Sunday, June 24, 2012

Egyptian Time Perspective

At 4:31 p.m. Egyptian time, which was 10:31 a.m. here in Detroit, an hour-and-a-half late, the final results of the presidential election there were made known to the public. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won the office with 51 percent of the vote; his opponent, the ex-general Ahmed Shafiq, garnered 48 percent. So it is over? Well, in a way. The country’s military oligarchy seems still to hold the thicker strings that guide this Egyptian puppet in its motions. They engineered the parliament’s demise just before the run-off vote was held, perhaps thus hoping to shoo in their candidate.

Interests me, this whole business—if for arcane reasons. Using the Muslim calendar, we are now in 1433. But the Islamic calendar is based on 12 lunar months; these yield 354 or 355 days per year. Using 354.5 as an average, 1433 produces 1390 years of 365.25 days—suggesting that the calendar began in 622 AD. Yep. That also happens to be the official starting year of the calendar, the year of Mohammed’s flight (hegira) from Mecca to Medina. Hegira (or hejira) is also used to mark the Muslim year, combined with the Latin anno; this year, therefore (until November 14), is 1433 AH.

Now supposing we imagine that civilizations are more or less organic phenomena—rather than mechanical—thus that they develop and age “naturally.” In that case the Islamic one is in its fourteenth century—a time which, in ours, felt not even a whiff of democracy yet; the authentic, spontaneous thing would have to wait another 400 years or so. Which is another way of saying that the tenor of events in Egypt, with the authoritarian hand of the military still holding the reins (to change metaphors), seems to be about right. The democratic form is not, in this view at least, “natural” to the Muslim culture at this time. It is imposed by its overwhelming presence round about that country—to its North and, across the ocean, to its West.

Is that the reason why this announcement was late in coming—even if only by an hour-and-a-half? Were the Egyptians sort of hoping that, if they delayed, time would catch them up to an alien modernity? If so, they didn’t wait long enough.

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