12 Dec 2013

‘I had a dream’: A brief history of Arab dictators and their not so subconscious

Egypt’s strong man Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has revealed that he had a dream 35 years ago that one day he will be the President of Egypt. The interpretation of dreams is a favourite Arab pastime, there’s nothing that we love more than analysing night-time revelations. The more complex the dream the more enjoyment we will derive out of it. Al-Sisi’s is certainly a complex and mysterious dream, and who knows what it could really mean. To that end, Egyptians and other Arabs have set up popular committees and working groups to pour over the dream’s details and explain the meaning of al-Sisi’s vision. Much coffee will be consumed from Casablanca to Muscat in the coming days.

Now al-Sisi can best be described as a reluctant dictator. Quite how reluctant, time will tell. But he is certainly manifesting several of the symptoms we typically associate with Arab dictators. For one thing, there’s the proliferation of his images in public spaces and in the media. Then there’s his lack of inhibition in using force to achieve his political aims. A less known syndrome however is the Arab dictator’s proclivity for experiencing vivid and elaborate dreams that go on to play an important role in the history of the nation. Below we list a selection of the most remarkable Arab dictator ‘I had a dream’ moments.

Saddam Hussein and the Magical Egg

In the year 2000, Saddam Hussein had a dream when he was sleeping in his bed. Saddam was walking across a barren desert when he saw a large egg from a distance. The egg was taller than a house. When he came closer, the egg shell started cracking and then a hand stretched out of it. The hand was holding a beautiful winged horse. On top of the horse sat an imposing man, not dissimilar to Saddam but not his exact likeness either.

When he woke up, Saddam announced that there will be an architectural competition to build a monument that represents his dream. The general consensus was that he was taking this dream quite literally, but nobody felt that they could point this out to Saddam. For months every architect in Baghdad was busy coming up with designs to reflect the boss’s dream, but nothing pleased Saddam.

Saddam then decided to cancel the competition and instead announced a new competition to see who could interpret his dream. The prize for guessing the true meaning of the dream was winged horse. But the punishment for failure was death. Surprisingly, nobody volunteered to try to explain the dream despite the desirable reward. To this day, nobody knows what the true meaning of the dream was, which is very frustrating.

Hafez al-Assad and the angel visit

In 1976, Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad was visited by an angel without a prior appointment. Al-Assad didn’t have any other appointments that night, so he waived aside scheduling protocols and received the angel. The angel made himself/herself (let’s not get into that one) comfortable and told Assad a story:

A boy lived in a village with his poor mother and father. The boy was very popular in the village and respected for this honesty. One day the boy came across a strange sight while walking in the hills. An old man was about to attacked by a hungry wolf. The man begged the wolf to spare his life, arguing that his flesh is too tough anyway. The wolf stopped and told the man: “I will ask you a riddle and if you answer it correctly I will spare your life.” At that point, the boy hit the wolf with a rock and killed him, saving the old man’s life but ruining the story for the rest of us.

The angel then got up and left. When Assad woke up, he called in his close advisors and asked them what the vision means. Then he sent them away and sat there thinking for two hours. At the end, he decided that the dream meant that he had to intervene militarily in Lebanon, which is pretty obvious if you think about it. The Syrian army remained in Lebanon for nearly 30 years, and it all started with a simple vision.

Gaddafi and the untranslated Italian dream

In 1986, Muammar al-Gaddafi had a lengthy dream when he was staying in one of his favourite desert spots. Gaddafi used to say that the desert enhanced his access to ‘the other dimension’, something that George Galloway explained as a scientific manifestation of Gaddafi’s access to the will of the people against western attempts to slander Gaddafi as a deranged individual who dabbled in the occult.

The dream had an intricate plot involving several speaking animals, an African god, two poets that experienced frequent metamorphoses into trees, shrubs and discarded train tickets, and a TV talk show that hosted various historical figures like Homer, Nietzsche and Al-Mutanabbi. Frustratingly, the entire dream was in Italian which Gaddafi couldn’t speak, and there were no subtitles.

Gaddafi was very irritated when he woke up, and none of the Popular Committees for Deciphering the Brother Leader’s Dream could offer a convincing explanation. Gaddafi retreated for several days in the company of his favourite Egyptian herb and when he came back he announced that he had decided that all Italians should be expelled from Libya. As it happened, there were no Italians in Libya then, so all the Palestinians whose name began with ‘M’ were expelled instead.

Omar al-Bashir, the snake, the owl and the vending machine

One day, the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir had a curious dream. In the dream, al-Bashir is very thirsty and he’s trying to buy a soda from a vending machine. But every time he tried to insert a coin in a machine, the coin turned into a snake and slithered away before he could step catch it again. Which is probably better because he wasn’t really an experienced snake handler. Every time this happened, an owl would appear inside the machine and laugh at al-Bashir.

The next day, al-Bashir was in a very bad mood. He thought about the dream for hours then the answer came to him in a flash. Al-Bashir promoted himself to Field Marshall and then removed some of his closest allies from power and imprisoned them for life. And everyone remarked how al-Bashir is wiser in his sleep than all his enemies combined when they are awake.

These are but a few example of the subconscious revelations of Arab dictators. Next time you use the phrase ‘the power of dreams’, reflect on this rich history.

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PS. If you made it this far, one of those stories is actually true (partially). Guess which. 

1 comment:

  1. I can't find anything on it on the internet , but is AlAssad's dream the real one?

    ReplyDelete

Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.