Alessandra needed some small silver and gold artifacts to take back as presents to parents and friends.. Since we’re in Alexandria, then there is no choice, it has to be “Share’ Faransa” (which is the Arabic version of Rue de la France). Since my family has been a life long client of the famous goldsmith Mahmoud Ghoneim, I couldn’t betray the tradition and kept contact with his son and now with his grand-son after the elders went for their journey into eternity.
Hossam Ghoneim.. What a character! Like all oversized persons (he’s over 120kgs), he masters the art of telling funny stories. Sometimes he creates an entire story out from a common joke, yet you will not find out until you burst into that hysterical type loud laugh, as he finishes you with the punch line, while he remains as usual in his steady controlled voice pitch. Then he would join in with his soprano laughter, that only by hearing it and seeing how his entire body responds vibrating in ripples all over, you cannot escape from laughing heartily until you lack breathing.. Usually that is his welcome ritual. And no matter how I prepare my wife and myself not to fall into his trap, he would always find a way to take us in circles until he delivers that vicious sudden knock out punch line.
It was no different this time; after the usual salutes and hugs, and the offering of the welcome drink, he started telling us the story of the early days of the revolution and how it affected the business on that street dedicated to the gold trade some 600 years ago. On the second day, while tens of thousands were rallying the square nearby and reaching the street, a tall man with a baritone voice leaded the cheers and called out the verses the crowds repeated after him. Using a head-set microphone like the one telephone operators used in the past, in its turn connected to an amplifier magnifying his voice out from four horn-cases placed on a post over the deck of a pick-up. The man was on foot yelling and waving urging and stimulating the protesters , and behind him was a sort of a sound technician with a microphone in hand, the very sensitive type called panoramic that is used for the symphonic orchestras. Anyhow, as the man with baritone voice tuned out one of his verses in his head-set microphone, and after several hours shouting without food or water surely his slim belly’s intestines should become full of air, and so it was.. In perfectly synchronized timing came out loud from the four horn-cases a draft from his rear straight into that sophisticated panoramic microphone, that you could’ve smell it even. It was that loud that the cheers stopped for a second, just a second but long enough to make the man forget completely what he was tuning, and he couldn’t seek help from the technician because, poor guy, he took it all in the face and lost senses.
In brief that was it, but Hossam’s version was something else, because he makes you live the whole scene with all its fine details to make you see the crowds, and he loudly sings the slogans and verses they’d say, opening brackets to describe a woman here or a child there.. Always finding the funny side and, like an excellent caricaturist, draws it for you so vividly that your senses are totally at his mercy, and here he pulls out his ferocious knock out: the air thrust out of such a serious man’s rear through the panoramic microphone into the horn cases and over the tens of thousands of innocent demonstrators who, as the mass psychology mechanics taught us, would automatically and without thinking repeat like parrots everything they hear.. Imagine the outcome.
Finished the laugh, arrived the cool “Kharroub” drink, start of the serious talk. Immediately Alessandra took the line and listed her wishes that Wafaa, his dedicated assistant, at once started to prepare for my wife to chose from, then to say for whom it will be after weighing, detailing the price and making sure the adequate discount was given. Throughout this tiring practice, I was able to dig out of him valuable information about the state of the commerce in Alexandria. It’s not promising at all.. The city is not governed, the enlisted small delinquents who fled in the nineties towards Lybia are coming back fleeing from the war, and since they have lost everything, they will turn to whatever they can reach; and of course the street is targeted and he and all other shop owners are taking precautions. I told him not to let himself and others to be dragged away by such stories deliberately placed on the streets by who made his fortunes in the past 30 years or so, and with such money he can buy willing manpower to defend his realm and their families’ daily bread.
He gave it thought for a while, and then asked: “ but every now and then there is a huge fight that involves hundreds of men armed with whatever they can reach and slowly but carefully the fight finds its way to the street, isn’t that a sort of street gangs techniques? To initiate a small clash an make sure it will grow up quickly involving as much innocent persons and push the mass towards any desired direction in order to create the needed diversion for a planned strike?” At this point I asked him: “every time that such things occurred, did anyone in the area reported any sort of irregularities, like a theft, breaking a safe, raping a woman, kidnapping a person, setting fire in a warehouse, or any other claim?” At his negative answer, he began seeing the scheme and understanding the game.. Someone just wants the people to be terrorized, in order to become easier to manipulate.. Someone with power, lots of money, and men.. Maybe even arms!?!
As we were speaking while Alessandra with Wafaa were preparing the chosen presents, a middle aged man came rushing in the shop asking to talk privately to Hossam! They went to the office in the back for a few moments and then he came out saluting courteously and left; a few seconds later Hossam showed with a smile on his face.. “Hussein Salem was arrested few hours ago by the Interpol in Israel.” He proudly revealed the outcome of the secret meeting which just took place, when I asked him who the man was and whether or not his sources could be trustworthy, he hesitated before telling me that he was the Regional Coordinator of the “Kefaya” movement for Lower Egypt, and that he’s well connected to several intelligence agencies. Hossam’s body language told me that he doesn’t wish to elaborate further on the issue, so I kept my skepticism to myself, for how come that an opposition figure be well connected to various secret service agencies of very doubtful loyalty to the revolution??
We all know who is Hussein Salem, and what relation connects him to the ex president’s businesses, even before the ex president became deputy to Sadat.. It’s a common knowledge that Salem, Mounir Thabet, the late Field Marshall Abu Ghazala and the ex president were all partners in a cover up company created by the CIA to sell and transport arms to both Iraq and Iran, during their senseless decade-long war back in the seventies; as well as to the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in their resistance war against the Soviet occupation. Of course such business continued for God knows how long, perhaps even till now! Connect that to the mysterious death of Ashraf Marwan, whom, apart from knowing a lot and even documented a lot more, was a sound business rival! And before that, the assassination of Sadat helped uncover their story, even though he was killed for other reasons. In short, Salem became the richest man in the country if not one of the richest in the middle east, and was powerful enough to engineer a treaty providing Israel with Egyptian natural gas without the formal prior approval needed from an absent parliament, and as required by the so called constitution. He controlled strictly in the palm of his hands several vital monopolies among which Water distribution and Natural Gas distribution!
I can’t tell for sure if his arrest information is founded.. It’s very doubtful, knowing how resilient such an element is. He will not be taken that easily.. Once out of Egypt, after the Gas scandal broke out which led the ex president to publicly forfeiting him (needless to mention that privately, business remained as usual, just change some signs here, a few names there.. Et voilà, dinner is served).. He vanished, disappeared.. Just didn’t exist anymore for us common mortal beings.. But his whereabouts were certainly known to the inner circle, though the silence was maintained. No one in Egypt, was allowed to spill out his name in public. It dazzled me not to come across a word or a hint about him on any Egyptian newspaper I could reach on the web while in Italy.. Even now, rarely you will find a line about him except in a shy way hidden in the inner pages among the lower lines. That’s why I can’t take for granted his arrest news unless verified through a trustful source, until then, for me, he is still unleashed and much in the game. Just like many others who, after having built each his small empire sucking the blood of the Egyptian economy, are still freely roaming in and out of the country on their private jets!!?? Not a promising sign for Egypt, at least for the coming few years.