The bounty on Zahra Amer’s head exceeds 10 million Egyptian pounds. Her crime? She wears a fake beard.
Under the old regime, she paid off police, and they let her go on with her show. But new leadership demands new tricks. On this evening in January, the 100th anniversary of the Revolution, Sacred Forces enter Amer’s home to detain her for impersonating a prophet, a despot, a foreign tycoon, and a poet.
Amer evades arrest by sleepwalking.
Reluctant to wake a somnambulist, military personnel stand with weapons limp and mouths agape while the sleeping suspect proceeds to work in her kitchen. Amer is worth more if they apprehended her alive, and the team fears that if it wakes her, she’ll die. So the troops, trained to rely on patience in these matters, observe Amer while she stuffs dates with almonds then rolls the dates in a pile of coconut flakes. The slow, mechanical movements of her thin fingers hypnotize the troops. The men nod in admiration at the way Amer’s fingers work like the legs of a spider wrapping its victim in silk. Their mouths water as she arranges the dates on a brass plate and offers the tidbit to her militant houseguests. They accept her hospitality. While the men feast on stuffed dates, Zahra Amer—suspected to practice black magic—fastens her false whiskers to her face and runs.
Still chewing, the men race after her. Amer stands perfectly still outside a local shrine, posing as a statue of Hatshepsut. The troops run right past her.
Authorities warn The People that Zahra Amer is a threat to public order. Investigators use TV, radio, and the internet to broadcast warnings: “Amer is not armed, but she’s got legs and knows how to use them.” Authorities remind The People of the fat reward. Certainly, someone will cave into the lure of money.
But Amer’s got friends in NGO places, like Comedians Without Borders. Though current leaders deem such organizations a threat to national unity, The People regard NGOs a vital part of civil society. The People don’t want money for turning in fugitives.
People want bread, individual freedom, and social justice.
Despite what The People think, warnings from authorities continue, “Do not try to apprehend this individual yourself, or you may die laughing. Report her to the military police.”
Disregarding danger, Zahra Amer chooses to perform one last time in Tahrir Square. Her show features shapeshifting stunts that make a mockery of the recent verdicts handed down by the makeshift tribunals. Her fellow countrymen cheer.
After the ovation, the military arrests Zahra Amer. She will never perform again. But her courage inspires the Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Womanhood, Manhood and even the Childhood to rethink their positions on freedom of expression. Thanks to Zahra Amer, all embrace ARTICLE 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, defining freedom of expression to include the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas. The article protects all types of expression and modes of communication.
Beards or no beards, women will fight for human rights.