Lions of the Church


Antar Harami’s kingdom stretches from the iron bridge to the gristmills in the east, and from the El Gaz drainage canal southward all the way to the police checkpoint at the International Hospital.

His power and protection extend over all living things in his domain—most especially the dogs. His reputation spreads beyond the borders of his kingdom; his deeds echo throughout the Nile Delta. The epic story of his seizure of the throne is depicted in the graffiti murals that adorn the wall outside the Mother of Believers Secondary School for Girls. For this, he had called on the greatest calligraphers and mural artists of Alexandria—the likes of Gamal al-Dawli and the Queen of Azarita—and tasked them with crafting the narrative of his trials and tribulations; his bitter defeat; and, finally, his sweet, sweet victory. These events were rendered in the visual splendor of nineteen illustrated panels stretching along the wall of the school. It all began when the new state security officer in town, acting on a tip from a local butcher, called Antar in for questioning.

Antar declined the invitation. “I go to no one. He who wants me shall seek me out,” he said to the policeman.

The security officer responded with a police wagon carrying four troopers and three police officers. They arrived at his house, which was built from mud brick and palm trunks. His mother told them he had been out since morning. She was a feisty old woman; she and her son had nothing but hatred and animosity for each other. Perhaps she wanted to get rid of him or just teach him a lesson. Whatever her intention, she tipped them off: “You’ll find him over at Hosh Issa, hanging out with those thugs and hooligans, drinking spirits and sniffing glue.”

Alerted by the siren, the whole gang had fled before the police got there. Except for Antar. He stood there puffing his chest, surrounded by eleven dogs. The second the troopers stepped out of the wagon, the dogs started toward them, growling. One of the troopers grabbed a rock and hurled it at one of the dogs, hitting it in the face. And so the battle began. The dogs pounced on the troopers. Antar’s boozed-up pals looked on from afar as a truly supernatural scene, full of wondrous beasts and strange happenings, unfolded before them. They saw the dogs open the car door and pull out the driver from behind the wheel. It was as if they were following orders, as if every strike was calculated: “Wound, but don’t kill.” The beasts lunged at the troopers and sunk their teeth into their legs, effectively crippling them.

The scene concluded with the policemen covered in blood, encircled by the dogs. Then Antar came up to the head officer and spat in his face. He walked off, followed by all eleven dogs.

Afterward, Antar disappeared. There were all sorts of rumors. The state security officer asked Hajj Ibrahim al-Wali—one of the top roughnecks—to hand Antar over the minute he appeared. Two days later, Hajj Ibrahim al-Wali was himself arrested. It was said that police had discovered large quantities of weed and boxes full of Tramadol, Pancenol, and Paramol. As he was getting arrested, everyone saw Antar standing at the end of the street with two black dogs, laughing and snorting and spitting.

When Antar was accused of betrayal, he responded that it was Hajj Ibrahim who was the real traitor, since he had wanted to take him by the neck and throw him to state security. All Antar had done was have the Hajj for lunch before the Hajj could have him for dinner.

Then it happened that Hind bint Omeira divorced Hajj Ibrahim and married Antar. Those were not happy days, but rather times of conflict, strife, and ruin. The graffiti murals tell most of the story, including the Battle of the Vegetable Market, when Antar forced the tomato sellers to adopt a fixed price. When they pulled out their knives, he set his dogs on them. There was also the Skirmish of the Red Nightgown, when Adel Shakl came by the kingdom to settle a debt with Momo Sameh. Seeing this as an intrusion on his domain and a threat to his authority, Antar pounced on Adel and his men and delivered them a sound thrashing. He slashed Adel in the chest and the ass and cut him a new face. Then he ordered a red nightgown be made for Adel and dragged him through the streets all the way to the edge of his kingdom. The magnificent scene was painted by the artist Queen of Azarita, who portrayed Adel wearing a red nightgown and a black leather mask, which had a gold chain attached to it, pulled along by Antar. The latter was depicted in a white wifebeater splattered with the blood of the battle. He walked proud and tall, surrounded by dogs without collars. Underneath the scene, the calligrapher Gamal al-Dawli had written, in elegant Kufic script, When Khufu is away, the mice will play!

——- Read the full story at:

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