Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Cancelled Picnic for Mubarak in Galilee

Mjaddarah is a traditional vegetarian dish that once was the default daily mainstay in rural Palestine. Few among the younger generation desire it or know how to prepare it nowadays. In a sort of nostalgic throwback to the good old days, Toufiq, my childhood friend, and I, on occasion, ask his wife to prepare Mjaddarah for a picnic lunch out in the lap of nature in the Galilee hills. It so happened that over the years every time we embarked on such a wistful venture an Arab leader would pass away. Faced with Hosni Mubarak’s recalcitrance in the face of the largest participatory popular uprising in human history asking for his departure, Toufiq and I planned a Mujaddarah picnic for him tomorrow. Hosni saw the writing on the wall and escaped just in time.

Friday is the Moslem’s weekly day of rest, prayer, and visitation. A grand niece of mine, a nurse, invited me to officiate at the reading of Al-Fatiha, the opening chapter of the Koran, in confirmation of her formal relationship with a young man from another Palestinian town. This is the pre-engagement first step intended to introduce the families of the prospective couple to each other. We sat at my nephew’s living room amidst piles of fresh fruit and Arabic sweets and watched TV while waiting for the guests. There was no flipping through stations; like in every other living room in the Middle East, Al-Jazeera kept us on edge and up-to-date. Minutes after six o’clock Omar Suleiman’s tired long face filled the TV screen and he made his one sentence announcement with one glaring Arabic grammatical faux pas. Mubarak escaped being peacefully trampled in his palace by the Egyptian masses. We all broke out in spontaneous praise of Allah’s and Google’s miraculous feats, in exchanges of congratulations and backslapping and in happy laughter.

In two more minutes the sound of fireworks filled the village evening hush. I stepped out for a fuller appreciation of the event and heard the distant sound of fireworks from neighboring Palestinian villages and the beeping of horns in our streets. We rang the late guests and were told that they have been held up at the entrance to Arrabeh, our village, by the flood of cars on its main street. Minutes later another nephew of mine returned and described the seen in the main square of Arrabeh as being in full spontaneous celebratory mode. He likened the atmosphere to that of the day Iran beat the USA 1:0 in the World Cup football tournament. Toufiq called to congratulate and to cancel our picnic. Al-Jazeera ran a steady listing of Arab capitals where the jubilant crowds broke out in celebration of Egypt’s historic achievement. Another nephew sent an SMS message that said: “Crowds poured out in the streets of Arrabeh.” But Al-Jazeera didn’t show it. Ali, a retired teacher from Arrabeh who happened to land in Cairo’s Independence Square on January 25 and whose Journalist son was detained overnight by the Egyptian police, jokingly took credit for “stirring things up there.” Then he added: “I am off to Amman tomorrow.”

I told Toufiq over coffee this morning: “This is the most pan-Arab solidarity I have seen since 1970 when we walked in the funeral procession for Jamal Abdul Nasser.”
“But this is different,” he said. “This sets a precedence.” Then in a low conspiratorial voice he confided: “Mark my word: The day will come when scores of millions of young people from the Middle East and Europe will march peacefully as one man on Israel and Palestine and force freedom and civility on us. We have to start preparing to meet them at the borders. It may require another Mjaddara picnic for the current bosses. Who knows?”