

ABBY. I’m very upset!

MOHAMED. What now?

ABBY. Why did your cousin get so angry at me?

MOHAMED. I think she was trying to warn you.

ABBY. Warn me? Of what?

MOHAMED. Of getting yourself involved in things you don’t understand.

ABBY. What is it I don’t understand?

MOHAMED. Things.

ABBY. Tell me. I want to know.

MOHAMED. You do?

ABBY. Tell me.

MOHAMED, slowly. Well, it looks very much like your brave army will succeed in marching into Baghdad. (Pause.) Did you know that Napoleon entered Moscow with very little resistance on the part of the Russians? It was the long way home that did him in.

ABBY. You can’t compare the US to Napoleon!

MOHAMED. I can’t?

ABBY. Of course not. Napoleon was a conqueror. We only want to help you people to be free.

MOHAMED. You really are adorable, you know?

ABBY. But really, tell me.

MOHAMED. Napoleon, too, wanted to help us. He came to Egypt to save it. Oh, yes. But after spending a couple of eventful years here, he took a boat for France. We haven’t heard from him since. And before him the crusaders too have come…and gone. They established a kingdom in Jerusalem that lasted almost two hundred years. And the Iraqis…they have had to deal with the Mongols…They know a thing or two. And it looks like they are about to share that particular brand of knowledge with you people.

ABBY, thinking hard. You are trying to tell me something.

MOHAMED. You see, Abby, we don’t want to be like you. And we don’t want to be saved by you. We know only too well what American salvation is all about. You saved Iraq by bombing it and starving it for twelve years. And now you want to complete its salvation by raining it with more bombs and missiles. Your liberals, radicals, conservatives…they are all united today in their desire to save us from tyranny and dictatorship. They are promising us the gift of democracy. Your feminists…they want to save Arab women from the burden of their Arab identity. And your Bible Belt Christian Evangelists want to save us from Islam…And so all you lovely people now stand together in your determination to christen us with napalm, cluster bombs, white phosphorus, depleted uranium…If anything, my dear, we can’t wait to be saved from you.

ABBY. That’s not a nice thing to say.

MOHAMED. It’s really very nice. Believe me.

ABBY. But we have no choice. We really don’t. If we don’t do something about it, Saddam will be free to threaten the US. Do you realize how serious this could be? And he has huge stockpiles of chemical weapons and of biological weapons…It’s in all the papers. It was in the New York Times, for God’s sake! And I’ve just read a report that states very clearly that very soon his scientists will be able to produce nuclear weapons. Now he and Bin Laden could very well threaten the existence of life as we know it on this planet. We’ve been through the nightmare of 9/11. We know.

MOHAMED. No, you don’t. You don’t really know anything. You only know the stories you’ve been fed day in and day out.

ABBY. You can’t say that.

MOHAMED. Of course I can, my love. It’s all happened before.

ABBY. What? What’s that?

MOHAMED. You’re too drunk, I know. So am I. And if you lovely people go on with this crazy war you will eventually get a real 9/11. Actually, you’ll probably get quite a few.

ABBY. You’re scaring me.

MOHAMED. I have this effect on young women.

ABBY. But seriously now. What are you trying to tell me?

MOHAMED. Save yourselves and spare us your overdeveloped sense of moral responsibility. Go back to the US and forget all about that magazine about bridges between this and that. It’s not going to work.

ABBY. You don’t believe in understanding between cultures?

MOHAMED. I believe Americans should consider making a serious effort to join the human race.

ABBY. But what about all this anti-American stuff. All this hatred…

MOHAMED. If you stay home, I promise you, we will hate you less. In time, we may even get to like you.

ABBY. I don’t understand.

MOHAMED. I’m afraid you never will.

ABBY. You don’t like me?

MOHAMED. I like you very much, but you are very drunk and very stoned right now.

ABBY. It’s all because of you.

MOHAMED, picking her up and carrying her in his arms. Come, I’ll take you to your room.

ABBY. Why not to your room?

MOHAMED. You need to sleep. I need to sleep.

ABBY. Didi was right. You are very wicked.

MOHAMED. And you are going to be a good girl tonight.

The lights fade to blackout as they exit in the direction of the house. When the lights come up again, Fatma is speaking to someone on her mobile phone.

FATMA. I can’t believe it! It’s so unfair. Terry just called me from Sharm and she says you can see it all. Yes, the Americans missiles. Cruise missiles. Isn’t that what they call them? They are firing them from their ships there. She says it’s really awesome. I’m so jealous. She gets to see all the good stuff and I’m stuck here. I wanted to go to Sharm with the others, but it was Dad’s birthday. Terry says it’s much better than what we are getting on CNN. No, I don’t think she’s putting me on! You think she’s putting me on? Rocky, if you really love me take me to Sharm tomorrow. Please. I want to see it. I don’t want to be left out. This is like the most exciting thing that is ever going to happen to me. And it will be good for me. Sure. When I go back to Florida, I’ll be able to give a presentation or something. Yeah, it will be like an eyewitness account of the war, a first-hand experience of the whole thing. It will be like totally awesome. Tell me you will take me to Sharm tomorrow. I love you, too. And don’t forget to bring your camera. I want to be able to prove that I was there…

Lights fade to blackout as Fatma comes to the end of her speech.

Testimonial

Cairo, April 2003. Layla is sitting on a stool. She seems exhausted. Her speech is played to an invisible camera that would have been located somewhere between the edge of the stage and the first row of seats.

LAYLA, to the person behind the camera. Is the camera rolling? The red light is not on. OK, I see it now. What? Yes, I’m ready. I’m ready. (Pause.) Layla Ibrahim Mohamed Abdallah, twenty-five years old. Egyptian. Female. April 15…I’m sorry, April 16, 2003. (Pause.) This is my testimony I am putting on tape concerning the events surrounding what became known as the Intifada of al-Tahrir. We hope that the day will come when we will be able to prosecute the guilty. (Pause.) The plan was that on the day the Americans begin their invasion of Iraq, we all gather at Tahrir Square. The meeting time was 1 p.m. From there we were to march on the American embassy. The American embassy is a large fortress about five minutes walking distance from the square. It is very well defended. (Pause.) That was the arrangement that had been made through e-mail between our various groups. But things didn’t turn out as planned. At around 11:30 a.m. hundreds of students from the American University in Cairo broke through the security ring of riot police that surrounded their campuses and headed for the American embassy.

Despite the heavy presence of the riot police, they did very well, but they didn’t make it to the embassy. They came close, though. Some of them managed to reach Corniche el-Nil and were holding out across the street from the British embassy. But they were just an isolated pocket. The riot police had them completely surrounded. (Pause.) I was at Tahrir shortly before 1 p.m. It was out of the question to try and make it past the riot police and get to the embassy, so we took Tahrir Square itself. They had to redirect the traffic in most of central Cairo. Our numbers grew with every passing hour. By early afternoon, we had seized the square. It was ours. There was no way the riot police could dislodge us, unless they were ready to start a bloodbath. Some groups still tried to reach the embassy, but they all failed. One group tried to make it through Qasr al-Aini St., and there was a big confrontation there. They were pushed back after the riot police used water cannons to disperse them. But we held on to Tahrir Square.

By sunset, more and more people had joined us. There were journalists, university professors, students, and even children. Teenagers. I don’t know how many we were exactly. Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? More? (Pause.) There was a sense of euphoria in the air. In the light of candles, we sang songs from the sixties and seventies…songs by Salah Jahin and by el-Sheikh Imam and Ahmad Fouad Negm. Some people brought musical instruments. Others brought us food and water. There was an amazing sense of cooperation and of solidarity. Tahrir Square was the first bit of liberated Egyptian territory. For the first time in…in a long time, the square lived up to its name. Liberation Square. That day we had a brief taste of what it’s like to be free. The sweet smell of freedom was floating in gentle but short whiffs over Tahrir Square…But how long would we be able to hold out? That night nobody asked that question. Everything seemed possible, if only…(Pause.)

The next morning, it looked like the security forces were losing patience with the whole thing. They seemed determined to end it as quickly as possible. There were a number of clashes. They used everything they had to disperse us. They even had dogs. But we held on. (Pause.) Out of impatience, they started attacking passers-by. They would specifically target the ones that were by themselves. It made it easier. (Pause.) We saw them attacking a young boy…he couldn’t have been older than fifteen. About twenty of them were taking turns at hitting him with their clubs. They hit him on the head, on his arms, on his knees, and on his crotch. (Pause.) We couldn’t take it…we couldn’t just stand there. So we rushed to his rescue. To try and disengage him from their clutches. (Pause.) That’s how I got caught. I was seized by security officers. I don’t remember how that happened, but I suddenly felt I was being pulled out of the group. The others tried to pull me back. But they had clubs and they beat them back. I saw Magda collapse. She was screaming. I think they broke her arm. They couldn’t help me. I was being dragged away. A state security officer pulled me by my hair. Another one punched me in the face. I was getting kicked again and again. They took turns at kicking me with their boots as if I were some kind of ball. The first officer dragged me on the asphalt for about forty meters. I felt a burning sensation. My entire body was bleeding. Then I received a blow on the head.

When I came to, my hands were tied behind my back and I was blindfolded. I was in a van that was moving rapidly. I felt sick and wanted to throw up. My head was swimming and I was very dizzy. (Pause.) There were five or six of us, all women, at what seemed to be a police station. I can’t tell which one it was. The officer in charge and several other guards, including two…yes, two female guards, started beating us up. They told us that if we don’t confess, we will be raped. One of the officers shouted at us that rape is the only way to make women give up politics. (Pause.) One of the women, I think her name was Noha, started to vomit blood. I think she was suffering from internal hemorrhage. We told the guards that she needed medical attention. That she could die. They waited several hours before they brought in some guy who, it turned out, wasn’t even a doctor. (Pause.)

Later that evening, we were taken by car to the headquarters of State Security Intelligence in Lazoghli. We were blindfolded again the moment we got there. I had no sense of where I was, but they made me stand for what seemed like hours. I could hear voices and doors opening and shutting. Footsteps. Some kind of interrogation was going on. What I suppose must have been an officer was hurling insults at some people. They were slapping them, too. I also heard screams. (Pause.) I heard one of them threaten someone with electroshocks. Maybe that’s why they were screaming. (Pause. To the person behind the camera.) I’m tired. Can we stop now? We’ll finish it later. Thank you. Cut.

Blackout

 

All artwork is courtesy of Eman Osama.

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