*This article is written by X and originally appeared in Cairo Scene:
“Eh ya man. Eh il nezam? (What’s going, man?)”
“Mafish. Enta eh il nezam? (Nothing much, what’s going on with you?)”
A reoccurring mind-numbing impersonal paradox Egyptian males succumb to in daily conversation, as silly as it seems, exemplifies modern day Egyptian macho culture.
From as early as one can remember boys are told not to cry, not to back down from a fight and not to be anything less than a ragel (man); scolded from a young age and told to act like this mystical creature they never really encounter. I mean who is this ragel? Where does he live? Does he go to TIU on a Tuesday or chill out and play FIFA 15 at home? Does he go to Crossfit or bench out twice his body weight in the gym? Is he the Stig? Is he Joseph Stalin’s mustache? All these questions plague us from early on in our adolescence, and we never really get them answered. It’s this sort of vague conceptual role model, which we assume does or does not do certain things depending on the medium we grow up in.
As a guy living in Egypt, I’ve always had this fear of not being ‘ragel’ enough. My father would not be of much help; when I was younger, I’d think a ragel was a man who would shout a lot to his employees, drink a lot of teas, read El Ahram, El Akhbar, El Dostor – a superfluous amount of newspapers actually (a ‘ragel’ should know what’s happening all around him, all the time) – wear a good suit, to coincide with a ‘standard’ haircut, and maybe shout a bit more. What am I getting at here? This is a single story, many men will have different stories, and their fathers will have another, and their fathers’ fathers will differ greatly. All of which feed the orifice of the mystical ‘ragel’ persona. Many guys reading this will think to themselves that I’m some kind of weakling, lesser of a man with nothing but complaints, but this is a common side effect of the aforementioned ragel syndrome. However, this is only a very mild side, as this condition can have very ugly consequences if left unchecked. For the sake of my carpal tunnel syndrome and the English-speaking demographic of CairoScene (where this article is published), I’ll limit the scrutiny to the ‘upper echelons’ of the CairoScene society.
During childhood years, most boys look for a way to prove their dominance in the testosterone dominated society. Either from school yard scraps, to scoring a bottle of Absolut to drink it in Marimba, to subtly poaching your mom’s C-Class keys to cruise around with the entire squad. Every guy would look for “something” to give him an edge over others, looking for a way to portray this cool macho persona that we all wanted to embody. Proper communication would be substituted to phrases we hear on the street or from that one friend who was more ‘meda2da2’ (street smart) than anyone else. As the collective social dynamics start to define more of what and how a guy should behave, we start to pick up habits from our friends and build upon the preconceived notion we receive from an early age.
Fast forward, a few years of reckless driving and a few fights outside Club 35. The ‘ragel’ persona starts to get worse as no longer are we defined by our bullying and bruises but rather our accomplishments… or lack thereof. By this time, a majority have tried most if not all of the substances and experiences that pave the way to their manhood. As we get older, we tend to get more impersonal as characterized by the opening sentences of this article; no longer is the guy bound by group dynamics but rather the importance of the self and/or proving of self-worth. “Where’s the after party?” is replaced by “I have to go I’ve got work early tomorrow.” Many fall into the trap of looking for alternative ways to prove their ‘edge’. During my years in Cairo, I have witnessed many different coping mechanisms, some constructive but most destructive. One group might choose to go for say, the physical route. Opting for rampant drug use in our country’s gyms, even though most of these individuals are well educated and versed in the harms of anabolic use. Indulging in the more expensive peptides such as, HGH and IGF, rather than locally sourced androgens to get an edge over others in the gym scene. Some opt for the wild party and drug route, even though most of these individuals are well educated and versed in the harms of party drug use. Indulging in the more expensive drugs such as cocaine and MDMA, rather than the locally sourced drugs to get an edge over others in the party scene (see the connection?). Some select few choose the dangerous cocktail and use both (sometimes more). But how can it harm him if he’s a ragel?
To be fair, there are healthy individuals who do not succumb to either camp and have not yielded to the notions of Middle Eastern society norms and have healthy goals and mindset. Nonetheless, the wide range of most fall prey to the macho persona, allowing it to infect their day to day routine, causing anxiety and stress, rather than focusing on what THEY want as individuals.
This is just one opinion but what is true is that one will ultimately never find the sense of fulfillment they’re looking for by achieving a herculean-like physique or by indulging in two day bender, going H.A.M, but by rising above these preconceived notions of what is expected of you and those around you, and building yourself as an individual and your own image of what a man should be.
Good luck, I’ve got to go hit the gym now.